Artisans Bread Bakers Festival is community at its best

By Kathleen Lamont

It was Saturday, March 24, and I was walking through the Greenlife Grocery parking lot in Asheville where the fourth annual Asheville Artisans Bread Bakers Festival was in full swing.


Spinning Spider Creamery had a booth outside where they were selling their fresh made goat cheeses—a perfect accompaniment to the fresh baked goods that abound here. There were a slew of bakeries represented, both commercial and home based — Wake Robin Farm Breads, Marshall; Loaf Child Bakery, Weaver Street Market from down east in Carrboro, City Bakery, Asheville; Hillside Bakery, Knoxville, Tenn.; West End Bakery & Café, Asheville; The Bread Men, Winston-Salem; Wildflour Bakery, Saluda; Stick Boy Bread Co., Boone; Tellico Grains, Tellico Plains, Tenn.; Flat Rock Village Bakery, Flat Rock; 28806 Deli and Bakery in West Asheville; Annie’s Naturally Bakery from Sylva.

And last but not least Natural Bridge Bakery of Marshall, owned and operated by Jen Lapidus. Jen’s motto is “Eat bread; speak truth.” I feature Jen here because I am a big fan of her bread and consider her my personal baker, having had the pleasure of meeting her last year at a Slow Food Movement fundraiser in Barnardsville at the Hawk & Ivy B&B. Natural Bridge bakes in the Old World Flemish tradition of desem baking. Desem is the starter that leavens the dough using the microorganisms that occur naturally on the grain itself. This slow fermentation produces a highly digestible, artisan-style loaf. Organic grains are freshly milled for each bake using a stone-burr gristmill that keeps the flour cool, preserving its nutrients.

After two days of careful preparation, Natural Bridge loaves are baked in a wood-fired brick oven yielding full flavored, chewy, crusty, fine-textured bread. I need to mention also that Jen gets up at 4 a.m. every morning to fire up her outdoor brick oven. Now this is commitment and dedication at its highest.

As I walk through the crowds at Greenlife, I heard breads and pastries described as handcrafted, rustic, wood-fired, hearth breads, and artisan breads. Jessie Bardyn is head baker at City Bakery, which opened on Charlotte Street in Asheville seven years ago. It has since expanded with bakery number two opening last year at the old Blue Moon Bakery site on Biltmore Avenue. There they use steam-injected ovens to achieve Old World crusty breads.

A day’s work might produce semolina sesame, paisano bread, asagio sour dough, potato rosemary, ciabatta, multi grain, whole wheat, walnut, sweet date oat, French baguettes and whole wheat seeded baguettes studded with sesame, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, and poppy seeds.

City Bakery also serves lunch at its bakery and produces bread for both wholesale and retail customers. Bardyn, who starts his day at 6:30 a.m., bakes 300 plus loaves a day and up to 900 loaves a day for the weekend crowds using mostly organic ingredients.

“People are opening their eyes to healthy food,” Bardyn said. “You see how many bakeries are here today and all of them are producing different kinds of bread.”

Gail Lunsford, owner of Wake Robin Farm Breads, has been baking bread for 8 years, using an outdoor brick oven and two Thermador ovens for the lower temperature breads. The brick oven is used for the ciabatta, whole grain breads, and all hard-crusted breads. In the Thermador she bakes challah bread, 100 percent whole wheat, spelt, and Anadama, a New England bread made with cornmeal molasses and flour. She mentions that she has a billion bread books from which she chooses and modifies her special recipes. Lunsford features a very local sourdough bread having started her own sourdough culture several years ago, she says, “It’s very WNC—it’s from the yeast in the air in my kitchen.” She sells her bread at tailgate markets only and preparing for the Wednesday market, which starts at l p.m. means the baking has to begin at 8 a.m. the day before.

“We love this festival so much,” Lunsford said, “because there are over 20 bakeries here and not one person bakes the same bread that another bakery makes.”

Emily Buehler, a Weaver Street Market bread baker for almost five years, has written and published the complete how-to guide on bread baking. The book, Bread Science: the Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread, covers the practical aspects of making bread, such as shaping a baguette and scoring loaves as they enter the oven, as well as the science behind the dough. Check out her website at

As I walked back through the parking lot, three young women were playing fiddle and guitar out front. People were lunching nearby. It was a hot day in March. There were kids, old folks, and sweethearts walking hand in hand. There was lots of buzz and excitement to be had at this Saturday Market—a feeling of community and belonging.

(Kathleen Lamont is the owner of Back to Basics. Her Web site is and her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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