Getting involved in baking might, at first, seem like an odd transition from someone trained as an opera singer who spent five years as a voice professor at a small university renown for Musical Theatre. But actually, if you went even further back, you’d find that I always enjoyed working with food-- and I was always pretty good at it, too!
I grew up watching my father cook and bake wonderful things for our family on Sunday evenings. He worked tirelessly at the bakery office, so Sunday was his day in the kitchen. His dietary restrictions (lactose intolerant, no onion, no garlic) made his food amazingly creative and delicious! In college, I would miss Dad’s “Sunday Gravy” so much that I’d call him and he’d talk me through the process so that I could make it for my roommates. Hey, at least it got me out of doing dishes!
When my wife and I moved down south, I really began to indulge more in the kitchen. I missed my Di Camillo bread and rolls so I learned to make something that I could at least tolerate south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It was always a fun and adventurous process. As I got more seasoned, my results became quite good. Around this time I also began brewing my own beer. The two seemed to make sense together: yeast, grain, and water. This was where I learned one of the more important lessons: how yeast behaves – so important for any baker and/or brewer.
When my wife found a new job at the University of Buffalo, we agreed it was time to move back to Western New York. I decided to put away my professional singing and teaching and move into something closer to my roots – Italian baking.
Ironically as a high school kid, I never worked in the bakery itself—rather, I worked as a clerk in one of our stores. But I found baking was an easy fit when I returned as an adult. Over the years, I had read a lot of books on baking and I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. Almost immediately I began experimenting with natural leaven breads, cultivating and feeding my own starter, and even nurturing a sour culture over the last year. These experiments got me to the roots of bread: simple ingredients, precise measurements and temperatures, time, Old-World molding techniques, and an intuitive spirit. In a world of mass-produced “breads” filled with preservatives and excess sugars, it’s amazing how deliciously simple good artisan bread can be.
And that’s my story of how I got into baking. If you were to ask me five years ago that I’d be doing what I’m doing now I’d say, “You’re nuts!” I guess life isn’t always predictable but it does seem to give us what we can handle. I’ve also been so fortunate to be around family and co-workers I’ve known all my life. Not a bad gig!
--Matthew Di Camillo