Almost 200 bread-heads from across the globe gathered this week in Charlotte as Johnson & Wales University hosted a two-day conference focused on “The Future of Bread.”

Artisanal bakers, bread-scientists, farmers, millers, chefs, home-bakers, sociologists, historians, educators, futurists and bread enthusiasts from around the world convened to share research, ideas, trends, and philosophies on one of the world’s oldest foods.

Three years in the making, the symposium was organized by Charlotte’s own bread-glitterati, Peter Reinhart — an international renowned bread expert, James Beard-award winning cookbook author and Johnson & Wales Chef-on-Assignment.

“One of our goals in establishing the symposium was to fill the room with influencers,” said Reinhart, accomplishing precisely that by bringing true rock stars of the bread community to the Queen City. “In presenting a wide variety topics, allowing for conversation and idea exchange, I’m hopeful to reveal discoveries and successes not unlike the mysterious outcomes of bread itself.”

Peter Reinhart

Harry Peemoeller, a JWU bread instructor and award winning competitive baker, amazed all with his all-bread, Wright Brothers-inspired creation.

Harry Peemoeller

Symposium participants came from all corners of the globe including Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, England, Germany, India and the U.S. Here are some highlights of what they heard:

– Stefan Cappelle, a food-bio-engineer and expert on fermentation, suggested the future of bread lies in its past. Cappelle journeyed from Belgium, where his company, Puratos, a global purveyor of bakery and chocolate products, has created the World Heritage Sourdough Library. Part database, part temperature-controlled warehouse of living, breathing and expanding sourdough starters – nearly 100 and counting from around the globe – are preserved here with their stories and origins available for use by future generations.

– Home-milling advocate, inventor and author Wolfgang Mock predicts the future of bread will see explosive demand in home-milling. “We want the most freshly roasted and ground coffee beans, the freshest beer, the freshest produce,” said Mock. “Why are we content to bake bread with flour that was ground months ago and has sat around on a shelf?”

– Glenn Roberts, grain-guru and founder of Anson Mills, waxed eloquently about multi-crop farming within the same plot of land, growing flavorful nutritious grains and the wisdom of making free seeds available to small, sustainable farms as a way of preserving ongoing local farming.

– Anne Madden, North Carolina State University research fellow and microbiologist, shared her fascinating work involving discovery of wild, naturally occurring yeasts. She discussed how bakers have only scratched the surface tapping into a small percentage of yeast strains. It turns out bugs like bees and ants carry yeasts with amazing flavor profiles that Madden says will significantly expand the future of bread varieties.

– Superstar baker Chad Robertson, founder of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, shared how he is creating a future of chef-driven bread production. Robertson is exploring beer brewing, coffee roasting and even ice cream making in one of the most innovative culinary spaces in the U.S.

– Bread as an agent for social and cultural change is a future envisioned by Bulgarian baker and anthropologist Dr. Nadezhda Savova-Grigorova. The Sophia, Bulgaria, bakery she runs with her husband Stefan, serves as a social hub for their local community. It’s not just a place to gather but also a therapy and training center for children and adults with special needs who engage in “bread-therapy” and experience the benefits of this fascinating form of social interaction.

Want to watch some of the presentations from the International Bread Symposium? Check them out here at JWU’s Facebook page for the event here.

Photos: Michael J. Solender