I opened the kitchen door to our house and the heady scent of yeast met me as soon as I crossed the threshold. That is an unmistakable scent. It stopped me in my tracks, book bag still slung across my shoulder. A smell I would soon start to look forward to. Anticipation of very good things to come. I came to appreciate the vast difference between store-bought bread and bread that had been brought to life in the gathering place of my home. Yeast fermenting, bubbling away in a bowl set aside waiting to be introduced to a snowy pile of flour.
We were starting our “bread” module in culinary school, I walked into the room and could hardly wait to get started. There is something about the cool, smooth texture of bread dough that always makes me happy. Rolling your shoulders forward and really kneading it; pushing with the heel of your hand and pulling it back toward you, feeling the dough come to life and slowly begin to change. It transforms beneath your hands from a sticky mess into a beautiful, almost silky, elastic dough.
My first restaurant job was as a “garde manger”, which literally translates as keeper of the food. It is a bottom-of-the-food-chain position where most culinary graduates begin. In addition to the hot and cold appetizers, soup and desserts, I was also tasked with making rolls. In time it became my moment of peace in a whirlwind of chaotic activity. Servers running from one place to the next, polishing forks and knives; line cooks taking stairs two by two trying to make their way from the walk-in cooler in the basement back upstairs into the kitchen to finish prepping for service; the clanging of pots and pans as dishwashers set clean ones at each of our stations. Those few minutes kneading dough became the only moments of peace I would have for the next 10 hours.