“I could stand here all day,” one man happily comments to his girlfriend before popping a piece of rustic bread into his mouth. He’s among the crowd I find gathered in front of Blacksmith’s Bread’s at the Long Beach Farmer’s Market one early Saturday morning.
Ray Smith—the “Smith” in Blacksmith’s—is serving up samples of his hearty bread, topped with fennel fromage blanc and gin-infused salmon. Not surprisingly—his customers tend to linger.
“Which one is better for grilled cheese?” a woman asks. “That would be the Pan De Mie,” Ray replies, pointing to a loaf of bread akin to a work of art.
The menu board boasts truly unique offerings like Quinoa, Cherry Hundo and Chocolate Sourdough—baked in an assortment of shapes and colors. Ray cuts off a sample slice for another customer. “Try this one, it has a little rosemary and paprika.”
I got my first taste of Blacksmith’s Bread’s at the AOH Taste of Long Beach fundraiser held a few weeks back at the Catholic School, where I met Ray’s partners, Mike Blackburn— the “Black” in Blacksmith, and Shane Herbert who in turn led me to Ray. Now… I’m a person who could live on bread and cheese alone (okay, add some wine too) so I was intrigued to learn more about their expanding bread business.
Many of you may already know Ray as a chef from the former Cafe Laguna. He grew up in Lynbrook, but his Long Beach roots go back to childhood summers at his uncle’s house on Delaware Avenue, where he often ran to the corner to get Chinese food. He eventually moved to Long Beach and was living on Minnesota when the hurricane hit. Like many, he was instantly homeless, but held on to his sense of humor—fashioning a sign out of an old surfboard that read Need Room, Have Board!
Ironically, he says the hurricane was the best thing that ever happened to him, because he moved out east, met his wife-to-be and “became obsessed with bread.” He couldn’t possibly count the amount of hours he spent experimenting with different concentrations of nutrients, trying to get the flavors and consistencies he wanted. But he loved every minute of it.
“Making dough was relaxing, a stress killer. I also saw bread as my future,” he explains, pointing to then fiance—now wife, Katherine who was working the tent with him. “The life of a chef is stressful with incredibly long hours. We’re getting married and having kids. I don’t want to be in a kitchen at 1 a.m. anymore.”
Ray, Mike, and Shane started selling their bread at pop-up’s in the West End, mainly Lost & Found where Ray also worked as a chef. Soon the idea of opening a bakery began to take shape. It was something the West End desperately needed. Ray says, “I thought we could fill a void.”
Blacksmith’s Bread’s & Provisions is slated to open in September in the center store of the recently renovated strip on Delaware and Beach. “I love that the bakery is going to be on Delaware where my uncle had a house, and in the strip that was my Chinese white rice spot!”
The trio is planning a micro coffee shop, with tartines, pates, and perhaps a monthly tasting menu. An open floor plan with tables and couches will be arranged to allow patrons a view of the baking going on in the back. Baking classes and a family pizza dough night is on the agenda as well. Ray’s also hoping to offer basic culinary skills training to help better prepare the local talent pool for neighborhood kitchen jobs. It will be open 7 days a week—early enough for the coffee crowd.
They don’t use commercial yeast, and they only bake naturally leavened breads with house-milled flour. What’s the difference you might ask? Well, there’s actually a lot to it. First of all, commercial bread is made mechanically. It’s cheaper, full of air, and takes about 2.5 hours to bake. Blacksmith’s Bread’s is full of nutrients, takes 24-36 hours to make, and has a two-week shelf-life.
Ray hopes that the artisan food trend and the increasing demand for locally and regionally produced crops will reverse some of the damage done by the industrialization of agriculture in America.
His passion for what he does is evident, but it’s the customers he meets that makes it all worthwhile. “There’s a guy from Germany, lived here for decades, and when he tasted my Vollkornbrot (a German whole grain bread) he told me there were so many things he missed about Germany—but now he had one less thing to miss.”
Awww sweet – Now that’s what I call baking the bread of life!
Blacksmith’s Bread’s will be at the Long Beach Farmer’s Market all summer and fall. Follow their Facebook Page for new information about their grand opening in the West End.
Happy 4th of July everyone!!!