The Globe And Mail
November 27th 1999
Canada’s National Newspaper
By John Morstad
Raising Bread to a higher level
Baker Shasha Navazesh is trying to isolate sourdough culture that he says make healthier loaves.
With his scientific mind, philosophical bent and creative soul, ShaSha Navazesh seems downright destined to create a better bread for the health-conscious Canadians. He’s an artisan baker who shuns mass production, loathes commercial yeast and adores handmade sourdough bread.
But Navazesh’s zeal for bread making had led him down a path that few artisan bakers ever tread. He runs a gourmet bakery, Shasha Bread Co. in Toronto, and has been channelling some of his profits-and federal grant- into unlocking the mysteries of the three bacteria cultures that are the foundation of his fresh loaves.
Navazesh lovingly raises bacteria and fungus into “sours” (also called sourdough starters or cultures) used to ferment dough for loaves of wheat-free spelt and kamut, sprouted multigrain and organic sprouted Ezekiel bread, inspired by a passage in the Bible.
These sell for $3 to $5 at 143 Toronto area health food and fine-food stores, restaurants and hotels. Armenian Lavash flatbread and sesame rice sticks, which don’t use cultures, are equally popular but sell for less. Unlike some artisan bakers, Navazesh isn’t driven to create gorgeous bread in exotic flavours. His mission is to craft nutritious, digestible bread that is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
Unlike most supermarket breads, ShaSha Bread contains no preservatives, artificial colour or flavours, oil, sugar or commercial yeast. It does contain Dead Sea salt, organic grains, unbleached whole wheat flour, filtered water, natural sourdough cultures, and sprouted grains (some believe soaking grains in water release vital nutrients and makes them easier to digest).
But to artisan bakers, the biggest no-no is using commercial yeast for quick-rising action. Navazesh ferments for six to 18 hours and believes short fermentation doesn’t produce lactic acid to boost nutrition, digestibility, moisture and flavour. Artisan bakers rely on natural sourdough cultures, in which the leavening process is a symbiotic culture, of lactobacilli and wild funguses.
Navazesh has already spent $35, 000, plus a $15,000 Industrial Research Assistance Program grant from the National Research Council, isolating the bacterial strains in the three natural cultures he uses. He wants to know the best food, temperature and humidity levels to sustain these temperamental micro-organisms.
The Iranian-born Navazesh discovered his knack for bread making after dropping out of micro-biology studies, backpacking the world and earning a culinary management diploma at Toronto’s George Brown College in 1990. He was a chef consultant, caterer and pastry chef before becoming a partner at Toronto’s now-defunct DNA bakery in 1996.
At DNA he discovered a bucket with flakes of an Estonian sour that had long been abandoned by a previous tenant, a baker named Henry Rooneem. Navazesh revived the sour and Rooneem’s renowned sweet-and-sour rye with caraway.
As Navazesh was setting up ShaSha Bread, he collected sours from Egypt (birthplace of leavened bread), Russia (famed for its rye bread grown in a rough environment) and San Francisco (world renowned for its sourdoughs). He launched his bakery in June 1998, and quickly earned a cult following.
The passionate Navazesh likes to say he marries new technology with old techniques. “I have happy bread made by happy bakers- if they don’t smile, some things missing. I tell them they must have a life, and they must spend their weekends with their families”