Tuesday, December 10

Fresh out of Italy, student bakes personalized loaves for friends

Zach Martinucci, a fourth-year anthropology student, listens to his "Bad N Bougie" bread after taking it out of the oven to hear the crackling noise it makes as it continues to cook from the inside. (Angelina Ruiz/Daily Bruin)

Zach Martinucci, a fourth-year anthropology student, listens to his "Bad N Bougie" bread after taking it out of the oven to hear the crackling noise it makes as it continues to cook from the inside. (Angelina Ruiz/Daily Bruin)

Zach Martinucci transforms his Westwood apartment into a cafe when he invites friends over for nights of Trader Joe’s wine and homemade Italian cuisine.

On these nights, the apartment starkly contrasts with the fraternity houses surrounding it, said Martinucci’s roommate Will Greenberg. An old-fashioned light piece hangs from the ceiling of their living room, illuminating mirrors with comically placed mustaches and Martinucci, a fourth-year anthropology student, as he slices his homemade sourdough bread.

Martinucci opens his door to his friends at least once a week to host intimate gatherings over brunch and dinner, bringing friends together over chicken and waffles, handmade pasta and freshly baked sourdough bread.

“He calls himself the culinary anthropologist,” said Caitlin O’Malley, Martinucci’s friend. “He likes the bread and he likes the food, but it’s also the way he builds relationships with people.”

[Read more: On-campus bake-off heats up as students compete, taste innovative treats]

Working out of his 40-square-foot kitchen, Martinucci experiments often. After learning how to bake bread in Italy, Martinucci began creating “persona loaves” – sourdough bread crafted with carefully selected ingredients – that showcase his friends’ personalities in each customized flavor.

Martinucci began experimenting with bread in the summer of 2016 as he traveled throughout Bologna, Italy, for his senior thesis. His project explored how locals express their identity through food and led him to spend a week with a young family on its rural farm.

It only took Martinucci a 30-second walk from the family’s house to reach the parents’ bakery. Throughout his stay, Martinucci acted as an extra hand, helping care for the two young children, serving lasagna at parties and assisting the father in the bakery for the family’s full-scale bread production.

“I didn’t go there to bake bread, I just happened to fall into it,” Martinucci said. “I happened to be around it, and they were really into teaching me.”

In the bakery, Martinucci carried a notebook with him, in which he would write down the father’s explanations about the bread-making process. The father taught him the basics of bread such as how the yeast works and how long to knead the dough, basics that Martinucci brought back to his Westwood apartment.

When Martinucci began baking sourdough in January, he decided to capture his friends’ defining characteristics in the bread he baked. All the loaves begin with a similar sourdough foundation but vary in their ingredients – a friend who is sweet, sassy and a little bit nutty would receive a loaf stuffed with cranberries, cayenne pepper and spicy candied pecans, he said.

He has also created flavors with eccentric names like “Fruity Frat” and “R’s Revenge,” which he hopes to sell to the public if he opens a bakery one day.

“I like telling stories through food,” he said. “I want people to see this connection that these are great flavors of bread, but this is where they come from, these are my college friends.”

Martinucci bakes eight to 12 loaves a week, which he sells for $10 each from word-of-mouth advertisement. Friends will text him or message him through Facebook asking him to design a loaf either for themselves or as a gift. Martinucci said he tries to sit down with customers and chat with them about their respective personality traits to create their individual loaves.

O’Malley designed the “Bad N Bougie” loaf, which plays on her sophisticated yet sassy attitude. The savory bread contains a combination of avocado oil and balsamic vinegar, coincidentally similar to her morning breakfast routine of avocado toast, she said.

“It’s cool because sourdough is like a canvas in that there’s a base recipe. There’s only so much you can do with it so you’re limited, and you have to find a way in those restrictions to express people,” Martinucci said.

After more people expressed interest in his baking, Martinucci created the Facebook page “Centro Città,” which serves as an online blog to document his baking escapades.

Italian for “city center,” the name stems from Martinucci’s rural culinary training and how he brought those techniques to Westwood with his own creative spin, he said. The page’s logo features a beige imprint of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan – which he chose because its architecture inspired Royce Hall.

“All of these projects have been just exploring different passions, but recently it’s not just baking bread for myself, it’s getting to see what it could look like in my life,” Martinucci said.


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