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Sweet Little Sourdough Neighbourhood Bakery and Cafe
“Everyone asks about the name,” explains Matt Warde Saunders, who realised his dream of opening a sourdough bakery with cafe. “There are a few possible reasons to call the bakery Tusk, but I prefer people to find their own interpretation.”
The idea of opening a bakery called Tusk had been on Warde Saunders’ mind for many years. When first considering it, he had this vision of establishing a place that would be a bakery-cum-bar-cum-library-cum-punk-music-appreciation-centre with beer for a dollar because punks don't want to pay more for their beer. Instead of punks – of which there are more in Zurich where he used to live (and dream of opening a bakery) than in Beirut – Tusk Bakery and Tusk! cafe instead attracts a steady flow of cyclists (read on to find out why), neighbours, bread lovers, friends and others…
(Colonel) Beer incidentally does feature in the bakery – in the special sprouted grain spelt bread. The rest are halaal.
Warde Saunders’ relationship to sourdough is rather longstanding, having baked using this method for nearly a decade. And he started doing so in Switzerland, where as he puts it: “they take their bread very seriously.”
By choosing a spot in Badawi, just above Corniche el Nahr, Tusk clearly is concerned with blending in and adding value. Indeed, people from the neighbourhood have started to come in within a month of opening, welcomed in fluent Arabic by the man behind the furn (oven), buying bread or sitting down for a coffee or a bite.
“I really like the area, and the actual space, when I first saw it, charmed me,” Warde Saunders states. “Badawi is still a close-knit residential neighbourhood where everyone knows each other and it's great to be a part of that. Tusk does aspire to be a local bakery, complementing the great man2oushe bakeries on the same street.”
The space is sunlit and is split into work area and eatery. A massive Italian stove adorns the kitchen area and there’s nothing like the smell and taste of fresh bread and healthy treats.
Tusk serves breakfast and there are sandwiches as well as a variety of salads on the seasonal menu now that it is summer.
One standard bread is baked each day – a wholegrain country sourdough bread (all the breads are sourdough), made with durum wheat grown organically in the Bekaa.
“The other breads change each day depending on what I fancy making,” the bike messenger-turned-baker declared. Indeed, followers of the Tusk Facebook group are guaranteed to receive ridiculously appetizing images, posted usually between 9am and mid-day, of fresh breads but also the odd tasty salad, scrumptious cookies or mouth-watering summer juice.
“There's big hearty bread filled with seeds and sprouted grains, dark walnut bread, pumpernickel, focaccia with olives,” he explains the daily choices. “It's a small bakery with limited mixer and oven space so I can't do more than two or three different breads each day.”
All ingredients are carefully sourced and support local organic farmers’ efforts, except for butter. Tusk Bakery is still trying to discover an affordable local option. Cakes are inventive, combining healthy wholemeal flour at times with cultured dairy and mixing it with for example, beetroot or carrots or walnuts. To go with a coffee or tea are also gluten free cookies and – an absolute delight – the spelt flour joz (walnut) sablés, made from flour sourced through Soumaya Merhi of Bread Basket Square who has it grown in Sir el Donniye.
Asked what was the main benefit of baking with natural yeasts (which is what defines the sourdough method), Warde Saunders says: the taste, adding that “the enzymes and bacteria present in the sourdough starter help unlock the complex taste of the wheat itself, as well as adding that characteristic slight acidity of their own. People who like real bread just love that full taste.”
“Then there are the health benefits that come from using the whole grain, which includes the germ, containing the most nutrients, and the bran, providing plenty of fibre. The long fermentation time that is necessary to make sourdough bread (24 hours at Tusk) helps unlock all these nutrients, making them 'bio-available', and makes the bread more digestible.”
Besides not causing trouble to the digestive system and being rather simple, sourdough baking also has a bit of a Zen element: it teaches patience! “The yeasts that raise the bread occur naturally in nature and in the case of bread, plenty are found on the surface of the wheat grains themselves, Warde Saunders points out. “So we just mix water and flour and let time do its thing. All this sourdough starter needs is to be fed regularly with fresh flour and water and with time this mix will develop an ideal balance between yeasts and lactic bacteria – it is these bacteria that give naturally fermented breads their characteristic sour taste. Sourdough baking teaches you patience: The dough takes longer to rise than regular commercial bread doughs and if you rush it, you will get bad bread.”
The owner hopes to increase the number of restaurants that take his bread on a regular basis. “We will also keep experimenting with slow food: By this I mean dried, fermented, pickled stuff. We make our own pickles and have recently been trying a lactic fermentation for fizzy drinks made with seasonal fruit. Also, there are plans in the pipeline for baking courses at Tusk.”
The cafe section also lends its walls to graphic design artists. The first to show her work is Siwar Kraytem, exhibiting posters and postcards designed for her ABCycling project.