What originally started as a married couple’s ploy to meet baking superstar Peter Reinhart has since turned into the Southeast’s largest baking and bread festival, drawing local and international world-class bakers and bread-lovers alike. On Saturday and Sunday, April 12-13, Steven and Gail Bardwell of Wake Robin Farms Bread will celebrate the Artisan Bread Festival’s 10th anniversary, and Reinhart will return, keeping his perfect attendance record intact.
First held at Greenlife grocery, the once-small festival is now backed by the Breadbakers Guild of America, and the free event draws some of the biggest names in the baking profession. While samples and mingling are a big focus, educational opportunities will be just as abundant. Other craftsmen may try to keep their secret ingredient under lock and key, but Bardwell says that he’s “never met a professional baker who isn’t happy to tell you their recipe.”
That will hold true at the festival: Reinhart is one of several featured bakers and workshop leaders, including French master baker Lionel Vatinet, French bread specialist Dominique Homo and German master baker Harry Peemoeller. With a solid record of awards, television and magazine features and authored cookbooks backing these world-class bread bakers, the festival is expected to present new flavors, ideas and techniques to attendees.
There will be several workshops geared toward serious home bakers on Saturday, April 12, with a six-hour master class for professional bakers on Sunday, April 13 (the latter has been so popular, it has already sold out). The master class “has made a significant difference in the bread culture in this area,” says Bardwell, who is known for his whole-wheat sandwich bread as well as a flax-and-sesame loaf, inspired by previous festival workshops.
Of the free, public Saturday workshops, topics include Hand Kneading, the Science of Yeast, Artisan Bread at Home: The Dutch Oven Method and several more. Bardwell is particularly looking forward to Reinhart’s demonstration of baking with ancient and sprouted grains — a preview from his new book, Bread Revolution, which will be available this fall.
Hosted at A-B Tech’s culinary building, the festival will offer bread enthusiasts a chance to taste, explore and share new baking techniques in these and other hands-on workshops. “Having world-class artisans share their knowledge with not only other bakers but those who may be learning is part of what makes this festival so special,” says Anne Ritota of Annie’s Bakery in Asheville.
Eighteen bakeries will have staff at the festival, both to share samples of their best and newest creations with customers, as well as to learn and collaborate on new ideas. More than a dozen bakeries are based in Western North Carolina, but bakers will also come from neighboring Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia. “Everyone has a little bit different style, and we love seeing what everyone is baking these days. We’re lucky to live in an area that supports artisan bread bakeries,” says Brian Dennehy of Asheville’s City Bakery.
At last year’s festival, an estimated $10,000 in bread and pastries was sold within three hours, demonstrating the community’s literal hunger for quality bread.
Backed by organizations such as Slow Food Asheville, organic flour mill Lindley Mills and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, the festival will offer “world-class bread for every taste in Asheville. You’ll be tasting bread that’s comparable to anywhere else in the world at this festival,” says Bardwell.
Reinhart agrees. “Asheville and its surrounding area, with a very small population, support more artisan bakeries than most states. The bakeries are small but truly artisan in the purest sense of the word.”
The public portion of the Artisan Bread Festival will be held on Saturday, April 12, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Magnolia Building at A-B Tech’s main campus. Admission is free; workshops are $10 each, with advance tickets recommended. For more information, visit ashevillebreadfestival.com.