Building community through bread
By BJ OUDMAN
Bread. An unpretentious concoction of four simple ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast. Yet, bread is complex. Woven into culture throughout history and around the globe, bread’s role goes far beyond simple nourishment. Bread is holy and ritualistic, – from prayer (give us this day our daily bread) to symbolic “body of Christ” communion rites. In Latin, the word companion literally means “a person with whom we share bread.” The breaking of bread with others creates a bond that connects family, friends and sometimes even strangers. Holiday tables are not complete without traditional breads like Jewish challah, Italian panettone or Polish babka.
In North America, the low-carb movement has taken its toll on bread’s popularity, but good bread is actually not bad for most people; celiac and gluten intolerant excluded. Loaves packaged in cellophane and containing preservatives have unfortunately tainted bread’s reputation for many health-conscious consumers. But thankfully, the future of bread is about going back to the past, with resurgence in not only artisan bakeries but passionate home bakers as well.
The French have maintained a different attitude toward bread than most other cultures – the baguette is as much a symbol of France as is
the Eiffel Tower. “Le pain quotidien,” the daily loaf, can be picked up fresh at the local bakery or delivered to rural homes, deposited in a special canvas bag hanging on the residential gate in exchange for a euro or two. France had a national bread crisis during the rise of industrialization from the 1960s to the 1980s, a period when machines took over production, resulting in lower quality loaves. However, official legislation passed in 1993 called the Balladur Law controls flour quality, yeast content and fermentation techniques, reclaiming traditional standards and tastes. It is likely that renewed commitment to better bread across the pond sparked the renaissance of artisan bread in North America.
Baguettes – baking bread
Although supermarket bread can be had for less than $2, anyone who has tackled making bread from scratch can attest to the fact that it is time consuming, messy and well worth the $6-plus price tag for an artisan loaf. Bread makers have simplified the process, but the time-honoured technique of levain (aka sourdough) is more than just an end product. The process of maintaining a starter, measuring, mixing, folding, pinching, stretching, shaping and proofing can be therapeutic. The final product symbolizes a small piece of the maker’s heart and to friends tearing a piece off a freshly baked loaf, it means community.
To Aviv Fried, bread is the “anchor of the table, not fancy but important, something to share.” The founder of Sidewalk Citizen had humble beginnings, baking his first loaf in 2008 for his now-wife Michal, followed by weekly bake-a-thons in the Cookbook Company kitchen, delivering online orders by bicycle to people working in downtown offices. His first counter service opened in 2011 on 1A Street SE near Chinook Mall, offering daily bread and scones. He also supplied wholesale clients including Sunnyside Market in Kensington, where he opened his second location during its 2013 expansion. Aviv then teamed up with Phil & Sebastian, who reached out to him to join them along with Charbar for the Simmons Building project in 2015. The starter (pun intended) of all these collaborations was bread.
Bread loaves and a cookbook
Despite the popularity of his sourdough loaves, the reality was that a business couldn’t thrive on bread alone, leaving two options: increase the wholesale business, or create a new account. The Frieds opted for the latter and became their own customer by opening a restaurant in Central Memorial Park. Aviv and Michal had always wanted to open a sit-down destination. They loved the location of the restaurant space so when it became available, they seized the opportunity to fulfill the ideas they had nurtured over the years. It took a research trip to Israel and a more than a year to develop the warm and welcoming space, but Park, with its emphasis on using fresh ingredients to make flavourful Mediterranean food, opened in November 2019 and has become a popular epicurean destination.
Aviv is passionate not just about bread, but about community. Each Sidewalk Citizen is in a high-foot-traffic, inner-city location that is bike accessible (he himself is a bike commuter) and supports local. The Frieds prioritize the environment and relationships. Unsold items are donated to Leftovers Foundation, on which Aviv serves as a board member. In 2018 they launched Tzavta, Hebrew for the act of sitting together, which are regular cultural dinners where guests are “forced” to interact in a communal seating style and share a specially curated meal, including of course, bread. Following dinner, an invited guest facilitates a conversation on topics ranging from art to science. And in the end, isn’t that what bread is? A little art, a little science and a tradition of coming together.
Round loaf of bread