See this picture? I recently went to a very popular bread factory and saw it plastered all over their walls. Many of the posters had the reward line crossed out and replaced with “Dead or alive”. I was told that this Ralph Nieboer person was a very dangerous man, armed with skills, a friendly personality and a passion for baking beautiful bread, which he wants to share with the world. The tour guide explained to us that Ralph Nieboer truly is an affront and danger to the commercial baking industry and must be caught at all costs. They are willing to pay a handsome reward for his capture. He also shared with us (in a hushed voice) that they were making the final arrangements to showcase Nieboer on “America’s Most Wanted Dutch People”, a series with a capture success rate of well over 90%.
I looked at the picture of this commercial bread outcast again and again. I could not help myself. After all, his photo was plastered everywhere at this industrial baking establishment! He looked vaguely familiar. And innocently happy. Well, if I was engaged in artful baking, I might have this look of happy stupor on my face as well. But apparently, that sunny smile was just a facade behind which, according to our tour guide, laid the talent of a sinister, calculating bread artisan intent on destroying the preservative laden world of the commercial bread industry all over the globe.
We were told that he would be caught eventually, and most likely fairly quickly, because he could not hide his obsession with baking bread. It was a known fact, that despite his numerous attempts to refrain from baking to avoid capture, he just could not help himself. His addiction to flour, water, salt and yeast was stronger than his fear of getting captured and always drove him into the kitchen of wherever he was hiding. Without his daily bread baking fix, apparently outlaw Nieboer would simply cease to exist. However, so far he had managed to always stay one step ahead of the (commercial bread) authorities. It appeared that he was supported in this by a group of resistance fighters with code names like Chef Callandrillo, Crustique Breads or even very unassuming names like Lynn Alexander. There was even an accomplice by the name of Peter Winkler, who posed as a gong master but in reality was an avid bread aficionado. All of them were and still are members of of COBRA, the Commerical Bread Resistance Alliance, a global organization, whose only goal is to defy the commercial bread establishment. All its members suffer quite obviously from a very unhealthy obsession with the tradition of artful and healthy bread baking. And all of them suffer from a misguided view that, ideally, bread should have only four basic ingredients: flour, water salt, yeast. Why, they even incorporated this into their logo:
Apparently, it is the Commercial Bread Resistance Alliance which creates an environment that allows shady elements like this Nieboer person to continuously elude the commercial bread authorities.
Our tour guide’s name tag identified him as Bread Pit and he was admittedly a good looking and obviously avid commercial bread enthusiast. However, the more he talked, the more I got the impression that the term “fanatic” would be a more apt description. As he continued to describe this Ralph Nieboer person to us, along with all the dough atrocities he (Ralph Nieboer) had apparently committed, Bread Pit’s rugged face underwent a change from healthy pink to various shades of red while the volume of his voice increased every so much! I was secretly wondering if this commercial bread establishment had a defibrillator anywhere on site and if so, why wasn’t there a notification of its location posted right next to the “WANTED” poster? Certainly this was not the first time that an overzealous tour guide would have to be resuscitated before the end of his anti-Nieboer tirade. But alas, Bread Pit survived the tour and robbed me of the opportunity to refresh defibrillator training. Oh, well!
After this informative tour, I couldn’t resist the urge to research this dangerous Nieboer individual who was pictured so favorably on the WANTED poster on the walls of this most popular bread factory. And in so doing, it became clear to me why he looked vaguely familiar. I had seen his picture before. In our local supermarket. Though not as prominently displayed, a similar “WANTED” poster was found in the bread aisle of my local supermarket along with an explanation of why he was a wanted man.
He is an up and rising star in the artisan bread world with his company Bread Works Workshops. Ralph is an autodidact and that in itself is a testimony to his talent. He has become a master in the art of bread baking on two levels. His bread creations not only please one’s olfactory senses but also appeal to one’s sense of aesthetics with the most visually pleasing loaves. Who wants to buy loaves from the supermarket after having experienced a workshop with Ralph? But the really danger lies in the fact that he recruits his students to become bread bakers of their own and avoid the inferior bread of the preservative laden world of the commercial bread establishment. In so doing he has become instrumental in a movement which is well on its way of turning into a global bread revolution. So, the big question is: Who would have the most to lose from a bread revolution? Commercial bread bakeries, of course. It all made sense to me now. And I now also know why they kept playing the old Beatles song “Revolution” in the background during the entire tour. It was a subliminal effort. Very sneaky!
Anyway, here are some of Ralph Nieboer’s works of art:
Nieboer baguettes and Epi
I decided to look him up. Not directly, of course. That would be too obvious and I love to make things complicated. So, I joined one of the Artisan Bread groups on Facebook I knew him to be a member of. I supplied many breaducated comments and advice and even contributed some of my writings to the group. He could not resist my good nature and humor and slowly a relationship developed. Eventually he befriended me on Facebook which turned out to be a good thing because I got kicked out of the Artisan Bread group… ??? Don’t ask! But our friendship survived.
So, what have I learned about this outlaw? Ralph Nieboer is one of the finest breadheads I have met on my own journey with bread. Did you know that the original term ‘breadhead’ really has nothing to do with bread but with money? (You can learn all kinds of things when you enlist the help of ‘elgoog’. Is that a dutch word? Sure looks like it.) So, ‘breadhead’ originally was actually a derogatory term for someone obsessed with money (bread = slang for money). Well, I much prefer the modern meaning of the word in a literal sense as someone obsessed or addicted to anything bread related. It is noteworthy that rather than being derogatory, it is now being used as a term of endearment. And isn’t that what making bread the old-fashioned way is all about? Goodness and wholesomeness. Something that seems to be ever decreasing in today’s society.
So much has Mr. Nieboer’s dedicated to the cause, that he has even gone so far as to dipping into his life savings in order to set up and arrange a 2 day workshop with Josep Pasqual, a spanish master baker. If you are serious of joining the bread revolution, you owe it to your self to make this pilgrimage to Rotterdam in April.
But back to the subject at hand. In contemplating the definition of ‘breadhead’, it occurred to me that there is a very fine line between obsession and addiction. Or for those who are truly in denial, “passion” is the word much preferred. Breadheads like Ralph Nieboer are extremely passionate about their craft. The care they take of their (sour)dough is akin to taking care of a child, including getting up at odd hours of the night to “feed” it. NO, I am not kidding you!
In order to get into the mind of people like Ralph Nieboer, as well as to better understand the “passion” (a.k.a. obsession) these breadheads display, I infiltrated COBRA and had the rare opportunity to interview some of Ralph Nieboers close associates. Here is a sampling of how they justify, admit or go to great lengths to deny their addiction. Some of them also expressed their admiration for the commercial bread outlaw. In order to protect the identity of each breadhead for their own safety, I will only use their COBRA code names:
Joseph Ong: I don’t think I’m addicted, but right after the bread comes out of the oven, I’m already planning the next loaf in my head. And whenever I stumble onto a new flour or grain, I start ot salivate and my heart rate goes higher. Emily Malek: It‘s a blank slate to express yourself and you can eat it or give it away…How could one NOT get addicted? Steve Kreis: It’s a calling, been doing it for 23 years now and I still love it…love seeing all the great pics and rubbing elbows with other addicts. Antonio Scaringi: I know I’m thinking all the time ‘What’s next? Did I feed this?’…Yeah, I’m a newbie but addicted! William Breuninger: I love all things yeast Shawn Cassiman: …the healing power of bread and the process. Provides both distraction and focus…Each bake is a lesson in mastery and humility Gideon Coaster: Kind of a slave to my freezer when we have room for more bread – then I bake, that’s the rule of the house Chef Callandrillo: Glad to know Ralph. He is a true breadhead!!!
And then there are people like Susan Delia Carpenter whose “passion” for bread and goodness led her to her own calling of sorts by founding “The Ministry of The Risen”, a bread baking ministry. She gets her daily fix, blessings included, for herself and those she ministers to. Take that, commercial bread establishment!
I could go on and on delighting you with tidbits of COBRA members and…….
* BREAKING NEWS * BREAKING NEWS *
“There has been an assassination attempt, I repeat, an assassination attempt on the life of bread artist Ralph Nieboer!” This just in from my international sources. The initial info was very sketchy, with a statement by the victim about not having a good day and being all covered in glass.
Here is a description of what happened in the victim’s own words: “I got some material about 25 kilo turning at 2500 rpm and it apparently had some casting defects in it, some carbon pockets and it broke my tools and blasted the piece through my window.”
Casting defects. My ass! As gifted as he is in the bread department, as naive he is as a human being, it appears. I hate to break this to you Master Nieboer, but what you call a “casting defect”, was a deliberate act of sabotage by your enemies who apparently have come to a decision regarding the “dead or alive” portion on your WANTED poster! I have been watching enough episodes of “House of Cards” to be suspicious of any so called “coincidences”. Especially with an enemy as powerful as yours. It is also no coincidence that they chose ‘heavy metal’ for their assassination attempt, knowing how much Ralph loves Heavy Metal (music). Very ingenious, I have to give them that.
As far as I am concerned, Bread Pit’s pitch against Ralph was the pits and this assassination attempt a sad testimony to the depth of the pit the commercial bread establishment will sink to further their own agenda.
BUT not to worry. The fact that Ralph survived, just goes to show that he is destined for greater things in this great and worthy cause! I appeal to everyone reading this article to support Ralph Nieboer’s and COBRA’s cause by defiantly displaying the COBRA logo and actively participate in making a difference in this world by bringing healthy, wholesome artisanal bread back to the table, one loaf, one student, one basic bread ingredient at a time.
And if you possibly can, do sign up for the two-day workshop in Rotterdam in April. I wish I could! It promises to be an awesome experience and a sure way to defy the commercial bread authorities.
Oh, and thank you for all your tireless dedication and inspiration, bread artist Nieboer!
Over and Out.
(penned by Sibyl Leon, principal at
and Crustique Breads, January 2015)