Local master baker Chris Marshall has set out to establish an artisan bakery with a distinctive style–a bread boutique–as he calls it.
Zabouca Breads, at Tragarete Road in Port-of-Spain, is Marshall's platform on which he hopes to promote healthy eating while satisfying lovers of hearty bread throughout T&T. As the owner and sole baker at Zabouca Breads, he describes it as an artisan bakery featuring local, organic ingredients prepared in a classic European baking style.
Zabouca Breads opened its doors on March 25. Despite what its name suggests, the baked goods sold there do not actually contain the green pear-shaped fruit. With more and more people using the word "avocado" nowadays, Marshall wanted the name of his bakery to represent something "local and old-timish."
T&T Guardian visited Zabouca Breads last week to get a first-hand look at the mixing, shaping and baking that goes into each of Marshall's handcrafted loaves.
In an era of industrial dough mixers, conveyor belts and massive molding machines, Marshall is intent on creating "a new feel" with his bakery. He believes part of what makes Zabouca Breads different is that customers have a relationship with their baker. Most customers greet him by name as they enter.
The layout of Marshall's bakery is small and simple–his work station is just a few feet behind his serving counter, allowing customers to see and smell everything that goes into their fresh loaves.
Marshall's breads are fermented naturally using poolish, levain and biga, which are fermentation starters of cultivated wild yeast. His doughs are then rested for 12 hours before being hand-shaped and baked in a special steam-injected oven. In breadmaking, "retarding"means refrigerating bread dough to slow down the rate of fermentation, which is said to enhance flavour.
"My bread takes a while to reach the consumer because we are looking for a particular taste," he added. He also said his baked goods were all organic and did not include any enriched elements as found in the average grocery loaf.
Marshall was introduced to baking when his girlfriend at the time (now his wife) recognised his cooking skills and encouraged him to do a wholegrain baking course at what was then the French Culinary Institute in New York City. He continued his studies at the King Arthur Baking Education Center in Vermont and later at the Culinary School of the Rockies in Colorado. Marshall then took up a job at the Bien Cuit bakery in New York before returning to T&T in 2010 to start building his "bread boutique."
Another interesting feature of Zabouca Breads is the excitement and attention Marshall gives to each loaf. Before placing his kalamata olive batards in the oven, he scored the top of each using a razor blade. Scoring is slashing the dough with a sharp blade to let it expand while baking.
"What I do is that I put a design on it and open up the loaves so that when they go into the oven and start to rise, they don't stifle themselves," he explained.
He puts a different score design on each loaf. Some time after placing them in the oven, Marshall commented excitedly on the "nice rustic look" at the top of loaves. He referred to the artistic quality of the bread as "magic."
Some other breads on the menu are sunflower rye, baguettes, buckwheat apple walnut bread, the flaxseed batard and the green olive and thyme bread. Marshall has also added beef pate, Zabouca hummus and apple butter to his menu to complement his loaves. Last month, he was bombarded with requests for his multigrain hot cross buns with cranberries, cherries, candied oranges and raisins.
Among customer favourites, he said, are the multigrain bread, corn bread, and toasted hazelnut chocolate scones, as well as the coconut ginger scones, which he said were bestsellers because of the fresh shredded coconut and candied ginger which give it "a very local taste."
Marshall admits his goods are more expensive than those at supermarkets and bakeries. His multigrain loaf costs $40.
"The more ingredients you add to the bread, the more the price goes up," he explained, "but we do aim to make healthy things that are affordable for customers."
The flour used at Zabouca Breads is imported from Doves Farm in the UK–a specialist company in organic and gluten-free flour.
Marshall continues to make additions and changes to his menu. At the time of the T&T Guardian's visit, the champion baker was experimenting with his cheddar green apple scones by adding olives to them. The news team gave Marshall its stamp of approval for the zesty flavour of the warm pastry.
In August, Marshall plans to return to the US to do further studies on sourdough rye and to spend time with family members there.
Marshall said he wants to introduce the science and art of baking to locals who have never travelled abroad to experience quality artisan-style breads.
"I think this is something that has been missed in our community for so long. People have been eating white flour for so long and there was never really another choice. Whole wheat came along and bakers just started dumping it into the white flour. The final product looks nice on the outside but when you check inside it is not good quality."
The tagline of Zabouca Breads is "the whole grain experience." Marshall explained that unlike the "imitation" multigrain grocery loaves which only have grain on the top, his loaves have whole grains on the inside and out.
After placing his tray of baguettes in the oven, Marshall had some free time to express his concern for the eating habits of Trinidadians who seem to be guided only by their salt-loving taste buds.
"We eat with our tastebuds here. We like bake and saltfish, bake and shark, bake and that. But when we look at the nutritional value there is nothing in these things. It is just taste." He said while he had observed a growing population of health-conscious people in T&T, citizens needed to pay great attention to what they were putting into their bodies.
He hopes to one day educate aspiring bakers who have a passion for baking rather than a fixation on financial gain. He would also like to host a course for home bakers wishing to enhance their skills.
Asked about plans to expand the bakery, Marshall said he wants Zabouca Breads to remain the "community bakery," he does not intend to become a supplier to supermarkets.
"This bakery is going to stay just as it is," he said. "We want to perfect this. When you mass-produce, consistency wavers. I just want to see long lines outside our door and if customers do not get their bread today, I want them to be anxious to come back tomorrow to get it."