Chow Bella

Mad Coyote Joe Bakes Bread -- and It Goes Fast Wednesday Afternoons at Janey's Coffeehouse

Sleepy Cave Creek wakes up fast Wednesday afternoons, when a Valley cooking legend with a hard-to-forget stage name shows up at Janey's Coffeehouse with 50 loaves of freshly baked bread.

Joe Daigneault is only Joe Daigneault to his creditors and his mother. To the rest of the world, he's Mad Coyote Joe, the Southwestern cookbook author and grilling guru who -- in the late '90s and early 2000s -- hosted 131 episodes of ABC 15's Emmy award-winning cooking show The Sonoran Grill.

A disastrous gastric bypass surgery in 2003 nearly destroyed Joe's health and temporarily derailed his career, but the man who once weighed 300 pounds can't walk away from his love affair with food.

After hearing friends and neighbors complain for the umpteenth time that it was impossible to find good bread in Cave Creek, Joe decided he was just the guy to remedy the situation.

But first, he did his homework, reading cookbooks and online baking recipes, as well as visiting bakeries, including Tartine in San Francisco. Then he studied ovens and oven design (luckily, he was in construction once upon a time), determining at last to build his own, traditional single-chamber Roman oven out of brick and refractory materials.

Now he's a bona-fide artisan baker, turning out about 50 loaves of sourdough bread every Tuesday with occasional help from his son and his wife (the latter chefs at AJ's Fine Foods).

Joe got the yeast for his sourdough starter from prickly pear fruit, and he uses a variety of woods -- including mesquite, pecan, and oak -- in his baking. Because the wood is completely burned off and the oven cleaned out with a leaf blower before the bread is baked, the wood smoke doesn't impart any flavor to the bread.

The all-day process of soaking the oak door and thermal-loading the oven begins at 7 am for a 5 to 7 p.m. bake time. Loaves get about 10 minutes in wet heat (the oven floor is 520 degrees, give or take) and another 10 to 12 minutes in dry heat. Second and third batches have increasingly longer bake times as the oven cools.

People love Joe's bread, which has a deeply browned but tender crust and the distinctive tang of sourdough.

On Wednesdays, Joe takes his bread to various venues around Cave Creek, meeting his longtime pal -- local sculptor Robert Thornley -- at Janey's Coffeehouse at 4:30 pm. Joe strums his guitar and visits with folks, often giving away as many of his $5 loaves as he actually sells.

A few customers barter, bringing strawberries, wine, or carrots instead of "bread" for their bread. One loaf-lover fixed Joe's AC for bread credit. "It's not about the money," Joe says. "I raised my kids here. I love this town."

If you want to try Joe's bread, get to Janey's at 4:30. The 50 go fast. To learn more about Mad Coyote Joe and his new interest in meatless, dairy-free recipes, read his blog.

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Nikki Buchanan