Jonathan Bethony uses his experiences in West Africa and other places to bring the ancient art of bread-making to Washington, D.C.
His bakery, Seylou, is different from most bakeries around the country. Bakers there grind whole grains in their own mill. They also buy their grains from local farmers.
Started in Senegal
More than 15 years ago, Bethony visited Senegal to learn West African drumming. During his time living in a small desert village, he became interested in working with local farmers. He wanted to help local people who were struggling to get enough food.
When he came back to the U.S., Bethony began working in restaurants and discovered a love for baking.
Later, Bethony started working for the Washington State University’s Bread Lab. There, he developed new ways of using many kinds of locally grown wheat, without wasting any of their components.
For Bethony, having his own bakery was the next step in using the skills he had learned and developed over many years. In November, he opened his bakery and called it Seylou, which means “eagle” in the West African language of Mandinka.
Milling local grains
At Seylou, it is important to use local ingredients. They get all of their grain fresh from local farmers. Bethony uses about 20 different kinds of organic grains in making his bread.
He said, “We use several varieties of wheat alone, and about 3 different ryes…Our mission here is to use what they call underutilized grains, which is important to grow in the organic system.”
Bethony adds that a lot of the soil in the area has been damaged from growing tobacco. He said growing millet helps bring life back to the soil.
Bethony is one of only a small number of bakers around the United States who mill their grains on-site, meaning at the bakery. This has caught the attention of food and environment reporter Sam Fromartz, who has written a book about bread called, "In Search of the Perfect Loaf."
He says knowing how to mill and knowing which grains to use is what gives each kind of bread its individual taste and feel.
Fromartz said, “When you start baking with grains from particular farmers, the grains will be different in each farm. So, Jonathan, in a sense, is adjusting each batch of grain that he mills. So, he’s kind of mixing and matching and playing with his ingredients”
He said that Bethony is part of a developing movement in the American food industry. More bakers are returning to “old food ways” by trying to bake with whole grains.
Whole grain pastries
One-hundred percent organic whole grain is not only for making bread. Seylou also makes pastries using whole grains.
Bethony said his work is easy because he surrounds himself with like-minded people, like his pastry chef, Charbel Abrache.
But, Bethony said Seylou would not work without the support of his business partner and wife, Jessica Azees.
It's the taste
Seylou's baked products are rich in natural minerals and vitamins, but the taste is what brings people back to the store. This makes Bethony happy, because he wants people to eat food that is healthy for them, but still enjoyable.
“When you’re going to a pastry shop or a bakery, there is excitement…I don’t want to take away any of this experience,” Bethony said.
I’m Phil Dierking.
This story was originally written by Faiza Elmasry for VOANews. Phil Dierking adapted the story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
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Words in This Story
adjust - v. to change (something) in a minor way so that it works better
bakery - n. a place where bread, cakes, cookies, and other baked foods are made or sold
component - n. one of the parts of something (such as a system or mixture)
ingredient - n. one of the things that are used to make a food, product, etc.
organic - adj. grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals
pastry - n. dough that is used to make pies and other baked goods
mill - n. a machine for grinding grain
tobacco - n. a plant that produces leaves which are smoked in cigarettes, pipes, etc.
wheat - n. a kind of grain that is used to make flour for breads, cookies, etc
particular - adj. used to indicate that one specific person or thing is being referred to and no others