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image: Campus NewsA lotta ciabatta
Mrs. Winniker may never know how much influence she has on Hyde Parkers' dinner tables. A sixth-grade teacher at the Masterman School in Philadelphia during the early 1980s, Mrs. Winniker inherited what used to be a home-economics classroom as a homeroom. Not one to allow good ovens to go to waste, every Friday she baked herself challah from dough mixed and shaped at home. The aroma and sight of those shiny braided loaves were enough to send Lauren Bushnell, AB'95, a quiet little girl with chestnut curls, digging through cookbooks. Challah was the first loaf Bushnell-now head bread baker at the new Medici Bakery on 57th Street-ever baked.

IMAGE:  Lauren Bushnell bakes the bread Hyde Parkers love.
Lauren Bushnell bakes the bread Hyde Parkers love.

"I would watch her, and I wanted to do it too," says Bushnell, whose teacher never thought to share her wares. Bread baking became a sometime hobby as Bushnell grew up to concentrate in math at the U of C and become a Chicago high-school math teacher. Bread was the last thing on her mind until, a year into teaching and disenchanted with her career choice, she spotted an ad in the Chicago Reader for aspiring bakers-seeking "people with more interest than experience." She telephoned and spent a day trying out baking at Red Hen Bread on Chicago's North Side. "But it wasn't the right time in my life to make that kind of change," she says.

A year later she felt differently and put her brief teaching stint behind her. Several weeks of on-the-job training later, she took over the mixing shift at Red Hen. After a year a baking position opened, and she split her time between mixing and baking, then learned "scaling" (weighing out blobs of dough to shape and rise) and loaf shaping, first adding demibaguettes, baguettes and then other breads to her formerly challah-only repertoire.

Meanwhile, more than a year ago, rumors began circulating around Hyde Park that the Medici intended to open a bakery one door to the east, in a retail space considered by some to be cursed. The spot's most recent occupant, the student-run Stay Up Forever café, lasted only a year, and predecessors, including a clothing store and a diner, met equally early demises.

"I figured I should have some say about what went in around the corner from me," recalls Bushnell, who lives across the back alley from the Med. She marched over to talk to manager Kirsten Schley. One thing led to another, Schley passed the word on to owner Hans Morsbach, MBA'61, that a bread baker lived next door. Bushnell was hired.

The Medici Bakery opened the first week of June, a full month before Bushnell's Polin oven made its way across the Atlantic from Verona, Italy. After the oven was assembled during a blisteringly hot Fourth of July week, Bushnell began pumping out the Medici's full bread menu: bagels, baguettes, challah (of course), ciabatta, Mexican-style sweet concha rolls, country wheat and herb breads, levain, multigrain and rye loaves, semolina rings and "torpedos," and whole-wheat sandwich bread. She oversees four employees and, for now anyway, works two shifts: 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. baking and 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. mixing and shaping the next morning's loaves. She takes catnaps in the afternoons and looks forward to the day when her staff is fully trained and she can alternate shifts.

Bushnell's favorite bread? Ciabatta. "It's simple," she says. "It has the four basic ingredients-flour, water, salt, yeast-but there's a lot of personality from just those four."

The hardest thing about her job-aside from dragging her decidedly nonmorning self out of bed-is, she says, the job itself. "All the breads I make elude me. They're dependent on the weather, the oven and kitchen and rising temperature, the humidity, the ingredients. They're different every day and every batch." It's the baker's lot, she says, and the reason she wakes up every morning.


  AUGUST 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 6

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Teachable moments
  > > Off-key smash
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Great men of Great Books
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Business of Reflection

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  > > e-Bulletin: 08/02/02



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