Bread Coma! Carb-Laden Notes from the Judges' Table at SF Food Wars' Yeast Affliction!

Bryan Haggerty/
Suas, Tredgold, and the author deliberate on ultimate doughmination; our carb-heavy judges' table.
(View our bread porn/slideshow of Yeast Affliction!)

We've barely emerged from the profound carb coma induced by last weekend's SF Food Wars Yeast Affliction!, an artisan bread battle with proceeds donated to the SF Food Bank. Once again, appreciating the profound good fortune we have to be the resident guest judge for each competition, we skipped breakfast and headed to Thirsty Bear to sample 20 different takes on the good kind of yeast.

T. Palmer
Third place winner Bread for Gold's Sour River Loaf.
Our two other judges are imminent authorities on the topic, so we intended to listen and learn as much as we could from them. Michel Suas founded the San Francisco Baking Institute and Thorough Bread and Pastry and was dubbed the "guru of artisan bread" by the Chronicle for his widespread influence as instructor and advisor to just about everyone you'd think to respect in the California bread world. JT Tredgold is the Director of Bakery Operations at Semifreddi's Bakery in Kensington and one of nine members of Bread Bakers Guild Team USA 2010, artisans who are training for the chance to earn a spot at the Louis Lessafre Cup. That's the predecessor to the baking Olympics, held every three years, known as Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie.

Suas came prepared with a spreadsheet for us to use as a guide in our judging. We rated breads on criteria such as appearance, flavor, crust, crumb, and complexity. Being far from an expert, Suas and Tredgold had to continually remind us that crumb refers to the interwoven inside of the bread, rather than the crumbly trails it may leave behind.

Though plates of Straus butter and olive oil were laid out for us, Suas and Tredgold were singularly uninterested in altering the flavor of the bread. We followed suit since that sounded like the right thing to do, but it didn't make those sticks of butter look any less fetching.

Competitors varied widely in their skills and tools, from home bakers to pros with access to professional equipment. This initially posed a challenge for the experts, but it was all taken into consideration during the deliberations.

At one point, Suas took a bite of Hurricane -- a wheat bread with brown rice, sesame seeds, and two varieties of seaweed baked inside -- and smiled.

T. Palmer
Peoples' Choice winner, Fire in the Fornix' Hurricane, features two kinds of seaweed.
"She's crazy," he chuckled, and then explained that contestant Lori Oyamada, a baker for superstar house of leavening Tartine Bakery, is a former student of his. In fact, there was a handful of current and former students in the competition, and Suas explained that it was only fair for him to judge them more stringently.

Nope, we're no expert, but we know what tastes good to us. So we were not-so-secretly delighted that the Hurricane, our personal favorite, was also voted People's Choice. We have a palate of the people. Or at least the palate and appreciation for creativity of the less than 10% of the crowd who made this the winner. Oyamada gifted some of the leftover bread to our friends, and we found ourselves un-self consciously nibbling more of it well into the evening. All the winners are detailed on the official site, and there's more recap action of Yeast Affliction at Chow and VidSF.

Organizer/limerick artist Jeannie Choe announced that the next SF Food Wars will be called the Chocolate Cookie Situation, and will take place in mid-March (we'll keep you updated).

"It's like a cookie," she said, "with abs!"

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