Sustainable bakery
At Manresa Bread, ingredients change with new crops, harvests and season.

Global influences

The world is getting smaller, people often say, and in many cases, America’s young artisan bakers have gained inspiration to pursue alternative paths because of their experiences traveling abroad.

After multiple stints living and studying in Spain, England, and France, Ms. Ruzicka returned to North Carolina — two semesters short of graduating from UNC Chapel Hill.

“My time abroad had taught me that I enjoyed food, I liked to cook, and made me realize that any part of life could be looked at through the lens of food,” she said. “Upon my return to the States, I decided that I would work toward becoming a food writer. One last experience was needed to round out this culinary journey before I focused on putting pen to paper; I needed to work in an actual kitchen.”

Within a few months, she had two jobs in local restaurants that were considered fine dining by North Carolina standards at the time. She had the opportunity to work under two very organized and passionate chefs with high standards and realized that she was in love with being in the kitchen. She decided to finish college and move to New York City to go to culinary school.

“I loved the intensity, creativity, and collaboration that came from working in a kitchen and decided to focus on food over food writing,” she said.

Shortly thereafter, she enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York, where she earned a diploma in culinary arts and the art of international bread baking. Following graduation, Ms. Ruzicka staged at Per Se, working with Master Baker Ben Hershberger, baking for Per Se Restaurant and Bouchon Bakery.

“My greatest skill is my passion; I love and respect the ingredients as much as I love the finished product,” she said. “This extra care and attention to detail when baking is what sets us apart at Manresa Bread.”

The ingredients, her staff, and other professional bakers are the source of much of her inspiration.

“The ingredients excite me because they are changing with new crops, harvests, and season,” she said. “My team at the bakery and in our shops bring so much curiosity to work each day. A desire to create, to be challenged, and a passion for bread drives me to come to work each day determined to make a product better than the day before.”

Growing up in the South, Ms. Ruzicka said, her mother made parker house rolls every Thanksgiving, while her father had perfected an exquisite loaf of prune and rye bread with poppy seeds. The family made chocolate chip cookies at least once per week. There was no shortage of baked products in her home, but becoming a baker could not have been further from her mind until she reached her mid-20s.

“One of the greatest successes of my career is my team of bakers and I, not only because we love the process of baking, but also because what we make brings other people joy,” she said. “I still find it incredible that people come to my shop and bring our levain, croissants, kouign amann and all the other variations of flour, water, salt and yeast that we create home with them.”

Another component of sustainability for artisan bakers involves respect in the workplace. At Sister Pie, Ms. Ludwinski described her company as a triple-bottom-line business, “which means we are working toward serving our employees (and our people), the environment, and the economy. It’s not just about the pie, and knowing that we’ve made a commitment to running a business with a social conscience is what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Moving toward the future, she admits that she would like to realize their triple-bottom-line mission in a very real way.

“One big example is our staff,” she said. “We want to offer health benefits and start our employees at a higher wage. We’ll do this through growing our wholesale and pie class business.”