JONATHAN STEVENS

Co-owner and Head Baker
Hungry Ghost Bread
Northampton, Massachusetts

As leaders in the back-to-the-grain movement, Jonathan Stevens and Cheryl Maffei have long espoused the view that an essential element of the bakers’ tools is the skill to learn from the grain. They are referring to non-commodity varieties of wheat, barley, rye, and other grains that on account of weather variables and crop management decisions may differ farm to farm and season to season. This perspective reverses the customary expectation that it is the millers’ responsibility to eliminate the guess work in baking by achieving a predictable uniformity in their flour. But for craft bakers like Jonathan, flavor and nutrition are more important than consistency and this may lead them to work with local or regional farmers who are growing non-commodity grains. The results can be challenging. Predictability may not exist. Their recourse is innovation and the skill to determine the best use of the grain on hand. Is this a formula for success? It is probably more accurate to call it a way of life. Respecting the grain and the process that transforms it  grew Hungry Ghost Bread into a beloved community bakery with a national reputation for excellence.

From Saveur’s “Great American Bread Bakeries” article:

“The Hungry Ghost feeds more than spirits with its spectacular breads, among them French, organic raisin, and a dense rye topped with toasted black kalonji seeds. Baked in a wood-fired masonry oven baker/owners Jonathan Stevens and Cheryl Maffei helped build themselves, many of Hungry Ghost’s breads are made from locally grown, freshly milled wheat and spelt, cultivated as part of the bakery’s “Little Red Hen” project to restore grain-growing in the Pioneer Valley. Like the Johnny Appleseeds of wheat, Stevens and Maffei started several years ago doling out handfuls of wheat berries to eager customers to plant in their yards and gardens. By now, one local farmer delivers 400 pounds of flour to Hungry Ghost each week.”