The importance of any baker understanding the unique gift Guy Frenkel brings to the bread table is the equivalent of asking the value of a Vera Wang or Michael Kors to the fashion industry: Where would any of us be without someone always pushing the envelope?
Frenkel does not work for a prominent bakery or own a retail shop. Rather, he is an award-winning storyteller and a senior creative executive who specializes in multi-platform entertainment in Los Angeles. He also happens to be an influential bread baker whose talents are blossoming to the point where many top names in baking follow Frenkel regularly on Instagram (@ceorbread).
“I have the privilege of playing in the R&D department,” Frenkel said at the International Artisan Bakery Expo as he prepared a dough with Peruvian purple corn and roasted purple sweet potato that he dehydrated into fine particles. “For me, every dough is a blind date.”
He works like a painter, starting with a concept in mind and using the tools at his disposal to make it happen. His pursuit of bread couture is both visually and flavorfully stunning. He experiments with shapes and uses custom-made stencils and creative scoring patterns to make breads that tell a story. He reimagines flavors with inspirations from many cultures. “I am putting in purple corn,” he explains of one ingredient, “so it will smell like a tortilla.”
Frenkel carries bags of specialty grains that come from local farmers in surrounding areas of Los Angeles. Malted purple barley. Amaranth. Ethiopian Blue Tinge farro. Yellow dent corn. “One of the reasons I believe in fresh milling is the local farmers I work with. Every year, it’s a golden harvest, and I want to use everything they grow. We discuss the upcoming crop and envision new breads that will best utilize the new grains.”
Perennial ryegrass is probably the most unusual ingredient he uses to bake bread. It may sound far-fetched but consider that perennial grains are gaining potential in the marketplace because of the sustainability factor.
“As bakers, we have access to more grain varieties than ever before. Farmers everywhere are waking up to the benefits and joy of growing heritage wheats and ancient grains. I am fortunate to live in California and enjoy close friendships with several remarkable farmers who are not only growing their grains organically and sustainably but are also busy reviving all sorts of amazing grains. Beyond the now popular spelt and rye, we can find emmer, einkorn, Khorasan, teff, millet, buckwheat, triticale, purple and black barley and many more.”
One of Frenkel’s closest friends and collaborators is Larry Kandarian of Kandarian Organic Farms in Los Osos, California. Frenkel has an advantage of milling his own flours because of the small quantities of grains he uses, compared to that of a retail bread bakery. He is a big fan of the Mockmill home-scale stone mills from Wolfgang Mock, available in professional models that can mill 200 grams of wheat per minute into flour.
“Bakers everywhere are discovering the benefits of milling their own flour,” Frenkel says. “In my opinion the aroma and taste are superior, and it also gives access to milling all those crazy grains. I buy my white flour but mill everything else just before mixing the dough and can’t get enough of the smell of water hitting fresh-milled flour. For my small batches, I use the new Mockmill 200 from Wolfgang Mock, which I can’t recommend enough. Having a mill on hand allows you to mill more than just plain grains. For example, roasted rye, teff or barley (at 5% to 10% of flour) add unparalleled character to country loaves. You can also mix in seeds, spices or even dehydrated herbs to the grains you are milling.”
Paul Lebeau of Mockmill calls Frenkel “the Hollywood wizard of bread.” It certainly has been an interesting journey for the 45-year-old, creative director-turned baker to where he is today.
Previously, Frenkel wrote “The House on Melody Street” and co-founded Melody Street LLC, a transmedia entertainment company aimed at introducing children to the world of music via books, games, music, TV, Web and mobile apps. Prior to the founding of Melody Street, Frenkel partnered with legendary creator Stan Lee on a novel trans-media children’s animation property. Frenkel has worked as a director, producer, motion graphics designer, creative director and editor for leading entertainment companies and advertising agencies. Throughout his career, he has embraced new technologies and is constantly adding new tools to his storytelling arsenal. In 2000 he received a degree from NYC’s School of Visual Arts with honors.
“I went to film school in New York, and this journey took a very unexpected turn into bread,” Frenkel recalls. “I still make my living professionally in the creative arts, but I realized at some point in my life it was time for me to get geeky about bread.”
He bakes organic, naturally leavened, handmade bread under the pseudonym Céor (the ancient Hebrew word for sourdough) and is on a continuous quest for better bread. Two years ago, he was invited to bake bread at the Puratos Sourdough Library in Belgium, and Frenkel’s breads gained rave reviews.
“While tasty is the reason we gather in the first place, and healthy is a worthy goal,” he adds, “I believe that breads can be as pleasing to the eye as to the mouth. Dough is an exciting medium — unlike clay, marble, metal, or even wood, dough is a truly living thing. Ever changing, even in the oven, it is still expanding in ways that it is almost impossible to determine. I utilize natural colors from vegetable juices, infusions of blossoms, spices, and other techniques. And I experiment with shapes, create custom made stencils, and use scoring patterns to create breads that are not only beautiful, but also tell a story.”