Bread is bread, right? Not exactly.
For Steve Kogler, growing up in the restaurant business taught him how to make almost anything — with the exception of bread. He could read any recipe and make it work, but for years, bread eluded him.
“I tried unsuccessfully for years, and, finally, I said, ‘I am going to learn how to make bread,’” remembered Kogler.
He started to read books and was influenced primarily by two people in his quest to make great bread: French master baker and author Raymond Calvel and American master baker and author Jeffrey Hamelman. After studying their publications in depth, he started to be able to recreate recipes successfully.
Kogler — who, along with his wife, Jennifer, also owns Teller Wines in Lewes — soon had a customer offer the use of his ovens for baking bread. So, in 2007, Kogler began baking his bread in those ovens, making loaves for the Lewes Farmers’ Market. They didn’t sell out their first day, but he told himself they’d find out the next week if it was a success —and it was. The bread sold out in an hour.
Since then, things have been rolling fast. The breads have quite a following and Kogler now participates in four area farmers markets — one each in Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island.
So, what makes Kogler’s bread, made only with a mix of four basic ingredients — flour, water, yeast and salt — so special?
According to Kogler, it’s all in the timing and temperature.
“Much like a really slow-simmering soup takes a long time to get the maximum flavor, time, temperature and slow formation are key to holding the flavor of the bread in,” he explained. “I use only King Arthur Flour, a non-bleached flour from Vermont that is always consistent, and I am proud to use their flour.
“And I use no machinery other than the oven and the mixer,” he said. “The machines beat the dough up, and it can lose flavor and color. Some recipes will say to add warm water, but warm water causes the bread to ferment very quickly and lose flavor. So I will add cool water and let the dough rise in the refrigeration unit for a slower fermentation, and it keeps an incredible amount of flavor.”
Kogler said his “cinnamon shorties,” a French bread with cinnamon and butter topping, have been a great seller this summer.
“I can’t make enough of them,” said Kogler. “At Bethany’s market, I think I sold 200 or 300 of them. I think the people went home and ate them and came back — it’s crazy.”
Also, this past Sunday in Bethany, Kogler sold out of almost 500 loaves of bread, despite a shaky start to the thunderous morning.
“I was sitting in my van while it was lightning, about 10 of 8, and thinking, ‘The Delaware Food Bank is going to be real happy with me today,’” he said. But after the weather cleared, he went on to sell all but one loaf. That is, until a woman caught him in his van just as he was about to leave.
“She knocked on the window and said, ‘Do you have any more bread?’ So I sold her the last one.”
Just this past July, Kogler opened a commercial bakery, and it has been non-stop ever since. The bakery sits on property with his small organic farm just north of Milton and, although it took a team effort to get it off the ground, Kogler is especially appreciative that it is now up and running.
“Besides the standard building and zoning, and fire marshal, we worked with DelDOT, DNREC and the health department. Basically, everybody is involved to get a commercial operation up and running. But, they were very nice and helpful. DNREC was fantastic. And later I was talking to a guy from Italy who said it took four years just to get a permit, so I thought three months is pretty damn good,” he shared, laughing.
The land is less than an acre in size, but the prior owner, Bob Russell, grew micro-greens and specialty vegetables for fine-dining restaurants in Lewes and Rehoboth, so Kogler is keeping up with that. He also has plans to work with a master gardener to plant crops for the Delaware Food Bank, which he said will be a neat project in which his 6-year-old son can learn about giving back to the community — something that is important to Kogler as a business owner.
Indeed, Kogler calls his business “a community-supported bakery,” noting the loan of those ovens in the bakery’s early days.
In the future, Kogler plans to work on certifying his farm organic and refining the recipes for his wheat and whole-grain breads, which are favorite items for customers. Although he happily offers the breads now — and customers happily buy them up — he wants to work on them to get them “up to snuff,” he said.
“People tell me I am a perfectionist,” said Kogler. “I’m not a perfectionist. I’m quality-oriented. I like it to look good, and I like it to taste good.”
Kogler’s Old World Bread offers rolls and cinnamon shorties, a sourdough loaf, a classic French baguette, an Italian loaf and a wheat loaf. Besides the four farmer’s markets, which will wrap up their seasons in the coming weeks, Kogler’s Old World Breads are available at Fifer’s Orchards in Dewey Beach, at Tomato Sunshine, at Hickman’s Meat Market, at Lewes Fish House, at Maggie’s Deli and at Café Azafran. All those locations, except Tomato Sunshine, are open year-round.
For more information, visit www.delawareorganics.com and click on the “Food Artisans” link or call (302) 604-2580.