If you were to measure a man by his passion, it would be hard to find a baker held in higher esteem than Zak Stern. Whereas most dough-makers talk levain and flour, Stern voices thoughts of wisdom, happiness, and beauty.
Zak the Baker is more than just talk, though. He's a fervent proponent for local farmers and artisans who bakes the best sourdough bread in Miami.
In February 2012, Stern started baking loaves from home. Now, his sourdough sells at Michy's, Oak Tavern, the Broken Shaker, and gourmet markets around town. Want lunch? Seek his olive and za'atar sourdough sandwiches, stuffed with hummus, sprouts, cucumber, and tomato, at Panther Coffee.
It may seem like long ago, but finding a good loaf in Miami was once impossible. Today, the Magic City has Zak Stern -- more than a baker, also an advocate and sage.
The most influential person in my career has been:
During my travels, I spent a year apprenticing under a goat cheese maker in the northern mountains of Israel. The cheesemaker's name was Amnon, and his wife was Dahlia. They lived a monastic, mythical life, deeply connected to the land. Days began at 5 a.m. with thick black tea with sage, sugar, and some goat milk. We drank our tea in silence, watched the sun rise, and then went to work until there was no more sunlight. No days off, always on; it was exausting, but I've never felt more alive.
It was on this farm where I found wisdom. They taught me how to work hard even when I didn't want to, how to be wrong even when I thought I was right, and how to stop everything to drink a cup a tea with a guest. They taught me the importance of tradition, craftsmanship, and beauty. They taught me the things I never learned in school, and I carry them closely as I continue to grow this bakery here in Miami.
When I'm alone and in need of comfort (and no one is there to watch or judge) the one food or drink I turn to is:
After a long day of work, the only thing I'm interested in is a single malt scotch and a hand rolled cigarette.
What does Miami need more of?
Farmers! Somehow every municipality in Miami now has their own farmers' market. But there's one thing missing at these farmers markets: farmers! There is no food culture without agriculture, and there's no agriculture without farmers. So perhaps the next time we distribute grants for farmers' markets, we focus the money on creating farmers, and then allow markets to sprout naturally.
You get to vote one food or beverage trend off the island forever -- what is it?
Goodbye, gluten-free! For that matter, goodbye all health and food marketing trends. Imagine a food culture where you choose your food based on quality and taste, rather then food science, health trends, and sleek packaging. Imagine a food culture where your supermarket has more local produce than varieties of breakfast cereal or shampoo, and where it's more important to people to know how and where their food was grown rather then how many antioxidants it has in it. Sounds nice to me!
You have unlimited funds to open a restaurant or bar -- what's the name and what do you serve?
If I had deep pockets, I would open a village bakery in Wynwood tomorrow. You would walk in and see the entire bread baking production in full swing; mixing, shaping, baking, cooling -- everything, wide open. You could grab some toast with butter and honey, a cup of coffee, and sit down at a solid hardwood table to enjoy it. If you're hungry for something more, grab a sandwich with fresh bread, real cheese, and local greens. And as the day turns to night, we crank up the music, pour something stronger in our glasses, and keep the night bakers company until the sun creeps through the windows and the morning bakers return to bang out the bread for the next day.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I hope to have the bakery running full power with an all-star team of strong guys and gals that truly enjoy being bakers. I also look forward to my goats multiplying in the next five years, at which point we will have enough milk to begin to transform it into cheese. And if it was up to me, these projects would be just one amongst many in what would be the artistic heartbeat of Miami, Wynwood.
Dream dinner party for six: Who (living or dead) are you inviting?
Cool Hand Luke, Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, Taylor Swift, Osho, Django Reinhardt, and Roberto Benigni.
New Times' Best of Miami 2013 issue arrives June 13. To celebrate, Short Order is serving up the top 30 tastemakers in the 305. These people have helped shape the Miami food scene into what it is today. We began with number 30 and will lead up to the county's number one. A Q&A session is included in each post.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.
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