• WHAT: Great Valley Bookfest
• WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• WHERE: Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley
• MORE INFO: greatvalleybookfest.org
Boulanger Mike Kalanty never thought he’d be a writer, per se.
His hands were born to knead, pound, pinch and roll dough.
Writing, well, that was always just a hobby, an escape, a way to share stories of his travels and culinary creations with family and friends clear across the globe.
He jokes that his earlier letters – the ones postmarked Paris, France – were the framework for today’s blogs, because his daily notes predated the Internet.
“I wrote all the time, but I never took it seriously. It was always just something to do, like playing the piano, which I also do,” said Kalanty, 52. “It was always just a good hobby. Looking back at it now, I guess this was a very natural (transition).”
So say the critics.
Kalanty’s book, “How to Bake Bread,” has broken new ground in the cookbook category since its debut three years ago.
It won “Best Bread Book in the World” at the Paris Cookbook Fair and was a first-ever finalist for the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ “Best Professional Cookbook.” That success has spawned a sequel still in the works, “How to Bake More Bread,” sourdough’s renaissance.
If those credentials weren’t enough, Kalanty has arrived at this moment in his writing career: the Great Valley Bookfest on Oct. 18. The man who has traveled the world over looks forward to his time in Manteca.
It reminds him of home.
“I’m from a big family in a little town, so I’m all about the community stuff,” said Kalanty, who also teaches courses at Ramekins in Sonoma, Epicurean Exchange in Orinda and Draeger’s in San Mateo.
• • •
Book idea born on beach in Brazil
Kalanty’s book dream began not in a kitchen or a writing studio, but on the beaches of Sao Paulo.
He had come to Brazil to build a cooking school at the height of the Y2K scare, and as widespread fear gripped the globe, Kalanty adopted the Brazilians’ coping methods.
“In Brazil, the thought was rather than worry we should have a party. The party started before Christmas and kept on going,” Kalanty said. “We were on the beach and they’re counting down to New Year’s and nothing exploded. Nobody died.”
Standing there with sand between his toes, Kalanty made a promise to himself.
After decades of working in kitchens, restaurants and bakeries in postcard settings, Kalanty wanted to share those experiences and all of that gained knowledge. They would be worthless to him beyond the grave. So a book, he decided, would be his legacy; his gift to the world.
“It hit me at that point,” Kalanty said. “Ten years from now, if I’m still alive, what will I want to have achieved by then? I wanted to write a book.”
But what would he write about? His time as a hotline chef? The decade or so he spent in pastries?
Kalanty found that putting together a cookbook about that which he had already mastered was too difficult and wrought with blocks and dead ends. There was just too much information to organize, to share clearly.
“I had to embark on a new path,” he said. “I had to learn something I didn’t already know and just chronicle it as I go.”
So he set out to challenge himself as a boulanger, the French term for bread baker, and he would keep a log of his stumbles and successes. That diary would be the foundation of his maiden book.
• • •
Inspired by a ‘Jolly Giant’
Kalanty traveled the world, visiting every major city near and far. For weeks, sometimes months, he’d moonlight in kitchens and bakeries, shadowing the local talent.
In Chambly, France, a small town outside of Paris, Kalanty stumbled upon a chef fit for a football field. The late Chef Pierre Menier was a mountain of a man; he stood over 6 feet tall and weighed 260 pounds.
“He was the size of the Jolly Green Giant,” Kalanty said. “He could crush you, but when he touched breads and pastries, all of that power became finesse and delicacy. He had so much power, but he was a gentle giant.”
Soon, he’d become Kalanty’s mentor and inspiration. Chef Pierre simplified the art of baking breads at his shop, Pomme d’Api. He revealed its measured and carefully calculated steps, and put less focus on the “science” of it all.
You don’t need to know the reasons why yeast rises, Pierre would say, only that it does.
“It took so much fear and mystery away,” said Kalanty, who had never been so disciplined and precise in the kitchen. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so easy.’ “
And so he set out to share that revelation with “How to Bake Bread,” proving he’s a true artisan, equally adept with a pen or ball of dough in his hands.
“I’ve collected a lot of information and people need to have it,” Kalanty said. “This is my legacy.”