Bread Head

A veteran of eatZi's, Empire Bakery and the Corner Bakery of Chicago, Michael Zakowski came to Houston six years ago to work at the Galleria eatZi's location. He has also worked at such renowned restaurants as the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. Last week, he opened a new retail and wholesale baking concern called Krafts'men Bakery in partnership with Annika and Scott Tycer of Aries Restaurant. The wholesale bakery at 1314 Roy supplies other restaurants and retail concerns. A retail outlet at 4100 Montrose (713-524-3737) offers Zakowski's fresh baked breads to the public.

"What's the one loaf of bread at Krafts'men Bakery that everybody needs to try?" I asked Zakowski.

"I guess people are really knocked out by the pane coi Santi," he says. The name means "bread with saints" in Italian -- it has lots of fruits and nuts, which are supposed to symbolize the saints, he says. "My ciabatta is real nice, too."

Ciabatta, which means "slipper" in Italian -- a reference to the loaf's shape, is an extremely crusty white bread. I ask him how his compares to the version at Central Market, which is my current favorite.

"I have never tried it. Central Market copied eatZi's breads," Zakowski fumes. "I don't support companies like that." (He must shop at Whole Foods.)

"Will you carry any sourdough ryes at Krafts'men?" I ask, hoping to calm him down.

"Yes, we'll have a honey rye," he says. "It's a light Kosher-style rye rather than a dark German-type rye."

"And how does that compare with Three Brothers Kosher ryes?"

"I don't know, I have never had their ryes," he says. Zakowski is not at all impressed that Three Brothers won "Best Bread" in the Press's 2002 Best of Houston issue. Still, it's hard to believe that a baker who's been in Houston for six years and is opening a retail bakery has never checked out his competitors.

"I can't imagine [Three Brothers'] stuff is that good because of the commodities they are using," he explains. "To me, it's all about the raw ingredients." Zakowski brags that he is the only baker in town buying his flour from Cook Natural Products, a San Francisco organic flour supplier that sells "identity-preserved flours" to the nation's top artisan bakers. These flours, which come from a single source of wheat, are the baker's equivalent of single-vineyard wine grapes.

The healthiest seeded loaf in town, according to Zakowski, is his pain biologique (French for organic bread). It's made with flaxseed, hemp nuts, sunflower and oats.

"Hemp nuts?" I ask in astonishment. Zakoski explains that the hemp nut is the kernel inside the hemp seed.

"Does it get you high?"

"No, hemp is the bastard sister of marijuana," Zakowski says. "The fallacy is that they are the same thing. Hemp doesn't have any THC." Although I dimly remember some marijuana brownie recipes from the good old days (I never inhaled), I must admit I have never heard the extravagant health claims for hemp and hemp oil that Zakowski is extolling.

"Hemp is the most nutritious plant in nature," he says. (Is that what Popeye was really eating?) Zakowski proceeds to fire off a barrage of scientific jargon about the essential fatty acid ratio of hemp oil versus its nearest competitors. Whole Foods brings in some Healthy Hemp bread from out of town, but Krafts'men Bakery will be the only bakery turning out super-nutritious hemp loaves right here in the city, he says.

And what does the superior fatty acid in hemp oil do for your body exactly?

"It maintains your bodily functions," he says.

Funny, I thought that's what roughage was for.

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Robb Walsh
Contact: Robb Walsh