Transparency remains paramount at La Brea

by John Unrein
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La Brea Bakery Reserve bread
La Brea's Reserve line of "farm-to-table" artisan bread is made from single origin heirloom grains.
 

SAN LEANDRO, CALIF. — Jonathan Davis of La Brea Bakery is well-versed in the important matter of transparency, a crucial element for success in today’s bread business. As senior vice-president of research and development, he thoroughly tests all ingredients and foods to ensure the taste and quality are in line with La Brea Bakery standards. In recent years, he’s spent a great deal of effort on the innovation side, working with new ingredients and creating new bread.

One major project that Mr. Davis has been leading involves La Brea Bakery Reserve bread, in which La Brea has partnered with a family-run farm in Montana. With this partnership, La Brea Bakery and Wheat Montana are working together to help bring back heritage grains like Fortuna Wheat (used to make La Brea Bakery Reserve loaves) that are grown for flavor, rather than high yield.

On the consumer front, Mr. Davis cites the rising importance of transparency.

Jonathan Davis, La Brea Bakery
Jonathan Davis, senior vice-president of research and development for La Brea Bakery

“Right now, people crave transparency when it comes to the foods that they eat,” he said. “They want to know what’s in their food, and more specifically, where their food comes from. Transparency is something that’s been part of La Brea Bakery since we opened.”

La Brea Bakery’s original starter, made using flour, water and skin from organic grapes, was created more than 25 years ago, and is still used to make all of the company’s bread today.

“We’ve never used artificial colors, flavors or preservatives in our bread, so we’ve stayed ahead of this current trend and the demand to know more about the origins of your food,” he explained.

Mr. Davis has lengthy experience in the bread world. He studied at the California Culinary Academy of San Francisco and, after doing an internship at Campanile in Los Angeles, he accepted the position as a pastry chef at La Brea Bakery as his first job out of culinary school in the early 1990s and has been with the company ever since. When La Brea Bakery was officially formed, Mr. Davis was asked to move to Las Vegas to help open the much-anticipated Bellagio Hotel and Casino. La Brea Bakery would be the premier bread for all the restaurants at the new hotel, and Mr. Davis led all development.

La Brea Bakery bread
In July, La Brea expanded its Reserve line with new Demi-Baguettes, available in French and sourdough varieties.
 

In 1998, he worked alongside some of the culinary giants in Las Vegas, including Todd English, Grant McPherson and Michael Mina. After a successful Bellagio opening, Mr. Davis moved back to Los Angeles to run the original La Brea Bakery D.S.D. (direct-store delivery) Bakery, where he was responsible for the development and production of hundreds of baked foods being delivered across Southern California every day. Today, everything that goes out the door must meet his approval.

“I’ve been with La Brea Bakery for over 25 years and since the start of my career as a baker,” he said. “I’ve been given so many opportunities with La Brea Bakery and have enjoyed working to ensure it remains an innovative company with a growing portfolio of artisan bread. In recent years, I’ve explored new partnership opportunities, like the one with Wheat Montana and La Brea Bakery Reserve in which we became the first company to offer truly artisan bread on a national scale.”

To stay on top of innovation, Mr. Davis also works with Stephen Jones at the Bread Lab at Washington State University, testing new strains of wheat.

“We’re constantly looking for new flavors and texture to explore in our bread in the future,” Mr. Davis said.

La Brea Bakery wheat
La Brea tests new strains of wheat in its Bread Lab.
 

His extensive experience with long fermentation and pre-ferments enables him to rely heavily on these skills at La Brea Bakery, especially when it comes to different combinations and flavor profiles. Formulation is one of his strongest traits, whether it’s formulating new recipes or improving upon old ones, and he has strong skills into how those interplay.

“It was a lot of trial and error, and many late nights in the bakery when I was in culinary school,” Mr. Davis said. “These late nights allowed me to develop a passion for baking pastries, which later transformed into a passion for baking bread. I’m always working to improve the finer details of my work, along with the bread that we provide to our customers, whether it’s with the Non-GMO project, La Brea Bakery Reserve or with the launch of a new bread. We’ve been using ingredients as a way to stay innovative for years at La Brea Bakery.

“For example, while quinoa rose to fame a few years back for its health benefits, we had been using it in our breads since the early ‘90s. Our partnership with Wheat Montana to create La Brea Bakery Reserve is another way in which we’ve shown innovation through the use of ingredients. The three breads in this portfolio have a unique taste, texture and flavor and are changing the way that people think about bread and where it comes from, as it’s truly farm-to-baker-to-table.”

La Brea Bakery bread
La Brea Bakery’s original starter, made using flour, water and skin from organic grapes, was created more than 25 years ago, and is still used to make all of the company’s bread today.
 

Mr. Davis draws inspiration from his mentors like Nancy Silverton.

“I have a lot of friends in the baking industry, and we tend to feed off of one another,” he said. “Nancy Silverton, who I worked for at Campanile and subsequently La Brea Bakery for nearly two decades, has been an important mentor and inspiration to me.”

For the future, Mr. Davis says his interests lie in becoming more active in the industry by mentoring the new generation of bakers — sharing what he has learned, while learning from them the techniques and perspectives of this new generation. 
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