The Servant Baker
The King’s Bakery and the adjacent restaurant The King’s Kitchen are a unique enterprise in the Queen City: a premier restaurant in a prime Uptown location, serving scratch-made food from local, seasonal, organic ingredients, where 100% of the profits go to feed the poor. The vision and mission of Chef Jim Noble (Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen), The King’s Kitchen also trains and employs the previously unemployable.
I went to The King’s Bakery to talk about desserts, to get some final thoughts for this issue filled with sweet eats and drinks.
But from the moment I sit down with Sam Stachon, Executive Chef at the bakery, all he wants to talk about is bread.
He is younger than I expected, with tattoos of a fish and chef ’s knife along the inside of his forearm. “I’ve always been interested in molecu- lar gastronomy,” he says, and my mind goes straight to high-tech gim- micks like liquid nitrogen. But he is talking about something more or- ganic, and more fundamental: how does flour, salt, and water become bread?
“It’s just three ingredients!” he says, shaking his head in wonder. “How does that happen?”
How it happens at The King’s Bakery is with starter, rather than commercial yeast. This is the long way, the old way, a way that goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians. Wheat flour naturally contains yeast and bacteria spores (the beneficial kind, it should go without say- ing). To ridiculously over-simplify, adding water causes the flour to fer- ment, which creates carbon dioxide, which makes the bread rise. Starter is just flour and water and time.
“Bread is a living thing,” he says. “We are just a vessel, helping it along.” Case in point: the “mother” starter, from which all their bread is made, is 11 years old; it came from Jim Nobles’ first restaurant in High Point and is named “Peter.” It’s “fed” flour every day, to keep the yeasts and bacteria active.
He takes me back through the spotlessly clean kitchen to where they keep the starter dough for the next day’s bread in big rectangular bins, a strip of masking tape labeling each one. He lifts the lid on a bin marked “BAGUETTES,” being careful not to slosh it. The dough at this stage is more like thick soup, and the air rising out of the bins is yeasty and warm. Chef Sam is excited, pointing to the seams in the dough that have formed as it has risen, where there are rivulets of what looks like water. “You can see the bubbles there, but look closer. See that liquid? That’s ethanol. I just learned that!”
When the starter dough is ready, more flour is added and the dough is mixed by hand; mixers are too forceful and tend to make a tougher bread. Their organic flour is milled just up the road at Lindley Mills. He tells all his potential wholesale clients right off the bat, if he can’t source the ingredients locally, he can’t bake for them. “We have a saying here: A shortcut is never a good way.”
I went to The King’s Bakery to find an ending. I left with a loaf of bread containing: flour, water, salt, and a philosophy.
“Name a job in a restaurant, and I’ve done it,” he says. “This has been one of the most joyful learning experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it’s from being self-taught, or if it’s just the...” Chef Sam trails off. “Baking bread is humbling.”
The King’s Bakery is located at 129 W. Trade St, Ste 130. 704.375.0769. kingskitchen.org.