A weekly series about our food and sustainable agriculture.
Tim Healea, renowned for the quality of the breads that he makes at his little t american baker in Portland, Oregon, said he never dreamed he’d have a career in the food business, much less own his own bakery. As a matter of fact, he calls his discovery of his passion for bread a complete accident.
Growing up the Pacific Northwest, Healea had always wanted to work in the magazine business. So when he graduated from college with a degree in journalism, he went to work at a magazine in New York City.
“I started as an editor for a trade publisher that did magazines for restaurants and retail,” he said. “And I hated it. It was a corporate desk job and it just wasn’t me.”Thinking he might prefer working with food, he quit the magazine to give culinary school a try. It was there that he ran across “Breads from the La Brea Bakery,” Nancy Silverton’s landmark book on artisan bread. He started baking using her recipes and fell in love.
“For me it was really magical,” he said. “I made my own starter and took it with me on the subway every day back and forth to school.”
After culinary school he found an internship at the newly-opened Pearl Bakery in Portland, eventually working his way up to the position of head baker. Then, with ten years at Pearl and a silver medal from the Coupe de Monde worldwide baking competition under his belt, he decided it was time to start his own business.
His vision for what would become Little t American Baker was inspired by his participation in the Coupe de Monde, which emphasizes using traditional baking methods to do something new and different.
“I was really inspired by trying to do something new and evolve [the art of] artisan baking,” he said. “To take something that could be ordinary and make it extraordinary.”
Healea uses two methods to bake his bread, one a natural yeast culture for his baguettes and the other a sourdough starter that he uses instead of yeast to ferment the dough. His flour comes from a strain called Klasik that is grown in Southern Idaho. Oddly, it was originally developed for the Asian noodle market but wasn’t white enough, though Healea finds it perfect for artisan bread because it’s a winter wheat with lower protein and higher gluten, giving his bread a lighter, more porous texture.
Reflecting on the career he found by the simple act of opening that book on baking, he said, “When I picked up Nancy Silverton’s book and I started baking, something just clicked into place where I realized, ‘Oh, that’s what I should be doing.’ So I don’t really feel like I had any other choice. It was just what I was supposed to do.
Text by Kathleen Bauer