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Dirty in the Kitchen: Yeast and Breadmaking with Avery Ruzicka and Nicholas Money

Monday, May 18, 2020

You may think your kitchen is clean after the dishes are done, counters are wiped, and hands are washed, but less apparent is the invisible collaboration occurring between the food you make and microbes, plants, and all kinds of bacteria that should in fact be celebrated for their discreet presence. First among these microorganisms is yeast. One of the most influential organisms to humankind, yeast is responsible for producing vaccines and alcohol, aiding in digestion and decomposition, and most pertinent to home cooking, breadmaking: Yeast is essential to making bread rise.

As people around the world shelter in place, indoors, there is now more time to bake. Recent headlines have exclaimed: “People Are Baking Bread Like Crazy,” and “Kneading to Relax? How coronavirus prompted a surge in stress baking.” Baking yeast sales have increased by a reported 647%. Join Science on Screen curator Sonia Epstein for a live online event featuring renowned baker Avery Ruzicka, founder and head baker of San Francisco’s Manresa Bread, and botanist Nicholas Money, author of The Rise of Yeast, to celebrate kitchen “dirt” and experiment with yeast, a critical ingredient. The event will feature a screening of an archival short film about yeast, videos of extreme fungal movements that Dr. Money has filmed, as well as a kitchen demonstration and time for a Q&A.

Scientists have used film for over a century to observe that which is invisible to the naked eye. Innovations in camera technology from as early as the 1920s have shown how yeast functions, and can help us understand the way yeast expands dough, and why a sourdough starter produces different results than packaged yeast.

About the participants:

Avery Ruzicka is the founder and Head Baker of Manresa Bread, which originated in the three-Michelin-star restaurant Manresa, and a 2020 James Beard semi-finalist. Ruzicka mills 90% of the grains Manresa Bread uses in house in San Francisco, sources high-quality artisanal and local ingredients, employs time-honored baking techniques, and uses natural fermentation processes to create a rotating selection of sourdough loaves and sweet and savory pastries. She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City and has worked at Per Se under master baker Ben Hershberger. Ruzicka founded the Manresa Bread Project in 2013, which became Manresa Bread the following year. There are currently two Manresa Bread locations, as well as a café, and stands at local farmer’s markets.

Nicholas Money is an expert on mycology and has authored a number of books that celebrate the diversity of the microbial world, including The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization (Oxford University Press, 2018). He is Professor of Botany at Miami University, and Director of the Individualized Study program. In his research, he has pioneered the use of high-speed video microscopy to understand the explosive mechanisms used by fungi to launch their spores into the air.