An early morning but oh so worth it!
The alarm went off much earlier than usual this past Wednesday morning. At 3:30 am I quickly showered, dressed, and tiptoed out of the house to make sure I didn’t wake Christina, Alyssa, Billy, or worse, Teddy and climbed into the jeep to start my drive to pick up Brianna at her dorm at American University. Normally, I would be grumpy to get up this early, that is unless I was preparing to hunt or fish. But, today was different. Even though I was not heading into the woods or to a lake I was still bursting with excitement. Brianna and I were about to spend the day staging at a bakery in Washington DC called Pluma.
You may wonder what it means to stage (pronounced staahj).
According to Wikipedia, staging is when, “a cook or chef works briefly for free in another chef’s kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines. The term originates from the French word stagiaire meaning trainee, apprentice or intern.” And, Brianna and I were headed to Pluma to spend the day learning the finer points of making croissants.
Always doing “research”
We had set up this opportunity months ago. Christina, Brianna and I were traveling through Washington DC scouting potential colleges for Brianna and we stumbled upon Pluma. Of course, Christina and Brianna ordered practically every different pastry to try them out – this is what they refer to as “research.” I ordered my usual – coffee and something with the least amount of carbs possible. Several bites into my makeshift, low carb meal, Brianna said I had to try the croissant. I told her “no” since I genuinely don’t eat wheat unless it has been fully fermented using the sourdough process and these croissants were not sourdough. But, she insisted it was worth it. I took a bite.
It was amazing. She was right. The flavor, texture and even look of it was perfect. It was hands down the best croissant I have ever had – and that includes time I spent in France! I immediately went to the counter where I met Camila, one of the owners, and excitedly told her I needed to learn how to make croissants like that and asked her if there might be an opportunity for me and Brianna to stage. I am certain I took her off guard, but she smiled, handed me a card, and told me to email them. And, I did – before I even left the shop!
What’s so different about our croissants?
What makes our croissants special at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen is that they are 100% wild, long fermented sourdough, without any added commercial yeast and absolutely zero refined sugar. Working within those constraints adds layers of difficulty, but we are getting there as I further refine the process each week. The day spent at Pluma provided the perfect opportunity to learn more about controlling the temperature, production schedule, and lamination techniques. Tom, the other owner, Victoria, one of their bakers, and Hernán, one of their croissant makers, were so helpful and generous with their time and knowledge. It was the perfect day – I took pages of notes, filled my head with new ideas, and, most importantly, spent the day with Brianna.
This approach to learning directly from experts has been so rewarding my entire life – throughout all of the different stages of my own journey. In high school and college, I had access to some of the best wrestlers in the country to learn from. Decades ago, when I was honing my primitive skills in preparation for my dissertation work, I sought out the best primitive technologists and experimental archaeologists in the world. Later, when trying to learn how real food is made I trained with incredible chefs and visionaries. More recently, when seeking to understand ancestral foodways, my family and I spent time with different indigenous and traditional cultures around the globe. And, now, my journey has taken me to a bakery in Washington DC.
We already began to incorporate what we learned at Pluma in our production this week at the MSAK and will continue to refine our technique until we have our 100% sourdough croissant process nailed. And, once we do, we will post the recipe online, offer classes, and do everything we can to help empower others.
After all, that is what it is all about.
Learning, practicing, teaching, then learning again.
And even better when you can do it with your family!