Analogies for Life, Stories of An Artisanal Bread Baker
Rocky Connell, raised in Glasgow, Montana, which is as close to the Canadian border as you can get - and at the western edge of North Dakota, had a very unusual first job "milking" bulls for his father's veterinary business.
That's how we started this living room couch episode of Your Stories Don't Define You, How You Tell Them Will.
How he transitioned from his work with bulls to baking artisanal bread for Park Avenue Bakery in Helena, Montana is a long story, and one you'll want to hear.
We spoke about the movie Like Water for Chocolate, particularly a scene when Tita, the main character, made a dish that made everyone cry. I couldn’t find that clip to share, but I did find one that embodies the sentiment: We put our energy into everything we do, everything we make:
Baking bread is a great analogy for personal growth and development. It takes time, there are few shortcuts, and every shift in the environment and ingredients can be the difference between a delicious loaf and an inedible one.
Rocky and I met at the Helena, Montana airport getting ready to board a plane. When I found out he was the genius to bring real French baguette to our little town, I felt like I was sitting with a celebrity. As he described the process and the trial and error to get to this prized creation, I couldn’t help but see the relationship between baking bread and everything else we do.
You infuse your energy into everything you do. Positive or negative, whatever you put into a project, relationship, or event is what will come out of it. I shared my story about baking challah (the Jewish bread for the Sabbath and festivals) at high altitude, and the difficulties I had in that first year living in Montana. Rocky could relate, but not with the altitude aspect because he has only ever baked at high altitude! He could relate to the trial and error of the process, and to the euphoric feeling of pulling the perfect loaf out of the oven to share with friends and family.
One story he shared has stayed with me even more than the others: When he first started baking in Billings, Montana, for a local bakery, he figured out an extraordinary ciabatta. He would make a big batch in the very early mornings and felt connected to each loaf. He knew he poured himself into every part of the process, from softening the yeast to carefully placing the loaves into the hot oven. He remembered one customer who came in and bought every. single. loaf. At first, Rocky was almost hostile toward the customer, frustrated that all of his early morning hard work would be gone first thing that day. But then the man explained:
I’m bringing these to my son and his family in Great Falls, Montana today. Last time I visited, I brought one of these delicious loaves to him, and my son was so impressed that he asked me to bring more next time. He said he’d freeze loaves for later, but please bring as many as you can!
Rocky looked back at that incident and saw it as a pivot point, it was that moment when he realized he wasn’t baking bread just because he loved to bake bread - it wasn’t just for him. He realized that he wasn’t just feeding people, he was nourishing them.
What do you do that you can feel that good about? When did you realize that the energy you put into something was exactly the energy that came out of it?
Rocky loves his work at Park Avenue Bakery in Helena, Montana. If you make it in there, be sure to ask for him so you can hear about his latest outstanding creation, the Black & Brie Baguette. (I had mine with fresh sliced tomatoes and basil from my garden… mmmm.)