Using little more than flour, culture, water, and sea salt, artisan bread baker Chris Wilkins gives rise to hearty works of edible art that toast Southern heritage grains. And though restaurants and marketplaces—including Edmund’s Oast and the Veggie Bins—are serving up his loaves, the 28-year-old Root Baking Co. co-owner (he runs the business with his wife, Nicole) considers himself more tradesman than chef. Wilkins, who honed his bread-making skills at The Red Hen in Vermont before helping to open Independent Baking Co. in Athens, Georgia, cites a woodworking uncle as inspiration: “I appreciate the craftsman’s focus on technique and respect for his materials.”
For that reason, Wilkins crafts loaves from regional heirloom grains (including spelt, red fife, Carolina Gold Rice bran, and Jimmy Red corn) and sources from organic farming operations like Anson Mills and Carolina Ground. Root Baking is also working with the Clemson Agricultural Extension to grow “Turkey” hard red winter wheat, which was originally brought to the U.S. in the 1870s by Russian Mennonites. As a nod to these resurrected grains, Wilkins scores the breads to resemble a head of wheat. “The point of this project is to let people taste the grains’ terroir, if I can use such a pretentious word about bread,” he laughs. “These high-quality flours stand up to a long fermentation that yields a more complex flavor.”
But for all the motivation behind Root Baking Co. and its products, the breads are just damn tasty. The naturally leavened loaves of semolina, whole wheat, multigrain, and more possess delicately charred crusts and chewy, sour-sweet centers. “For me,” says Wilkins, “good bread is balanced, with a taste that’s not too tangy, a delicate open crumb, holes that aren’t too big, a fair price, and sustainably farmed ingredients.”
GET A LOAF: Find Root Baking Co. breads at Edmund’s Oast, The Lot, the Veggie Bins I & II, Mixson Marketplace, and John’s Island Farmers Market. Visit www.rootbaking.com for more info.