I spent a wonderful couple of days last May with Mike Zakowski, a baker in Sonoma who graciously took me into his backyard bakery where he was making loaves. I was curious about him, because he worked entirely by hand and was also in training to compete in the world cup of baking. These seemed like polar opposite pursuits.
I will see him again next week when he's competing in Paris, where he's baking with Team USA in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. Here's the opening of the story I wrote about him on Gilt Taste, which begins:
The world of baking seems to attract free spirits, but Mike Zakowski—who calls himself The Bejkr—stands out even among them. Few bakers, even the most committed artisans, mix their dough by hand, because of the demands of production. Nor do they work in a converted shipping container plopped in their backyard. Nor do they often bake with a wood fire, because the heat and oven can be as fickle to master as the bread itself. Zakowski does all of this. And then he drives to the farmers’ market in Sonoma, smoke billowing out of an oven hitched on the back of his vintage delivery truck with bright green hub caps.
If I left the image there—stellar artisan baker in California wine country, selling loaves that feature local ingredients, ancient grains, organic flours and hemp seeds—you would nod. You would get it. But it’s not the whole story, because Zakowski has been attempting another feat: representing the United States in Paris next week at the world cup of baking – the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. In short, the Bejkr is also an Olympian.
- Samuel Fromartz