The rise of traditional baking at Walla in Penticton

At 2 a.m. most restaurants are wrapping up their night, but artisan baker Benjamin Manea is just starting his day.

Walla Artisan Bakery owner Benjamin Manea takes some baked goods out of the oven in the kitchen of the bakery in The Cannery on Nov. 22.

At 2 a.m. most restaurants are wrapping up their night, but artisan baker Benjamin Manea is just starting his day.

The owner, baker and chef of Walla Artisan Bakery wakes up earlier than most because he puts a premium on something missing in a high-speed society, time.

“This is a culture of fast solutions. We are looking for the fast pill. I want to look beautiful and lose weight fast,” Manea said.

The food he produces takes time, fermenting and baking loaves of bread over a period of days, and it is an ingredient he feels is missing from much of what we eat today.

Manea will be speaking at the Okanagan College Penticton campus in a session titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Bread on Dec. 1.

“I’m trying to educate people. Some are open-minded and like to know more about it. Some people are afraid because they say how come I’ve been eating this bread for 30 years and you say it is no good for me. It’s hard to accept,” Manea said.

More chemist than baker, Manea’s kitchen features unconventional items like the centrifuge he uses to separate ingredients, such as tomatoes, into their core components. When it comes to food it is easy to talk about flavour and taste, but Manea breaks his food preparation down to the particle level.

“I approached baking in a scientific way. It’s more than just water, flour and salt, there is a chemical process happening there,” he said.

When thinking about making food from scratch in a traditional, artisan style, chemistry and thermodynamics isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s a large part of his meticulous process.

Born in Romania, Manea was raised in a family that made food and wine from scratch. His knowledge on food preparation is extensive and draws from both chemistry and biological science as well as traditional methods.

His upcoming talk will bring attention to bread, a commodity he feels many people pick up at the grocery store without much thought. Manea said that most people who grew up on industrially-made, commercial grocery store bread are unaware of the effects it has on their bodies.

Most store-bought bread does contain Azodicarbonamide. (ADA) which shows up on the ingredients list of breads as enriched flour and can be found in everything from pizza dough to hamburger buns throughout fast food chains and grocery stores in Canada.  The additive creates more air pockets to create fluffier bread.

There is a limit in Canada on how much ADA, also famous for being an ingredient in plastic products and yoga mats,  is allowed in food, 45 PPM (parts per million), which Health Canada has deemed safe to eat. However, the use of ADA has been banned in Europe and Australia.

Manea said this is just one facet of store-bought bread that disrupts our natural digestive systems.

The mass-produced bread also lacks a hard crust, which expedites the staling process. This, Manea said, is why the bread comes in plastic bags, to contain the moisture.

“This is also no good because it creates mold,” Manea said. He added that most people will put their bread in the fridge after a few days on the counter to help keep it fresh.

“In the fridge the staling process is six times faster. You can’t win with this.”

The high-speed production of these loaves is based on making mass quantities of bread to meet a high demand according to Manea.

“When kids are raised on this soft commercial bread, at some point your stomach will tell you I can’t take it anymore,” Manea said.

He said the long-form method of fermenting the loaf not only makes the bread taste better, but puts the food in tune with your body’s natural processes.

“The focaccia bun has a crust. It forces you to chew. It’s a naturally occurring process, so we digest properly,” Manea said.

He will also be discussing the role of gluten and the trend of gluten-free products.

“Every once in awhile comes a new idea. Atkins, no carbs, there was a fad of zero fat, a fad on whole grains,” Manea said.

He said he had a customer with a celiac daughter. He encouraged them to try his bread, and she was able to eat it without issue.

“Gluten breaks down differently during fermentation,” said Manea. He said the high-speed manufacturing of bread in grocery stores doesn’t allow the gluten to break down properly causing issue for those who have a gluten sensitivity.

It’s not only what is going into our bodies either, but how. Lifestyle choices, health and food are all tied together said Manea.

“A good diet is about sitting down and eating together with other people, not in front of a T.V. or computer, so we’re eating for a longer time and we can digest properly,” Manea said.

“It’s the secret to a good life, slow down. This is it, there’s nothing magic here. There’s no magic pill.”

Manea’s talk will be part of the Okanagan College Speakers Series from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the lecture theatre at the Penticton campus. Admission is free or by donation to the Okanagan College Student Emergency Fund.