Chef Jon Davis marvels at the intricacies of flavor offered in modern sourdough bread.
“The diversity of what we see today is really amazing,” says Davis, culinary innovation leader for La Brea Bakery, based in Los Angeles. “The experimentation going on with all these ingredients and techniques is incredible. Bread is back – because of sourdough.”
Sourdough has gained such notoriety that it has its own holiday, National Sourdough Day on April 1. Spring is the perfect time to reflect on the awe-inspiring changes that have shaped the past, present and future of modern sourdough.
It was all the way back in 1989 when La Brea Bakery first opened its doors with one goal in mind: to make high quality, homemade artisan bread in the heart of Los Angeles. The idea derived from the desire to pair flavorful, crusty breads to complement rich and sophisticated Mediterranean dishes. Little did the company know that La Brea Bakery ultimately would grow into the leading artisan bread brand in the United States.
Award-winning chef Nancy Silverton is the brainchild of artisan sourdough bread and the La Brea Bakery brand. In June 1989, Silverton opened the restaurant Campanile with partners Mark Peel and Manfred Krankl, where she developed an interest in artisan sourdough bread and began experimenting with it. These experiments would ultimately yield artisan bakery La Brea Bakery adjacent to Campanile.
In 2014, Silverton received the highest honor given by the James Beard Foundation for Outstanding Chef. Today, she is the co-owner of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles and Newport Beach as well as Osteria Mozza, Mozza2Go and chi SPACCA in Los Angeles.
After much trial and error, the mastermind behind La Brea Bakery was able to craft the perfect living starter consisting of flour, water, and wild yeasts from the skin of organic grapes. From there, La Brea Bakery’s six original archetypal artisan breads were created: Sourdough Baguette, Country White Sourdough, Whole Wheat Boule, Normandy Rye, Kalamata Olive, and Rosemary Olive Oil. Soon, Los Angeles residents and tourists alike were lined up out the door on a daily basis to get their hands on a La Brea Bakery loaf.
Today, La Brea Bakery offers more than 100 different varieties of award-winning artisan breads and still uses its same signature starter in every La Brea Bakery loaf. La Brea Bakery’s sourdough has been a delicious staple on tables for more than 30 years.
Davis speaks of the recent growth in sourdough’s popularity, the bread’s health benefits and how La Brea Bakery ensures their sourdough is one of the top artisan breads available in local grocery stores.
He recalls the early challenge.
“How do we get this great sourdough bread out to everyone? We were able to build this bakery that can do par-baked sourdough in larger quantities – and make it accessible to many more people. That was the landmark. We were the first to bring it to everyone.”
Suddenly, many more people throughout the country could enjoy delicious sourdough bread without having to travel to Southern California or the San Francisco Bay area where many of the early sourdough innovations were happening.
“We only had a handful of ingredients. Access was kind of limited,” Davis recalls. “Nowadays there are incredible amounts of variety of flours. I love the fact there is an appreciation of great sourdough. It’s good for you, it’s easily digestible.”
Not to mention the convenience factor. Innovative products like La Brea Bakery’s Take & Bake Ancient Grain Twin Pack Baguette offer a blend of 9 grains and seeds along with the slow fermentation of La Brea’s signature sourdough, resulting in a multi-textured eating experience.
And with the restrictions of the Covid pandemic starting to loosen, the business of sourdough bread is on the rise.
“Manage our core. That’s what I see everybody doing now,” Davis says. “I see positive things. Communication is a lot better – being as transparent as possible. That’s a positive.”