How one Cana­dian’s New York City bak­ery braids to­gether women from around the world.

ELLE (Canada) - - Guest list - BY SARAH TRE­LEAVEN

THE GIG Tre­leaven, who splits her time be­tween Toronto and Jerusalem, high­lights the NYC bak­ery that’s em­pow­er­ing low-in­come

im­mi­grant women. MOM’S KITCHEN “I fondly re­mem­ber watch­ing my mother whip up all kinds of amaz­ing dishes. She im­pressed

upon me a true pas­sion for food.” n

when Clarisse Sango was grow­ing up in Burk­ina Faso, she of­ten helped bake bread us­ing black beans soaked in wa­ter and then ground into a paste. But when she set out for New York City six years ago, she had few pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions. Six months ago, she joined the Hot Bread Kitchen’s Bak­ers in Train­ing pro­gram at the be­hest of a friend. “I’ve al­ready learned so much about so many breads I never knew about be­fore, like nan and lavash,” says Sango, 25. She also ap­pre­ci­ates the chance to im­prove both her English and her in­ter­view­ing skills through or­ga­nized work­shops and hopes to one day open her own small bak­ery.

Jes­samyn Wald­man Ro­driguez, a Cana­dian liv­ing in Har­lem, started Hot Bread Kitchen in her own small kitchen in 2007. Ro­driguez, 39, grew up bak­ing chal­lah in Toronto with her mother and, as a pas­sion­ate foodie, has long loved bread mak­ing; plus, she has al­ways been in­ter­ested in so­cial jus­tice. So she came up with a vi­sion for a bak­ing col­lec­tive that would sup­port low-in­come and im­mi­grant women. “Fresh-baked bread is won­der­ful—it is an ex­pres­sion of true love and the most el­e­men­tal of foods,” says Ro­driguez. Be­cause most cul­tures have a sta­ple starch, she says, peo­ple quickly “get” the idea be­hind Hot Bread Kitchen. “They have a mother, a grand­mother, an aunt or a sis­ter who bakes fresh bread for them, and they can feel the love baked into our mis­sion.”

Ro­driguez found the idea of women bak­ing to­gether while help­ing one an­other so power­ful that she made Hot Bread Kitchen into a non-profit: There’s a com­mer­cial bak­ery,

which op­er­ates out of La Mar­queta in East Har­lem and bakes and sells dozens of breads from around the world, from Jewish bialys to Moroc­can m’smen ( their most pop­u­lar prod­uct); there’s a small-busi­ness culi­nary in­cu­ba­tor, which pro­vides a shared kitchen and ed­u­ca­tional work­shops; and there’s the Bak­ers in Train­ing pro­gram, which em­ploys women in nine-month teach­ing cy­cles at a store­front bak­ery in Brook­lyn. Many of the women in­volved in the train­ing pro­gram are new im­mi­grants, have lit­tle for­mal pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence or have been in­car­cer­ated in the past— all bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment. Post-grad­u­a­tion, women are placed in full-time jobs with ben­e­fits, of­ten with cor­po­rate food-in­dus­try part­ners like Whole Foods and Fair­way Mar­ket. Hot Bread Kitchen has now trained over 100 women from 26 coun­tries and has a staff of 60 peo­ple.

In Oc­to­ber, Ro­driguez pub­lished The Hot Bread Kitchen Cook­book, a col­lec­tion of recipes and first-per­son sto­ries from the bak­ery. “I now feel like I have an ar­ti­fact for what the dream re­ally was and is,” she says. In ad­di­tion to recipes for, and dreamy pic­tures of, whole-wheat cha­p­atis, pan de muer­tos and olive boules, there are com­ple­men­tary recipes like Reubens with Sriracha Spe­cial Sauce and Grilled Cheese French Toast.

Ro­driguez grew up in Toronto, but she moved to New York City in 2002 to pur­sue a mas­ter’s de­gree in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion at Columbia Univer­sity. She later did stints at both the United Na­tions, do­ing re­search on mi­gra­tion and hu­man traf­fick­ing, and Canada’s Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs, in the land-mine divi­sion. “But the whole time, this bak­ing idea was proof­ing in my mind,” she says. She de­cided to start with tor­tillas, as she had lived in Latin Amer­ica and de­vel­oped an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the tech­nique of hand-grind­ing the masa and then hand-press­ing each tor­tilla. So, in New York, she sought out women who could repli­cate those tor­tillas. When that be­came too labour-in­ten­sive—and too ex­pen­sive—she in­vested in a tor­tilla pro­duc­tion line. Nancy Men­dez, a Hot Bread Kitchen grad­u­ate who has been mak­ing corn tor­tillas since she was a 12-year-old liv­ing in Pue­bla, Mex­ico, now over­sees that line and can ad­just the dough by sim­ple touch.

Marie Pois­son, 64, a Haitian im­mi­grant, had never worked in a kitchen be­fore she joined Hot Bread Kitchen in 2010. Now a grad­u­ate of the pro­gram, she helps su­per­vise trainees. “It’s so help­ful for im­mi­grants like me,” she says. “It gives me op­por­tu­ni­ties and the power to change things.”

Ro­driguez’s work is not with­out its chal­lenges. She no longer bakes ev­ery day; she deals with op­er­a­tional de­tails in­stead. “Bread is time­sens­itive, tem­per­a­ture-sen­si­tive and lo­gis­ti­cally com­pli­cated,” she says. “I al­ways joke that my next pro­ject will in­volve laun­dry.” Still, she has set her sights on ex­pan­sion. Hot Bread Kitchen just in­creased its space in East Har­lem by 50 per­cent to 700 square me­tres in or­der to ac­com­mo­date a big­ger culi­nary in­cu­ba­tor. “The women we work with leave with more money than they came in with,” says Ro­driguez, “but they also leave with an in­tan­gi­ble boost to their self-con­fi­dence.” n

The Hot Bread Kitchen Cook­book is the bak­ery’s first col­lec­tion of recipes, which also in­cludes first-per­son tales from the bak­ers and pho­to­graphs of them at work (above).

Nan-e qandi (right) is an Ira­nian bread made with but­ter, milk and honey.

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