Let them eat bread | March 26, 2014 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - March 26, 2014

Let them eat bread

And, lo, they ate it with gusto and have been asking for more every single week

by Dave Boyce

As is common among bread bakers, Portola Valley resident and part-time baker Phil Reilly starts his day early. Not 3 a.m. early, but by 6:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, 32 loaves will be underway: eight of pain au levain, a mild sourdough; eight of corn "porridge" bread, a blend of Italian corn grits, toasted sunflower seeds and rosemary; and 16 of sprouted wheat.

The next morning's work typically produces 32 loaves of buckwheat-fig — a bestseller — and 16 of quinoa-kamut, an ancient grain from South America combined with an ancient wheat from South Asia.

Since the fall of 2013, on Thursday afternoons or evenings, depending on the season, Mr. Reilly, 55, can be found behind a stand at the Portola Valley farmers' market selling his artisanal loaves — and in short order. "The buckwheat with figs and walnuts is definitely my bestseller and, even though I do a double batch, (it) usually sells out first in an hour or so," Mr. Reilly says.

Portola Valley resident Danna Breen, a big fan of Mr. Reilly's efforts, helped him for his first few weeks at the farmers' market. "Every single loaf has a different application," she says in an email. "One for soup, one for cheeses, toasting, chocolate. My friends and I are all breaking this bread together and it makes for the most fun rating experience as we taste and sample them all."

People have written to her asking if she could have loaves set aside, Ms. Breen told the Almanac. "It has occurred to me that I could open up a black market," she writes. "'For $30 I will secure a loaf for you!' The bottom line is you have to get there to get your bread."

Baking is Mr. Reilly's third career. The other three days of the week, he is an intellectual-property attorney in the bio-tech sector, and he came to that from a career in chemistry. He received his undergraduate degree in England, where he grew up, and has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. He moved to the Bay Area in 1995 with his wife, Judith Hasko, an attorney and a recently appointed member of the Portola Valley Planning Commission.

Cooking and baking caught his attention as a teen, when he tried his hand at Indian food. The fascination with baking began by watching dumplings fluffing up in a pot on the stove. "That just amazed me," he says.

Making bread "is a lovely combination of art and science," he adds. "You take flour and water and natural leavening and, by being careful of how you treat it, it becomes something magical."

He refined his skills at the San Francisco Baking Institute in South San Francisco. "I want to give people bread they can't get anywhere else," he says. "To get this bread, you have to do it by hand."


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