Bread Bakers Guild rises in Petaluma

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“I love bakers,” declares Cathy Wayne, executive director of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, newly headquartered in Petaluma. The dough-masters in question are artisan bakers, who make up a large share of the Guild’s 2,500 members. These are the people whose passion is to get up in the middle of the night and sink their hands into flour and water.

“They are laidback, perhaps because they are used to waiting for the dough to rise,” Wayne says. “True, our bakers may have five digital timers strapped to their wrists, but compared to chefs, they are relaxed.”

Wayne ought to know. She is married to a chef, and has been shepherding the rapidly growing Guild since 2010. Born on a sheep farm in Hillman, California, south of Turlock, and raised in Modesto, Wayne studied at Sonoma State University. She had a variety of administrative jobs, including a 10-year stint as CFO for Riverwalk Jazz, a public radio series syndicated on over 220 stations, before taking the helm at the Guild. She has lived in Petaluma since 1974.

The Guild was started in 1993.

The nonprofit’s international membership includes professional bakers, farmers, millers, suppliers, educators, students, home bakers and technical experts from many countries, including Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Turkey and Greece. It is nearly 80% professionals, with the balance of the membership being amateurs, dubbed “Serious Home Bakers.” Among the baking professionals, 25% are bakery owners and 30% are bakery employees.

After ten years in the town of Sonoma, the Guild recently moved to Petaluma. The relocation was precipitated by the death of Sonoma Judge Newton Dal Poggetto in 2018. The Guild, Wayne explains, had been sharing office space with him. As a long-time Petaluma resident, Wayne compared the rents in the two cities and finally recommended to her nine-person board that the Guild purchase its own office in Petaluma. The large, well-lit space on the second floor of an office park includes kitchen facilities.

A guild is an association for mutual aid and the promotion of mutual interests. While common in Europe, guilds are less known in the US.

“We tend to be competitors here,” says Wayne.

In the case of artisan bakers, the Guild clearly serves a strong need. Artisan bakers use knowledge of traditional methods and a mastery of hand skills to produce baked goods that meet high standards of taste, appearance, aroma and texture. The bakers tend to be independent, entrepreneurial and widely scattered, geographically. The Guild allows them to collaborate.

Well known in the baking community, The Bakery Guild is the go-to educational resource for accurate information on the craft of making bread. The materials and activities generated by the Guild are available nowhere else, largely because each member is a resource for the others. Together, they represent the cutting edge in providing the tools needed to produce the highest quality bread products.

One of the Guild’s primary features is an annual series of seminars consisting of fifteen two-day classes held across the country. The theme this year is “The Power of Flour.” Various culinary schools and large bakeries donate space for the classes. The instructors are leading authorities in their fields. For example, in April the Guild will hold a class on “Baking with Freshly Milled Flour” at the Barton Springs Mill in Dripping Springs, Texas. It will be taught by Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread, Wolcott, Vermont.

The only class scheduled in California this year is “Holiday Breads and Winter Pastries,” at Long Beach City College, set to take place Sept. 21-22. It will be taught by Robert Jörin, an associate dean at the St. Helena campus of the Culinary Institute of America.

The Guild produces its own quarterly magazine, “Bread Lines,” a four-color, 48-page journal of news, events, columnists, recipes and technical articles. The list of contributors numbers more than thirty, indicating how active the members are. The next issue of “Bread Lines” will appear in April.

A major event of the Guild is Wheatstalk, a three-day bread conference held every other year, with more than thirty instructors. With only 150 spots open, a lottery is used to determine the participants. In 2018, there were 600 applications.

“It’s a great way to learn new techniques and rub elbows with the best teachers,” Wayne says. “We always include a ‘guild-hall gathering’ to which all the bakers and interested parties in the area are invited.”

Another important event in the world of artisanal baking is the World Cup of Baking, or Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, held every four years in Paris in conjunction with Europain, an international bakery, patisserie, and catering exhibition attracting more than 80,000 visitors. The purpose of the World Cup is to gather artisan bakers from around the world to celebrate their profession and share knowledge of baking techniques. Twelve teams compete, based on regional contests. The teams consist of a coach and three specialists, one for each of three categories - Baguettes and Specialty Breads, Artistic Design and Viennoiserie (pastries).

Nicky Giusto, a Guild member and head of Central Milling in Petaluma, was on the Guild’s 2016 team. He will serve as coach of the 2020 team. The team members will be Jerod Pfeffer (bread), Nicholas Zimmermann (artistic design) and Kate Goodpaster (pastry).

A major resource for members is a cache of more than a thousand “formulas” (recipes) stored and indexed on a members-only Guild website. Another website feature for members is an e-group discussion space where they can post questions and get suggestions from fellow members.

“We see 30 to 50 queries and responses a day,” Wayne says.

Among the Guild’s members are many well-known cookbook authors.

In Wayne’s office are two long shelves of cookbooks by members and board members. Among the titles are “Flour” by Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston, “Heritage Baking” by Ellen King, of Hewn Bakery in Chicago and “Handmade Breads” by Ciril Hitz.

In September the Guild will host lectures and demos at the International Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas, one of the baking industry’s largest annual events.

Wayne just returned from the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.

“This was the first year that we joined the pizza people,” she says. “We will partner with them next year, too. They are fun.”

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