Cooking, Field Notes

Mill and Churn with Avery Ruzicka

photo: Aubrie Pick

With both a culinary and bread degree from the French Culinary Institute as well as having worked a staging stint under Per Se restaurant’s master baker Ben Hershberger, Avery Ruzicka knew that she wanted to devote her career to the miracle of grains and yeast and ovens.

But she had to take an unusual route to get there. Which is how she ended up working the front of the house running food at Los Gato’s famed Manresa in 2012. After six months of delivering chef David Kinch’s three-Michelin-star dishes to diners, she made her way into the kitchen, where she had been headed all along.

There, she founded the Manresa Bread Project, an endeavor that began in the restaurant with an official bread course included in prix-fixe dinners, moved to serve a rabid farmers’ market fanbase, and now includes bakeries in Palo Alto and Los Gatos with a new one set to open in Campbell.

Ruzicka comes to SHED on May 12 to demonstrate some of what makes her bread so acclaimed. And of course, it starts with the grain. As do we, Ruzicka mills her own grain for making bread and even oatmeal.

For her class, she’ll tote along her favorite tabletop mill, a KoMo Mockmill that she adores for its price and durability. The similar hand-cranked Country Living Grain Mill is a staple of our kitchen.

“My vision is to show people that this simple piece of equipment can open up so many avenues of creativity,” Ruzicka told us by phone recently.

“I want to show people that what we do is possible. The Mockmill especially is not a huge financial investment. It’s a couple hundred dollars and will last a lifetime. Instead of grabbing a bag of old flour from your cupboard, you can make fresh ingredients that are a million times better.”

Supporting local grain growers is a passion for us. We’re so excited to see young chefs like Ruzicka embracing real grains for taste and good health.

“We use all organic grains,” Ruzicka explains, adding that she purchases pre-milled flour from Central Milling Co. out of Petaluma and buys grain from Coke Farm, an organic produce farm in San Juan Bautista.

“Owner Dale Coke is a passionate bread baker and, as a farmer, decided to start selling some grain,” she says. “He grows some rye, a variety of bread wheat called Patron and a white wheat called Blanco Grande.”

Ruzicka explains that you don’t have to own a bakery to purchase whole grains to mill yourself, listing more of the producers she uses that sell to the public as well.

“We get einkorn and spelt from a farm in Oregon called Bluebird Grain Farms. I have also purchased a lot of wheat from Camas Country in Washington, also family-run, and they mill as well. When you’re buying direct from farmers, you have to contend with the fact that they don’t have a shipping system. It’s pushed us to find even more California grain. It’s around, but it’s in smaller volume.”

Ruzicka’s sourdough breads rise for up to 36 hours. Allowing for such a long fermentation period makes the loaves easier to digest and makes them palatable to those who are typically bothered by gluten (celiac sufferers still can’t consume it). It also creates airy pockets inside the loaves that make the bread tender and perhaps even more addictive.

It’s all a product of patience and science, but mostly patience. Ruzicka stresses that any one who is interested can get learn how to source and make good food. “If you eat a delicious meal, ask where it came from,” she says simply.

Avery Ruzicka comes to our Healdsburg store on Saturday, May 12, at 11am for a two-hour workshop on simple bread and butter. We’ll learn to churn our own fresh cream into butter and how to make sourdough flatbreads. Students will receive recipes and a 10% SHED discount on all purchases that day. Join us!

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