Welcome to our new blog series, Made Right Here. One day we looked around and realized all the things we loved most – the food, the art, the drinks, the wares – all these things are good because they’re made right here. You can see, touch, taste, feel, and know how these things are made and who made them. After years of outsourcing manufacturing, of industrializing formerly artisan crafts, we’re seeing a return to small scale and craft quality production. Folks are literally taking things into their own hands – turning to the products we consume and use on a daily basis and making them better.
And where is the “here”? It doesn’t matter. There are people making amazing things EVERYWHERE, including and especially our favorite cities: Philly, New York, DC, Chicago, Boston, LA, Miami, Port-Au-Prince, and Paris. There is food (and craft) for inspiration in every corner of the world. This series will provide a look into the lives of makers, creators, innovators, agitators, artists, movers, shakers, and anyone who stands up and says, “No. I can make this better, I can make it myself, and I can make it right here.”
Made Right Here: Natural Sourdough
John McGrath lets himself into La Colombe Fishtown at 4:30am. He puts down his bag and goes straight for the coffee – Pure Black cold brew to jolt him awake and get going on the day. There’s bread to be made.
And all of that bread is made from scratch, by hand, daily, right here on Frankford Ave. John is the executive baker at La Colombe Fishtown, and is responsible for the development and production of our fresh breads, including sourdough, baguettes, and challah. Along with Chef Andrew Tyler, John oversees the kitchen as it executes a menu of pizza, sandwiches, salads, and more, all rooted in the bread program at the cafe’s core.
By 11am, the bread is made and the cold brew has worn off, but after almost 7 hours, John is not done – he has to schedule, plan, and manage a production kitchen that provides pastries, bread, and bites-to-go to our 4 other Philly cafes. (He also pulls triple duty as dad to 1-year old Cora, and as rapper @toritorhymes.) It’s no small task, but John’s first love is the bread, and he manages to get his hands in the dough every day.
There’s something visceral about buying your daily bread in the same place that it’s made. When you pick up a baguette from La Colombe, you can peek around the wood fired oven to see John placing rows of baguettes into the bread oven. You can look through the windows to the bakery and see the team kneading, rolling, and shaping each and every piece of bread we make. You know where that bread came from and you know who made it.
“We make our bread from excellent flour – some of it milled locally – and the finest filtered water Philly has to offer,” John says while he finishes twisting up the day’s challah rolls. “The things that industrial bakeries use to circumvent the fermentation process – artificial coloring, preservatives, and other additives – have no part of our process. And when you try our naturally leavened sourdough, you’ll understand why – there’s a world of flavor and texture that you just don’t get from hastily produced industrial bread.”
The secret to good flavor development in bread? A long, slow, cool fermentation period. Using natural yeast and allowing the dough to ferment overnight creates a depth and a difference you can taste.
“Before the mid-1950s or so, all bread was naturally leavened, but with the invention of instant and rapid-rise yeasts, everyone switched to that because it’s faster,” John explains. “But it compromises the flavor, the appearance, the nutritional integrity – you lose the whole essence of the bread.”
By 1:30pm, after 9 hours, John looks like he’s been through a bread battle. He’s covered in flour, his bandana is askew, and everyone is telling him to go home for his nap. The bread is baked. All is well.