This is the first in a new series of stories of those just getting started on their culinary journey, written and photographed by Nina Dvorak.
I met Daniel Green at Toast Wine Bar in the Gordon Square Arts District to delve into his life as a baker. After an hour of drinking chardonnay and snacking on fried buffalo broccoli (at least it’s a vegetable) I had come to realize how very true Mary Reilly’s quote related to his personal history with the craft of baking.
Let’s start from the beginning. Daniel grew up in Lakewood, Ohio. Food was the one thing that always brought his large family together. The tradition of Sunday breakfast, with his grandfather in front of the stove, taking omelet orders and serving until all were satisfied, was never missed. Even as a teenager, a period in life when you’re usually forced to spend time with family, he cherished this weekly ritual. This is where Daniel’s love for food- not just the act of eating, but rather the spiritual connection radiating from the time spent with family, nourishing the body and soul, began.
After studying at Ohio University, Daniel wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do, but knew he wanted to work with food. He ultimately decided to pursue a degree in hospitality management while working for a number of restaurants in Athens. After meeting a vagabond group of Australians who stumbled upon the small college town in their rundown van, Daniel developed an urge to travel the world.
He made the plan to move to Australia on a whim. He worked at cafes, a fancy winery, and had the pleasure of serving the Australian prime minister. He spent a year and a half working and traveling down under and traveled South East Asia as well, soaking up all that the vastly different culture had to offer before returning back to the States.
Daniel’s return home was meant to temporary: a quick hello to family and friends and time to make some money before heading off to another continent to chase his culinary passions. Unfortunately, this dream ended abruptly after the tragic death of his older sister, Maggie.
“I couldn’t even think of leaving my family.” After the memorial services had ended and reality crept in, he found himself at a dead end: No job prospects, dealing with the loss of his sister, and trying to be a support for his siblings and parents when he had little strength to draw from inside himself. At a family wedding he reconnected with a cousin who had recently opened a bakery, Brown’s Court Bakery, in Charleston, South Carolina. His cousin was rich with baking experience, including having worked as a baker at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley (I’ve been there—it’s amazing. I recommend a Bouchon Oh Oh).
Daniel had no baking experience and bread was no where on his radar. “But I had nothing to lose,” he said. Although not near his parents, Charleston was just close enough to home for a gypsy at heart. He moved to the low country, excited to learn the craft and put his mind and hands to work.
After his first week, he realized he was in for a rude awakening: Baking bread is hard. He was stunned by the labor that goes into baking bread. The hard work, the crazy hours—it was physically and mentally taxing. However, having time to himself, to reflect on life and focus on the craft, gave him a purpose.
Working with local chefs to develop products, being a part of the food scene in Charleston, and gaining the trust from his cousin was infinitely rewarding and exactly what he needed. He developed a love for baking bread and came to know that bread would always be a part of his life.
After leaving Brown’s Court, Daniel planned a cross-country food tour to meet other culinary curators and learn about where the food we consume actually comes from. When I asked him what he learned on his journey, he paused for a second, “This is tough…I’ve never been able to answer this question for myself… It showed me how much I needed to learn. The more you see, the less you realize you actually know.”
I asked Daniel if he has found it challenging to break into the food industry being young and not equipped with a whole lot of experience in a kitchen. “People are hungry, literally and figuratively, for good food, for sustainable practices, for Cleveland to really take off… it’s exciting. There is so much to be a part of, all you have to do is ask”.
Daniel currently is baking at Blackbird Baking Company in Lakewood, making cheese and bread and pickling anything and everything in his kitchen at home in Gordon Square. He is inspired by local chefs incorporating sustainable practices, including Ben Bebenroth of Spice Acres and Jamie Simpson at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. He feels that his success at Brown’s Court is proof (no pun intended, for all ye bakers), that there is a wealth of culinary knowledge and inner happiness to be sought after.
“I didn’t find baking. It found me and is helping me find myself. I wouldn’t be where I am today unless my sister passed away. Sometimes there are questions you have that there are no answers to, in baking and in life. Baking bread gives me the opportunity to step back and look at what is important in life. There’s something magical about being up in the morning, the sun coming through the bakery windows, seeing customers come in…all with their own stories and busy lives, getting the [hard-earned, healthy] product that you have spent the past six hours grinding for.”
When I asked Daniel where he sees himself in ten years, he said, “Life is precious and nothing is guaranteed. You can plan out everything accordingly, set goals, have all your ingredients on hand but some days it won’t work out. Living in the moment is the most important thing you can do. I hope to be happy, adjusting to whatever life throws at me.”
And, I presume, probably baking bread through the work of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will.