Meet the ever-smiling, more bubbly-than-champagne, self proclaimed shoe addict making the best bread in the North East of America: Carissa Waechter, founder of Carissa's Breads
Our mutual love of bread and shoes bought Carissa and i together.
’Twas the summer of ’14 and i was working at the Balsam Farm Stand in Amagansett thinking that i would never eat bread again.... until one day i tried a slice of Carissa's sourdough and my life changed forever. I posted my findings on instagram, which Carissa saw, but she was more distracted by the shoes i was wearing (she had the exact same pair!) and we instantly became friends.
I know i say it all the time but we are so lucky in Australia. The quality and realness of food is unparalleled and companies like Sonoma, one of my favourites, have been baking organic, REAL bread for years. Even though i'm not a huge bread eater, when i moved to New York i was devastated that i couldn’t find one person making quality, artisanal loaves... until Carissa (Which i love and hate her for all at once!)
“everything in moderation, including moderation”, right?
Carissa is a pastry chef by trade and had an interest in food from a very young age. She grew up in Florida but ended up in NY because it “seemed like a cool thing to do at the time”. She studied at The Art Institute of New York City, receiving a degree in Pastry & Baking and after graduating she went to work under the World Pastry Champion at Mondrian Pastry for 3 years and then moved on to work for David Burke where she became a head pastry chef for the first time.
Carissa’s training was very French: structured, classical and super disciplined. So when she started working with David it gave her the chance to experience a more whimsical way of thinking and working: “it was really cool to experience that trendy edge with the classical background".
After Burke, Carissa moved on to work under Daniel Boulud. She rotated around his restaurants for 3 years, mostly at Cafe Boulud, had a short time at Bar Boulud and then experienced the kitchen at Daniel for a hot minute too. (For those of you that don’t know, Daniel is considered one of New York’s best restaurants). However, fate had different plans for her:
“When i was working under Daniel i had my first day off in a very long time and that exact same day, i completely shattered my elbow! Which in hindsight was the best thing that ever happened to me, as it forced me to take some time off.”
Not long after the accident she took on a project in the Hamptons with the Amagansett Food Institute (AFI): a non profit started by farmers, food activists and people wanting to support small-scale farmers and food producers on the East End of Long Island. It was during this project that she met the founders of Ambers Waves Farm, Katie and Amanda, who were growing grain in the area for the first time in 50 years.
They hit it off immediately and Carissa started experimenting and making bread using their wheat. She sold it at the Montauk Farmers Market and also through the Amber Waves CSA. Not surprisingly, it was well received in the local area and and the Hamptons proved a positive life change for Carissa.
"I'm so much happier out of the city, riding my bike to the farmers markets, away from consumer culture."
Me too Carissa!
When you left working as a pastry chef did you always know that you wanted to do bread? “No, it chose me. I was definitely ready for a lifestyle change and I was in to using what the farmers were growing as the food tasted so different, so good! I was baking bread for the project I was working on and it just naturally happened.”
How did Carissa’s Breads come about? “I started off renting out a friends pizza place after hours. I would move in with my 50 lb bag of flour and bake away all night but it wasn’t a sustainable life choice. So i started talking with the Amagansett Food Institute and we realized that many of the members needed kitchen space so Stony Brook University Southampton ended up partnering up with AFI to allow small businesses like me to come in and rent space in their commercial kitchen.”
Carissa uses the commercial kitchen space at Stony Brook Southampton almost full-time but other businesses typically come in on a part-time/hourly basis. Companies like my friend Madeline of Madeline Picnic Co., Wyse Organics, Hamptons Aristocrat, Josephine’s Feast and Timbatu all use the AFI incubator kitchen space.
What's your take on bread in this country? “It’s disgusting. It’s really foul. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist but all the time people come to me and say that gluten is the problem but they’re eating cheap bread. Nobody can eat that. The flour is cheap, it’s grown in horrible conditions, it’s GMO, it’s stored in really mouldy places. And the other thing i find so foul is to get it really white, it’s bleached and bromated and then gluten is actually added back in because when wheat is going through this process the gluten is stripped out of it. Nobody can eat that. It doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t even look like bread.”
In her downtime Carissa is obsessed with watching and reading about entrepreneurial people. I asked her to reflect on aspects of the current entrepreneurial movement: “[regarding] women especially, you have to be really careful with how you are presenting yourself. The expectations from the masses are insane: you’re supposed to look a certain way, you’re never supposed to be tired, you’re supposed to have a certain attitude. All these things are virtually impossible.”
Well, i think Carissa is doing a damn fine job of managing all of these things if you ask me!
5 minutes with Carissa:
What are the Hamptons to you? The most amazing source of clean air, soil, water and home to some really cool food people.
What’s your favourite bread? I can’t answer that! It’s like asking what child is your favourite!
What’s my favourite bread? (I ask myself!) The sourdough* by far. And now the brioche comes a close second after i ate the entire loaf in the car on the way home after the shoot!
3 words that are important to you around food? That thing you're eating? Who. Made. It.
Sweet or savoury? Savoury!
Red, white or rose? Red. And more red.
What would your last meal be? Oysters
Favourite travel experience? Ordering a tostada in a scary country thinking some kind of taco/nacho thing would arrive. Instead i was served a loaf of wonder bread, toasted.
Winter or Summer? Fall!
Go to comfort food? Lobster roll and fries.
And finally, you've worked in a few kitchens. Any funny "behind the scenes" stories to tell? Once i sent a plate out to someone i really admired and respected in the food world. I had been working on this dish for weeks and finally had something i was super proud of. I gave the server about 900 instructions: angle of the plate, angle of the spoon, how he should take the fist bite, then the second, finish this way, etc, etc, etc. I watched the server take the plate, trip down 2 flights of stairs, heard a million things crash, ran down to find three people had fallen on top of each other with plates smashed and food everywhere. Somehow my dessert landed on a box of laundry still in perfect tact. I grabbed the next person i could find to take the dish out. Thankfully was fine, and the person i sent the plate to said it was the best dessert he had ever had.
*Did you know? Anything that has a sour culture in it is better for you as the bacteria/live cultures predigest the raw starch so it’s easier on your body.
For those of you in the city, Rustic Roots is now delivering Carissa’s breads from Montauk to Manhattan – SO exciting!
photos taken by Morgan Ione Yeager at the AFI kitchen, Stonybrook Campus, Southampton.