I love good bread and was raised on it.Today I’m frequently disappointed by so-called artisan breads that are mixed in industrial-sized batches and formed by machine.I never use the term artisan bread since it has come to be applied even to mass-produced bread available in supermarkets.
Never, at least, until I tasted the bread at Il Buco Alimentari and Vineria in Manhattan’s Noho.It’s made by Kamel Saci (kah-MEL sa-SEE), 34, who produces three to four hundred loaves a day for both the store/restaurant and Il Buco, the same owners’ restaurant on nearby Bond Street.I tried the filone, dark and crusty with a flavorful open crumb; the ciabatta, lighter, with a very open and shiny crumb; and some focaccia, light, tender, and remarkably made without the addition of oil and knew immediately that this was the work of a true artisan.
After I joined a couple of friends for lunch at Il Buco Alimentari/Vineria and tasted the breads above, I decided I needed to find out more about them.It took me a few months, but a couple of weeks ago I spent an hour with Kamel and heard about how he learned to make this outstanding bread.Born near Bordeaux of Algerian parents, Kamel had started a promising career as a judo fighter, winning several championships.A bad knee injury prevented further professional fighting and he wound up at a bread bakery in Bordeaux, sent by an employment agency.He expected to be a helper, but a little while after he arrived at the bakery the owner shouted at him to make a thousand baguettes, and so one of the world’s best bread bakers started his career.
Kamel then worked in Paris (with Eric Kayser), London, Barcelona, and Miami before coming to New York and putting Il Buco’s breads on the map.During the dozen-odd years of his career, he has certainly mastered true artisan baking.All his loaves are lovingly shaped by hand from slowly-risen doughs mostly made from yeast-based pre-ferments.Kamel favors the firmer Italian-style biga for his breads over the more liquid French pouliche, and he lets his biga ferment for a full 48 hours in the refrigerator, frequently adding no additional yeast to the final dough.
The full range of breads includes baguettes, a dried fig and hazelnut bread, rye bread, pizza bianca, focaccia rolls for sandwiches, surprisingly moist and flavorful lentil bread, as well as rich brioche loaves and a full line of breakfast pastries and desserts.
If like most of us these days you’re being careful of your carb intake, take a day off some weekend and treat yourself to some of the best bread available in New York.Sorry, I can’t promise that you won’t become addicted.