ARTISANAL LOAVES IN NEW ORLEANS
BEN MIMS, ASSISTANT KITCHEN DIRECTOR APRIL 13, 2010
A couple of Thursdays ago, while in New Orleans to report a story for an upcoming issue, I stumbled upon the Crescent City Farmers Market at its Mid-City location just south of New Orleans City Park. While perusing the slim selection (the Saturday market is the biggie), I noticed a mob crowded around a stand whose beautiful artisanal breads peeked through a makeshift glass case. The stand's concessioner, Graison Gill, was busy making change and bagging loaves of all sorts for eager customers. There was a cinnamon-raisin-almond loaf, a beautifully rustic sourdough miche, and a caramel-colored loaf made with "spent grain" leftover from the nearby Abita brewery's used grains and yeast. There were also fresh scones made with Ponchatoula strawberries and bran muffins sitting on top of the case for sampling.
I asked Gill about his operation, which is officially known as Babcia Kubiak's Hand-Hewn Breads (though he has no storefront), and he told me that he rises each Thursday and Saturday morning around two o'clock and drives over to a commercial kitchen in the Lower Ninth Ward, where he rents space. There, he crafts his breads and baked goods until around 6:00 A.M., and then drives them in large baskets in the back of his black pickup over to Crescent's market on Thursdays and to the Hollygrove Market & Farm on Saturdays. Once at the market, he rakes in the dough, so to speak, and regularly sells out, as the aforementioned mob attests. In my opinion, he's living the life. He's found the kind of routine and success that most new vendors dream about, and Gill's quickly become established within the Big Easy.
"It all started as I was making bread for my friends at Hollygrove, and when someone suggested I start selling my loaves, the idea was born," Gill said. "It used to be all done out of my home kitchen, baking three or four loaves at a time, but soon the orders made that small operation impossible."
For the Thursday market, Gill now bakes an average of about 50 artisanal loaves, 40 baguettes, 30 ciabatte, and 20 smaller loaves, in addition to one or two batches of seasonal scones and muffins. The 22-year-old has been in New Orleans for just a year but has already gained a reputation for his rustic-looking loaves, and he even has plans to produce Louisiana's first and only wholly local bread, made with wheat from Baton Rouge that he mills at home, and raw sugar, water, and salt all from within the state's borders.
After speaking with Gill, I bought his spent-grain loaf, a few crusty baguettes, and a Ponchatoula strawberry scone to enjoy for breakfast the next morning on my drive home. The scone was moist and crumbly, with great chunks of fresh strawberries. As the last crumbs fell down my shirtfront, I wished I could turn my car around and stay in NOLA a bit longer, to buy a couple more of those scones and talk bread ingredients and baking with someone who shares my passion for the importance of both.
To sample Gill's amazing artisanal breads, stop by the Crescent City Farmers Market's Mid-City location at 3700 Orleans Avenue from 3:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. any Thursday. And if you live in the New Orleans area, Gill will deliver his breads to your door—just give him a call at 504/236-6747.