Leader is also involved in establisging community-based micro-bakeries in South Africa with the South African Whole Grain Bread Project, which grew out of meeting Gail Johnson, who runs Nkosi’s Haven, a shelter for AIDS orphans in Johannesburg. The project is scheduled to open its first bakery in South Africa this summer.
How did the South African Whole Grain Bread Project come to be?
Before my first trip to South Africa, I had gotten Gail Johnson’s cell phone number. When I called Gail up, looking to do some volunteer work while I was there, she said, “What you could really do is show the moms how to make healthy bread.” The quality of the bread in South Africa is pretty bad. Nutrition is a big issue there because anyone who is HIV positive needs twice the caloric intake that you or I would. You need more good food because your body is fighting a war. One of the issues in Sub-Saharan Africa is that many people who are HIV positive can’t go on ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs] because they’re not healthy enough to take them.
What they needed was healthy bread. It was so obvious when I went there. They asked, “What do you do?” And I said, “I’m a baker.” Then they asked, “Can you show us how to make healthy bread?” It was the first thing I heard five people say to me.
The first bakery we’re building will be at Nkosi’s Haven and will provide an incubator for developing people’s work skills and life skills. Some of the bread will be sold retail. The other bread will go to government feeding programs for AIDS orphans, providing each child with six ounces of bread with plumpynut [a peanut-butter based high-nutrition spread] a day. It will be really valuable for the kids. There are more than 2,000 AIDS orphans within a mile of Gail’s center in Johannesburg.
What’s in the works this year for Bread Alone?
This year we’ve been accepted into 20 new farmer’s markets. We’ll be selling bread at 40 locations a week. With all the focus on local, our farmers’ market business really grew last year, almost 100 percent. And I would expect that type of growth again. Thousands and thousands of loaves of Bread Alone bread is being sold in farmers’ markets in Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan and Westchester and across the region. It’s a whole big part of our business now.
Your latest book is on panini. Why panini?
Because I was a chef before I was a baker, I’ve always liked simple flavors. I’ve always liked to look at an ingredient in a dish and know what it is. I don’t like covering flavors. I like things to be as simple and fresh as possible. The panini are supposed to be tasty, succulent tidbits, not like a big corned beef sandwich. Thin layers of good cheese and vegetables and meat and good bread. It’s really an extension of the baker’s art, where the bread is as important as the ingredients.