Life during the global pandemic can be grouped into different stages. The toilet paper scare, the strange fascination with “Tiger King” and the hours spent on “Animal Crossing” are just a few. Of course, no one can forget the sourdough frenzy. It seems like lifetimes ago when bakers of vastly varying experience levels embarked on the journey of growing and nurturing a sourdough starter. Flour flew off shelves. Instagram was flooded with lopsided loaves.
Months later, many people have given up, sourdough starters long since dumped into the trash. However, for those of us still at it, the essential loaf of sourdough bread may have shifted from something worth sharing on every social media platform to something a tad boring. With the help of Bryan Ford, sourdough will never be boring again. Even for those uninterested in baking, Ford’s story holds lessons about reaching for a passion while staying grounded by your roots.
Ford, also known as Artisan Bryan, is a baker and blogger extraordinaire. Primarily active on Instagram, Ford shares mouthwatering pictures of homemade baked goods — primarily of the sourdough variety — and the occasional soccer video. His blog, Artisan Bryan, is where his recipes, both in English and Spanish, reside. It is a treasure trove of sourdough creations and lessons. In 2019, it was recognized as the best baking and sweets blog by the Saveur Blog Awards. Ford also posts the occasional video on YouTube, walking viewers through various recipes.
In June, the baking world was blessed with the release of Ford’s first book, “New World Sourdough.” Since then, the book has been flying off shelves. Ford had to take to Instagram multiple times to assure his followers that the book would be restocked soon.
Not Your Average Loaf
In a world not lacking in bread-baking resources, books and blogs alike, one begins to wonder about Ford’s rapid rise to fame. What makes him so special? Why buy his book instead of a classic, like baking superstar Rose Levy Beranbaum’s lauded “The Bread Bible”?
For any follower of Ford, the answer quickly becomes clear. Ford breathes new life and excitement into the world of sourdough and baking.
Of course, Ford’s blog and cookbook house his iterations of more typical sourdough recipes, such as his Easy Country Sourdough Bread. However, Ford also develops recipes that most breadmakers would not consider making with a sourdough starter. Some examples of his rustic loaves are Bolillo de Pimiento Asado y Cilantro and Sourdough Pan Cubano.
His enriched sourdough breads — breads that include additional ingredients such as eggs, butter, sugar or cream — are often the most exciting for many of his followers, including myself. The most popular recipe is an enriched bread, Sourdough Pan de Coco, his version of a Honduran coconut bread. The pillowy loaf continues to send bakers across the internet running to their ovens.
Ford’s Pan de Coco, like many of his recipes, was inspired by the flavors of his upbringing. Born in the Bronx but raised by his Honduran family in New Orleans, Ford credits much of his culinary creativity and inspiration to his roots. “At school lunch, I’d have jambalaya and for dinner I’d have arroz con pollo,” he shared on the “Why Food” Podcast, calling this a “double dose of awesome cuisine.”
This inspiration is central to his book as well. The idea of “New World” sourdough references the name European colonizers pinned to the Americas: “the new world.” In tapping into his Afro-Latinx roots, Ford pushes back against the often Eurocentric focus of the baking and culinary world. By refusing to fixate on European style and flavors in baking, Ford sheds light on how white supremacy pervades things seemingly simple as food, which he discussed with The New York Times’ Fahima Haque.
Another essential element of Ford’s style is his laid-back demeanor, both in and out of the kitchen. When connecting to viewers via Instagram Live or YouTube, Ford is energetic and fun. He feels like a friend teaching you a recipe instead of an uptight baker searching for perfection. For Ford, this is essential to how he works: “You just have to relax and bake. That’s the style I put into the bake.”
This is also evident in his recipes. “My recipes read in simple lines, especially if my audience is home bakers. I’m not going to have them obsessing… I don’t like to be dominated by the technical stuff and the rules,” he shared on the “Why Food” podcast. He takes sourdough, which is often seen as complicated and strict, and makes it accessible and fun.
Baking Dreams Happen
Despite his current success, Ford’s rise to baking stardom was very different from most. Pastry or culinary school is not on his resume. In fact, he went to school to be an accountant and, after failing the certified public accountant exam 13 times, he finally passed and became a tax accounting professional.
Food had been more of a passion project. During college, Ford worked as a line cook, a prep cook and a server, but only to pad his wallet. He exercised his love of baking by selling bread and teaching workshops, which eventually led to a small catering company he ran with his friends for a few years.
Yet, Ford continued to regard this passion as a hobby, instead choosing “the traditional path” of a nine-to-five desk job. He recalls taking a while to formulate a plan to chase his sourdough dreams, but he did just that. Rejecting the idea that you have one shot to pursue a dream, Ford quit his accounting job and opened a small wholesale bakery after moving from New Orleans to Miami.
Of course, a mountain of hard work and difficulties lay underneath the success Ford has today. However, from the outside, it seems that Ford’s creativity and energy launched him to his current success relatively quickly. It was the pan de coco that lit a fire beneath his growth. After posting a recipe on Instagram, it went as viral as a recipe can go. Ford found himself in awe with the process of sharing recipes, extending his baking career beyond just selling: “I am able to help people make better bread for their family and their friends and even their customers.”
A podcast, of all places, was where his book was conceived. An editor heard Ford speaking about baking and decided to reach out to him. The rest was history.
An Inspiration For All
Ford is modest when faced with questions of his talent and success. “I’m not doing anything new. It’s just bread. Bread’s been made for thousands of years,” he commented toward the end of the “Why Food” episode. Yet, it is clear that the combination of history, experience, excitement and perspective that Ford brings to his work is what makes it special.
Sourdough aside, Ford’s story provides inspiration for bakers but also for anyone with a dream. Through bread, Ford teaches his viewers many lessons about life. When he tells his followers “[they] don’t have to strive for perfection,” he is talking about bread, but this bit of wisdom goes beyond the kitchen.
For anyone who has ever wanted to trod a less traditional path in life, Ford is the perfect inspiration to go for it. He was unafraid to shift his career path and to follow his passion, despite not having what many would see as the proper training. At the same time, Ford is sure to stay true to his roots and himself.
If you truly do just want to focus on bread, though, I can attest to the fact that his recipes are incredible. His sourdough mallorcas are my current favorite recipe of his. People in the baking world, including myself, are excited and optimistic about where Ford will go from here.