Before the pandemic, Max Kumangai sang and danced his Saturdays through back-to-back performances of “Jagged Little Pill,” a rock musical on Broadway.
Saturday is still his busiest day. But while he once kicked off his workday by practicing lifting his colleagues above his head, he now begins by taking sourdough breads out of the fridge and preparing for baking. (The oven in his Harlem apartment is so old that the numbers on the temperature knob have long since disappeared, but he knows which point to choose to get the color and crust just right.)
Once the loaves are done, he places them in paper bags on which the logo is stamped Humpday dough, the business he now runs with his fiancée, and is on his way to the subway to deliver them across New York City.
“I always get away from a day of delivery and feel socially fulfilled,” he said from his home.
Many people discovered a love of baking during the pandemic. Mr. Kumangai is one of those who realized that their new passion can be more than a hobby.
Cooking schools were flooded with inquiries from prospective bakers. The Institute of Culinary Education, which offers classes in Los Angeles and New York, received 85 percent more applications this year than in 2019. Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, said its baking and baking programs aroused much more interest. than other culinary programs.
While years of baking bricks have struggled to find qualified bakers, many hobbies have become so-called cottage bakers and sell bread from their homes or at the farmers market, according to Mitch Stamm, executive director of the Bread Bakers Guild of America. .
“It’s a very exciting time,” he said. “Many small bakeries – one-person bakeries, two-person bakeries – perform beautifully.”
Before the pandemic, Mr. Kumangai, 36, does not consider himself a breadwinner, and even forbids his fiancée to bring carbohydrate breads into their home. But with “Jagged Little Pill” indefinitely, “I wanted something to work on,” he said.
In April, after cooking enough chicken jars to survive for months should supermarkets no longer get food, he decided to try a sourdough appetizer.
“It smelled strange, and not in a good way,” he recalled recently. He throws it out. A few months later, “I thought, I’m not doing anything with my life,” he gave it again.
The second time was the charm. To keep a sourdough appetizer healthy, you need to feed it twice a day with flour and water. The process reminded him of caring for a Tamagotchi or a pet. He found it pleasantly therapeutic.
So do many others. Penny Stankiewicz, a pastry and baking instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, said it made sense to her that sourdough would appear as an outbreak of pandemic-era kitchens.
‘At the moment we were all so unstable and could not rely on anything; we had this thing we could feed, ‘she said. Mr. Kumangai also made other aspects of sourdough: stretching and folding the dough, and learning about the science of bubbles.
It was Mr Kumangai’s fiancé, Michael Lowney, another Broadway actor who was killed by the pandemic, who Mr. Kumangai bumped into turning bodywork into a job. (Mr. Lowney is now his business partner.)
Last summer, they returned home from a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Mr. Kumangai, who is the Black and Pacific Islander, felt a surge of emotions: despair and anger, but also excitement to come out of a physically isolating pandemic to connect so intensely with other people.
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“He noticed that I needed something to continue the connection,” he said. Kumangai said about his partner. Baking bread and delivery became the solution.
Over the next few months, they occasionally sold sourdough to a friend to deliver dozens of loaves a week – along with pancakes, biscuits and focaccia – many to subscribers who found Humpday Dough social media. Last month, the couple received 150 orders.
With the help of a couple in Brooklyn who also started a pandemic bread operation, Mr. Lowney figured out how to become an LLC, meet health requirements, and set up an online ordering system.
“I realized I like Google Spreadsheets,” he said. Lowney said. It was a shock.
All over the world, others have also seen the potential to turn dough into dough.
While living with her parents in Boston, Leah Kahane, 23, began baking as an antidote to pandemic isolation. “Giving away cinnamon rolls for my siblings and nieces and nephews was a way to feel connected to them,” she said.
It also reminded her that there was something she enjoyed more than executive recruitment for healthcare businesses. She quit and enrolled in the Baking and Pastry Program of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.
Bakers who have long specialized in posting photos and videos of their creations have also found a new potentially lucrative audience. The self-taught Norwegian baker behind the sourdough-centered @broodbyelise According to Instagram account, she went from 10,000 to 67,000 followers during the pandemic.
The attention inspired her to start a blog. When readers click on a link and buy a product she recommends, she makes an order. The woman, who goes to Elise, said she hopes she will soon make enough to end her other job. “That’s what I’m working on,” she said.
This is not the first time that a recession has spurred a new wave of bakers, said Mr. Tribe of the bakers’ guild said.
“We saw a huge increase in the early 2000s when the markets failed and many people with 401 (k) s lost their jobs,” he said. ‘We’ve seen how many of them get into the bowl; there are many more. ”
Ms Stankiewicz was among those who found baking at the time. “There was definitely a feeling, ‘I hate my job, I hate my life, I’m going to wake up and follow my heart,'” she said. “I think the same thing happened here.”
Jason Evans, dean of the College of Food Innovation & Technology at Johnson & Wales University, said the 2007-9 recession had also sparked a bit of a “renaissance” in the culinary arts.
But because the pandemic aroused excitement in new bakers, it also carried older habits.
“It was a roller coaster,” said Celine Underwood, a founding baker at Brickmaiden Bakery in Point Reyes Station, California.
Many bakery owners have had to figure out how to keep their heads above water without letting customers in. Profits fell. Staff members fled.
“Then things suddenly took off, even more than before, but with a fraction of the available staff,” she said. “Those we tried to cause during the pandemic were unreliable, had a personal chaos, or they do not seem to be completely stable or know what they want.”
It is virtually impossible to get a qualified baker to answer a wanted ad, she and others said.
Home bakers like mr. Kumangai does not have to deal with such staffing challenges. Unless life moves normally, they face the temptations of work they once knew.
For months, Kumangai has been placing a cast iron pan with lava bricks and a cup of water in its oven – among other things to make it function like a professional steam oven. Just when he started looking for rental space in a commercial kitchen, he learned that “Jagged Little Pill” wanted to get him back in the fall.
He convinced himself that he could do both: bake in the morning and perform on Broadway at night. He and mr. Lowney will postpone the scaling up of the operation for now.