Inhaling deeply: the bread basket is under-developed and overly-proofed in Phoenix; we believe the market has a lot of room to grow. it can be daunting to find good bread and pastries consistently. The few truly great bakers with storefronts often have limited hours and styles. The old favorites may bake fresh bread, but roll out stale ideas. Local milling is still rare. Some of our favorites bakeries have closed. Many pastry chefs have moved into private production for restaurants and take only special orders beyond their spread out wholesale accounts. Some of the more interesting efforts aren't yet visible, still half-baked. There aren't enough specialty markets or places for centralized ideas. Ideally, we'd like to see Noble's country loaves on many more menus and corners, have more to choose from than the Mediterra challah hot dog buns at Whole Foods and, finally, even if Essence does make a pretty good croissant, it does so — maddeningly — by default rather than by besting competitors (if you think there's a better croissant in town, made by some young-gun baker in a spotty baking space that no one knows about: say something in the comments and we'll check it out.)
Exhaling: that's a long lede and lot of pressure to put on one of Phoenix's up-and-coming bakers.
Jared Allen, owner of Proof Artisan Bread, was flying under the radar until the spotlight of Martha Stewart's American Made spotlight passed over him, where he got some considerable media coverage. The pro baker, with the home-bakery, got busier, selling naturally-leavened breads and pastries from that same home until demand sent him to the farmers market. We may see, yet, another transition for him into a permanent space. He's always seems to have his eye on the next step.
The road to meeting Jared Allen in-person was a long one: from special orders for birthday present bakery pickups — in the form of delicious eclairs and pan au chocolaut — from his home, to emails wondering why he'd said "@pizzicleta has given me a glimpse into the future," on his Instagram account (@proofbread). The road finally led to a pizza party held on May 2 at Webster Farm in Gilbert, a beautiful private farm, home and wedding venue at once in contrast with the industrial park surrounding it. The concept, a side project with friends Myke Olsen and Devyn Gillepsie, is called "Eight Twenty Four" or "824" for short (the name comes from the 824 degrees being a good baking temperature). Fifty-or-so sat down for Eight Twenty Four: market-fresh bread, fresh-fired pizza, and hospitality — all in the name of a little market research.
Could we have a quick run down of your work experience?
I have a past littered with jobs. I've worked producing ventilation equipment, in a box factory, a concrete company, and cleaning carpets. I have found its hard for me to stay in one place for more than a year. That being said, I seem to always come back to the culinary industry. I worked in a Mexican Restaurant in Manhattan, KS my first year in college. I worked at Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence, KS for a couple years, I met my wife working at Chili's on Mill and University. I spent a little time at Romeo's Euro Cafe in Gilbert while I was in Culinary School. I even picked up a gig as a private chef for a family in Paradise Valley. I worked with them for almost a year. There's probably more, just too many to remember.
How did Proof get started?
The idea of Proof came while I was cleaning carpets. I had been baking bread for years as a hobby, and I just decided to start selling it on the side. My ability to do it waxed and waned because it was a side project. I really only started focusing on it in October of last year (2014) when I started the Gilbert Farmers Market. It has really taken off! I'm very excited to see where Proof will be in another 6 months.
How long have you been baking for, and how did you get into it?
I've been cooking as long as I can remember. I grew up in a small (population 350) farming town in Kansas. My mom worked hard as a nurse, so I would help her with the cooking duties. I remember baking a chocolate covered cheesecake when I was around 9 years old. I've just always kinda had the bug. I attended Le Cordon Bleu Scottsdale in 2006 in the culinary program. They made us take an introduction to baking class. One of our first assignments was to make baguettes. I went in 2 hours early every day for the rest of the class just to make baguettes.
When I first got pastries from you, I was surprised to literally be walking into your home — kids were running around — it was a different way of doing a pastry run. Someone told me how European that was to open up your home and sell pastries to the neighborhood.
I was just doing what came natural. I wanted to bake and I needed an outlet for it. My home was the obvious choice. Its great having so many people in our home, and I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. It's hard for me to explain, but there's just something that feels right about it. That is definitely how I see Proof though, not just a neighborhood place, but a community place.
Would you consider Proof a family project?
My life is a family project! Proof is definitely a family project — I just don't see how it couldn't be. My kids have always wanted to help, whether it be the baking or the selling. They really help me out a great deal, and hopefully they're learning something in the process.
You said your wife is a painter, right? How would you describe the role of arts and craft in your lives?
They are our essence. I can't imagine my wife without thinking about painting, she's amazing. Balancing her art career and a family is a difficult task, but she more than handles it. As I write this, she's sitting at a large table in the middle of our home, painting portraits. Kids are running around and past her. One kid is banging on the piano, another is asking her a question about a stuffed animal. It's just us — it's how we are.
Tell me about Martha Stewart and the American Made awards — how was that?
It was an amazing oppurtunity. I was honored to be a finalist. I didn't expect to make it that far.
Which are your favorite pastries to make — or are you more of a bread guy?
Bread is my true passion, but I've been pretty obsessed with perfecting the pain au chocolat recently. Its great to see the improvement in just the last few months.
When you're baking can what's the most challenging also be the most fun? Or rewarding?
I don't use yeast in my bakery, everything is naturally leavened. This can be challenging at times, but I believe in it. I think its the right way to bake, which makes it one of the most rewarding aspects also. I definitely believe that the most challenging aspects are the most fun. When it ceases being a challenge, it starts to seem like work.
What are your goals with baking, and what's your next step? My immediate goal is to get better every day. To work on something each day that will further my craft. Long term, I would love to have a storefront. I'd love to be able to employ and work with troubled youth, to pass on the craft. I'd also like to start a bakers collective where amateur bakers could gather, bake, and share ideas and tips. Thats more of a dream than a goal though.
Tell us and the readers about the Pizza project.
My friend Myke Lewis and I have been making pizza independently of each other for years. In December we decided to join forces and we started "Eight Twenty Four Pizza" (824pizza.com). It's been a fun side project. We host about 50 people each month, usually in our back yard. It's another fun way to be a part of the community.
Which toppings are on your ultimate slice of pizza?
I love greens on pizza, so I would have to say: tomato sauce, goat cheese and arugula tossed in balsamic.
We've talked about how great Pizzicleta in Flagstaff is — and you've been. What's so unique about them, and what are they doing right?
I would say, "what aren't they doing right?" I'm mildly obsessed with Pizzicleta. I love how simple it is, how quality ingredients, attention to the craft, and a sense of style (food style) can team to make something transcendent.
Who else do you admire in the baking world and why?
Don Guerra from Barrio Bread is the first name that comes to mind. He's making world class bread in his garage. He has been a mentor to me in many ways, and has been accessible whenever I have a question. Another person I'd like to mention is my favorite Instagram feed (@apieceofbread). His name is Ian Lowe, he's an American born baker (his parents live here in the valley) baking in Tasmania. His feed is very educational, he shares his recipes openly, and he'll answer any questions.
Baking can get super geeky and scientific — different flours, hydration %s, all that. But there's also the bacteria and yeast, and a sort of faith in the unknown develops. Invisible, earthly forces at work in the air. Is baking all science to you — or is there a little bit of the spiritual mixed in?
Wow! I love the idea of bread being a mystical thing, but I can't say that I subscribe to that belief. You have a formula, most of my breads are some combination of flour, water and salt. Scientifically, I know this is going to make some sort of bread. It's been experimented on and proven again and again, but I think there's still an aspect of faith. You have to have faith that if you mix the right ingredients in the right way that you will end up with delicious bread.