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Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Former Hollywood hotshot-turned-baker basks in the warmth of his cool new bakery in Los Alamos
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Three summers ago, while all eyes were on Britain’s Prince William and his wife Catherine at the Santa Barbara Polo Club, sweating it out behind the scenes was burgeoning baker Bob Oswaks.
As celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis prepared her sweet corn lasagna with blistered tomatoes for the VIP fundraiser luncheon in honor of the royal couple, Oswaks was delivering his freshly baked artisan breads.
The royal visit was his first big professional baking job. (Not too shabby!)
“That was the first time someone said, ‘Can you do this for 500 people?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’ And then I left thinking, ‘Oh my god! What did I just say I could do?’” Oswaks recalled.
He enlisted his brother’s help and filled the order of 100 loaves fit for a (future) king.
Before discovering his passion for bread baking, Oswaks launched Jeopardy, Seinfeld, and other shows as president of worldwide marketing at Sony TV.
Now he’s launching something completely different—and much more personal.
Bob’s Well Bread bakery and cafe is opening Aug. 1 in Los Alamos, a town that Oswaks and his wife, Jane, hold near and dear, it having been their weekend destination for years.
Oswaks, who studied at the San Francisco Baking Institute, built a loyal following baking in the wood-fired oven at Full of Life Flatbread and selling his organic artisan loaves to local restaurants and clients.
But he was ready to open his own place and to really rise to the occasion.
In 2013, the Oswakses bought the property at 550 Bell St. and, over the last five months, they beautifully remodeled and modernized the vintage service station into a state-of-the-art bread shop.
“We wanted it to be very natural and organic,” Oswaks said. “So, you’ve got steel and stone, wood, simple tile, simple classic lighting.”
While sanding the painted floors, they discovered old growth Douglas fir, which now looks like new as you walk in the door.
Fellow merchants in Los Alamos are excited to welcome the high-end bakery to a location that formerly housed the Shady Rest Cafe and Cabins dating back to 1920, the Drum Canyon Grocery Store, and more recently, a biker bar.
“Bob has the most adorable building in town. We all wanted that building,” said Oswaks’ longtime friend Jamie Gluck, owner of the nearby Bell Street Farm eatery. “I’m really excited about it! I think it’s going to reinforce the level of commitment [in Los Alamos]. Bob’s business is going to be the caliber of what you would find only in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I love that!”
Bob’s Well Bread is special: organic, naturally leavened, and made by hand in small batches, Old World-style. In a word: memorable. When is the last time you thought that about bread?
“I think there’s a bit of magic when you do something with your hands and you make something for people and they know that you made that for them,” Oswaks said. “It heightens their experience in unique ways, more so than if you ate a grocery store loaf, which isn’t the same.”
A long fermentation process helps develop the depth of flavor found in Bob’s Well Bread.
Oswaks scores each loaf with a sharp blade before baking it in his stunning high-tech Italian oven.
“In an oven like this, you’re baking on stone decks; four decks that all have the same temperature,” he demonstrated. “As the bread is getting ready to go in, you give it a burst of steam and you load it and it gets a little more steam and it helps you develop the crust and the color.”
A loaf of Bob’s Well Bread has a delicate crust the color of mahogany; slice it open and it’s almost creamy.
“My goal for the bread is this darkly burnished crust, an open score so that it splits itself in half almost, and on the inside there’s this wildly irregular crumb structure, and feel how moist that is,” Oswaks said as he picked up a knife to cut me a slice.
“Taste that! It’s got a depth of flavor. It’s got a nice chew to it. It’s a mild sourdough. It’s highly hydrated; it’s not a dry bread at all.”
Oswaks also handcrafts a delicious loaf made with oil-cured black olives, house-dried Herbes de Provence, and lemon zest; baguettes; ciabatta; almond pastries; roasted garlic and fresh rosemary loaves; bagels; croissants; Bavarian pretzels; bacon bread, and more.
Oswaks invites you to, “Come in, buy some bread, have coffee.”
He plans to deliver his bread to wine tasting rooms and shops from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara.
Later, once his new staff and the menu are ready, the café will offer more.
“You can come in and have some charcuterie or some pâté or some cheese and loaves of bread and a glass of wine,” he explained.
He hired Tobey Layne, an artisan baker with two decades of experience.
“It’s a fabulous opportunity,” Layne said. “The market here is absolutely geared toward accepting this operation. We’ve had eager customers left and right, just waiting for opening day.”
Even more carb-loving customers will soon be champing at the bit for a first bite of Bob’s Well Bread, and with good reason.
Oswaks added, “There’s an intention that I place into what I do, where every loaf matters, just like a vintner, where every cluster of grapes and every barrel and bottle matters.”
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell loves loafing around Los Alamos. Contact her at email@example.com.