Josey Baker and The Mill: fresher than ever

In our Holiday issue of Sift, KAF employee-owner Katie Walker traveled to San Francisco to visit Vermont native Josey Baker, who’s grinding his own flour and baking the freshest loaves ever. We wanted to share her story with you.

 

 

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflour

It’s only been five years since Josey Baker, 32, first began baking bread out of his apartment. His journey to become a masterful baker has been quick, but he credits his curiosity for a large part of his success at his wildly popular San Francisco bakery, The Mill.

When Josey moved to California from Vermont in 2005 it wasn’t to pursue baking; instead, he was hired by UC Berkeley to develop science curricula. Little did Josey know it at the time, but his love of science would help ground his quest to excel at baking.

In 2010, a friend handed him his first baking formula: a sourdough starter and handwritten recipe. That was all it took to spark Josey’s investigations into bread, and less than a year later he left Berkeley and started moving toward baking as a business.

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflourScience + Flour = Great Bread

“Underneath the act of pursuing science or baking, there is a curiosity and eagerness to learn,” says Josey. “I acted as a scientist in the kitchen, and I still do. My rigorous, science-like approach is a huge part of what allowed me, and now this bakery, to grow as quickly as it did. It was just amazing to be able to have this new venue where I could come up with my own questions and answer them in my own kitchen.”

He delved into research, reached out to longtime bakers for advice, took detailed notes for every loaf he produced, and was determined that each time he heated the oven his bread would get better and better.

Soon his experiments with whole grains led him to mill his own flour. While some bakers would never bother to add more complications to the already arduous process of producing bread, Josey saw fresh-milled flour as the new frontier in baking.

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflour“A loaf of bread that uses fresh-milled flour is the most alive bread one can taste. It’s more vibrant than any other type of bread,” he professes. “You get more of whatever it is that bread has to offer. The most notable difference is aroma, which is strong and amazing. The texture is finer and the flavor is sweeter and more nutty.

“It was only when I decided that the bakery would have its own mill that this place officially got its name. Before that it was just a café/bakery in collaboration with Four Barrel Coffee.” Having opened in  2012, The Mill for now is still the only bakery in San Francisco that has its own stone mill to produce flour and use it for onsite baking.

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflourAttracting customers of all ages, The Mill is located off well-traveled Divisadero Street, and remains bustling all day long. The space is commanding and modern, but its communal tables lend a sense of comfort that leads neighbors and tourists to strike up conversations with one another and stay for hours at a time.

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflour

The Mill is noted for its toast: It’s a simple expression of the bread’s greatness that creates lines out the door.

Stepping inside out of the crisp San Francisco air, there’s a distinctly warm feeling and nutty aroma as you come up to the counter to order. To the right is a simple wire rack that houses half a dozen types of loaves.

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflour

Woven through the screech of espresso brewing and orders being called out is a soundtrack from a vinyl record player nestled by the loaves of bread for sale. The Mill’s employees are the only ones allowed to choose what’s played. The morning we visited, Janis Joplin’s melancholic wails echoed through the room.

They’re constantly disappearing, then being refilled with new ones, warm from the oven. Order after order, customers leave with a cup of coffee and a loaf or two of bread under their arms.

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflourBaking over 370 loaves of bread a day it would be easy, if not predictable, to assume that other locations are in the works. But Josey insists that his focus will remain on producing better bread one loaf at a time.

Even though Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery (one of Josey’s neighborhood sources of inspiration) is opening a bakery/restaurant that will include its own flour mill, Josey is resolute that his cynosure is making great bread right here.

Josey Baker and The Mill via@kingarthurflour

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. Jeff @ Make It Like a Man!

    Thanks for this story. The photographs are gorgeous, and the bread sounds fantastic. I used to live near a mill, but … well, I’m not sure if I do any more. I guess I assume that I don’t, but your story has me wanting to check on that. Anyway, I sure wish Josey’s bakery were in Chicago!

    Reply
  2. Valerie Buscher

    I just started teaching a bread class at our community college. I requested a small flour mill so the students could experience what ‘real’ bread tastes like. Unfortunately, the budget didn’t allow for it and so it was turned down. I purchased one with my own funds and I’m sure they are all wondering why I would do that. Well now I can’t wait to show the students and fellow professors this article!!

    Reply
    1. Kalisa

      How awesome! I wish I could find a local class with a teach like you! I’m sure your students will appreciate the mill and the process of bread baking.

  3. Kalisa

    I am very much in awe of Josey and his incredible bread! It would be my dream job to be a bread maker. I would love to wake up in the pre-dawn hours and have an entire bakery to myself and any fellow bakers as we work together to make dozens of loaves for the customers that line the block. Then I’d also have a friend that make pastries and cakes, and another friend to make coffee and run the espresso machine, and it’d also be a book/craft supplies store. There’d be a big mural on the exposed brick wall done by my artist friend…

    What? Can’t a girl dream?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Every baker has their someday place in their head, where they can smell and taste all of their dreams. Thanks for sharing yours!

  4. Valerie Randall

    I purchased Josey’s cookbook and read it cover to cover, then tried his technique. His enthusiasm is infectious and his method produced some of the best bread I have ever baked. My particular favorite was the chocolate-cherry loaf. Though I have not had a chance to visit the Mill, I did send family who were in SF, on an errand to bring me a loaf. As it turned out, Josey was getting married that weekend and no bread was available, but, happily, they brought me some toast. I enjoyed every bite. I have been using the no knead bread making technique for a few years, and love the result and simplicity, however, Josey taught me that a loaf that calls for more time and attention is worth every minute.

    Reply
  5. Andrew Scala

    I teach genetics and microbiology at college. I also mill wheat to make homemade bread. I bring in the wheat kernels when we discuss the evolution of polyploidy over thousands of years. I have eikorn , emmer, kamut, spelt, and red fife Then I bring in fresh named whole wheat bread made from these grains
    It’s a fun and tasty way to teach students the art of bread baking !!!

    Reply
  6. Cynthia Kraft

    I had a great experience this summer when visiting my son in San Francisco. One of the hot spots he took me to one morning was the Mill for toast! We stood in a line that was way out the door waiting before we could order. We sat outside and enjoyed the delicious toast! I got his book for Chistmas and have enjoyed making two loaves of bread. I really like his book as well.

    Reply
  7. Marianne Williams

    I thoroughly enjoyed the artticle. I made bread back in the 70’s and tried when the kids were small. I have a bread machine, maybe put it to use. Will try to get my son (in San Jose) to go to The Mill and try it for me. Thanks for the article. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  8. sandy j.

    Interesting article. I also mill flour at home – mill prices start lower than you might think. I’m curious to know what brand mill he uses, do you know?

    Reply

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