Baker Bryan Ford’s new show ‘The Artisan’s Kitchen’ on Magnolia Network
Baker Bryan Ford always starts his breads the same way. He takes a measure of the ripe sourdough which he keeps covered on the counter, adds twice as much flour and then hot water. Then he digs with his hands.
“Those are the two mixing tools here. Everyone has them and they’re free,” he said, as he prepared to cook in his apartment in downtown New Orleans.
The entree is the base for everything the Afro-Honduran baker makes: country breads, French bread in New Orleans, tortillas, Puerto Rican sweets called Mallorcas, and his mother’s favorite, pan de coco. Honduran.
Sourdough is also the basis of Ford’s career. This is how he accumulated followers on Instagram for pictures of his bread and subscribers on Youtube for his affable pastry videos. Then, in 2020, he published his first cookbook, “Nouveau levain du monde” (Carrière), which sold over 70,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish, French, Dutch, Korean and Hungarian. This year he was a regular guest of the “Recipe Club“, the podcast of celebrity chef David Chang.
In the United States, almost every bakery feels the need to make French baguettes and croissants. Ford instead explores breads from Honduras, where his parents were born, from Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica and elsewhere. Other bakers are Instagram obsessed with #crumbs with precision-sliced breads to expose the tender, swirled interior.
Ford tears up his bread. He doesn’t care if they are distorted or a little too brown. Imperfect bread is always delicious.
Ford will now cook for its larger audiences when on July 15 it launches its TV series “The Craftsman’s Kitchen”. The show is part of the initial programming of the new Magnolia network by Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the popular home improvement show “Fixer Upper”.
“Their fan base is very different from my target fan base,” said Ford. “A little more from Central America. But I think they’re the kind of people who need to see me and see what I’m doing.”
It started with pan de coco
Ford the Baker wanted to be Ford the footballer first. As a child, he played on teams in New Orleans, where his parents, immigrants from Honduras, moved from the Bronx when Ford was only one year old.
“To play football in this country you have to pay, and few people can afford to pay,” said Ford, who grew up in a working class family. “But if you’re good enough, they’ll let you play for free. I was one of them.”
When Ford realized that football would not be his career, he enrolled at Loyola University in New Orleans and chose a practical career.
“I have to go to college. I guess I’ll just make my mom proud and become an accountant,” he said.
Ford was a successful accountant and worked in the New Orleans office of KPMG, a “big four” accounting firm.
“Before, I hated going to work every day. There’s no way, at 25, it’s normal,” he said.
In 2016, Ford stepped down as an accountant. He moved to Miami without a clear plan. Maybe he would coach football. Maybe he would cook, like when he and his friends threw college parties.
He tried to sell bread at farmers’ markets. He made crispy croissants and olive breads, the breads that artisan bakers make across America. But he never made enough money in the markets.
Then his mother visited him. She asked for pan de coco, as if she had grown up eating in Honduras.
“I never thought I would do something like this back then,” he said.
Ford decided to make the dense, slightly sweet coconut pan with the same sourdough he used for his European breads. When he posted the results on Instagram, his followers responded with a cascade of likes and positive comments. Ford began to think about how to use his sourdough for breads beyond European baguettes and balls.
A booming career
“Every time someone opens a bakery in this country, there are always two items on their list: croissants and baguettes. Why? There is a country in the world that eats croissants. You can draw inspiration from so many different cultures, ”he said.
On December 1, 2018, Ford launched a website, ArtisanBryan.com, and began posting recipes for sourdough tortillas, pizza dough, pineapple-filled pastelitos and New Orleans donuts and royal cake. He added easygoing videos, demystifying the often intimidating sourdough baking, with his entry bubbling and alive. With so many bakers worried about perfection, he told his followers not to even worry about failure.
“A lot of his recipes are like not stressing about it. It doesn’t matter if you get it wrong, because you are learning from this experience, ”said baker Christina Balzebre, a friend of Ford and owner of Levee Baking Co of New Orleans.
In March 2019, Ford was offered a contract for a book, but he only had five months to complete the manuscript. The tight deadline, however, meant that “New World Leaven” was released in June 2020, when much of the country was locked in its homes due to the pandemic and the cooking was bigger than ever.
At the same time, anger over George Floyd’s murder sparked protests against racial injustice across the United States.
The food media rushed to fix its long-standing lack of diversity. Ford, as an African-Honduran who bakes Latin American breads, started getting more and more calls.
“The media were scrambling to find new black talent to showcase. I think it’s important to call him out for what he is and talk about it, ”he said.
Ford thinks a lot about what it means to be a Latinx baker making bread from Latin America.
“There aren’t many famous bakers who are not white,” he said.
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The path he traces is that of his heritage. And it’s also a question of flavor. He loves to eat croissants, baguettes and all those artisan breads popular in France and Italy. But he knows the world is full of other delicious recipes. He wants more people to eat these other breads and pastries. He wants more people to cook them.
Even as Ford was getting ready to launch “The Artisan’s Kitchen”, his mind was already moving on. He started his own podcast. He was thinking of a clothing line, which would certainly include aprons. He posts sponsored Instagram posts and online cooking demonstrations for Bloomingdale’s. These days he feels like he has to say “yes”. But one day, however, he hopes to be able to say “no” more often.
“I have no generational wealth. I barely have a savings account, ”he said.
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The next big project is its follow-up to “New World Sourdough”. The second book, which was purchased by Hachette’s Voracious imprint at an auction, will be a thick collection of Latin American pastry. The history books on Latin America stacked on Ford’s coffee table look like research for a doctoral thesis. He wants the new book to go further. But he also wants it to be fun. It must be a cookbook that people actually use.
“There are two ways my book can go. This could be the greatest pastry book of all time, ”he said, raising his hand to the ceiling. Then he let his hand drop to chin level. “Or it could be just a good baking book.”
Either way, the only thing Ford can imagine is success.
Topical advice? Ideas for stories? Questions? Call reporter Todd Price at 504-421-1542 or email him at [email protected]. Register for The South American newsletter. follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.