published Friday, January 29th, 2010

Baker's ambitious art

Bluff View breakmaker wants to make business rise

  • photo
    Staff photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Alou Niangadou puts dough together Wednesday to make marbled rye bread at the Bluff View Art District bakery.

Alou Niangadou's day begins well before the early morning light peeks through the windows of the Bluff View Art District bread bakery. And the ovens are not still untill the sun begins to set over the mountains.

Mr. Niangadou, a native of Mali in West Africa, recently came to the Bluff View bakery following five years as head baker for the Buckhead Bread Co.

"I was ready to make a move, and I love Chattanooga and the Bluff View Art District," Mr. Niangadou said.

Angela Niemeyer, the district's general manager, said the decision to hire Mr. Niangadou was a simple one.

"A man who serviced our bakery machines said he knew 'the best bread baker in Atlanta,'" Mrs. Niemeyer said. So the offer was made, and Mr. Niangadou made the move to Chattanooga with one goal in mind: To improve the quality and quantity of products coming out of the bakery, he said.

"And we plan to increase our baking to full capacity, keeping the bakery going 24 hours a day before long," he said.

In addition to going to restaurants in the Art District, the bread is also delivered seven days a week to more than 25 wholesale accounts including restaurants, area Bi-Lo's and Greenlife Grocery, according to Michael Vasta, director of food and beverage with the district.

Breads may also be purchased at Rembrandt's, and now, for the first time, the bakery will be open to the public, giving breadlovers an opportunity to see where the bread is made.

"Alou has built a reputation in previous large markets, including New York and Atlanta and been touted by national food experts, including Nathalie Dupree, as 'the best baker in America, maybe the world,'" Mr. Vasta said. "With his repertoire of more than 400 products, we can offer greater diversity to potential retail and wholesale customers."

Mr. Niangadou relates to bread like an artist to his palette.

A quick look

* Alou Niangadou was one of five sons born to a grocer and homemaker in Mali. He is married and has four children.

* He learned the basics of breadmaking under the apprenticeship of Gerard Anglin, an Alsatian baker from the small French town of Mulhouse on the German-Swiss border.

* Mr. Niangadou is fluent in four languages.

* Also on his resume: Executive baker at Eli Zabar in New York; consultant for Buckhead Bread Company during the 1996 Olympics; executive baker, Buckhead Bread Co. for five years.

Fast facts

The bread bakery at Bluff View Art District:

* Uses 600 to 700 pounds of dough each day to make hundreds of loaves

* Makes bread for 25 accounts, including area restaurants and grocery stores

* Makes several different breads geared toward attracting German customers

* Makes specialty breads, including pretzels, Stollen and panetone

"His ability to understand bread makes every loaf perfect," Mr. Vasta said.

"Dough is a living thing," Mr. Niangadou said. He hopes to spread this message to Chattanooga and beyond through is extensive knowledge gained from apprenticing under other master breadmakers. His years working near the German border set the stage for what he hopes will become a drawing card for the Bluff View bakery as Volkswagen comes to town.

"I'm making loaves like they do in Germany," Mr. Niangadou said.

Now, Bavarian rye and other dense breads are on the shelves most every day at the bakery, along with Mr. Niangadou's signature raisin-walnut bread, famed from New York to around the world. He developed the recipe while working at Eli Zabar bakery and marketplace in the Big Apple.

Mr. Niangadou uses 600 to 800 pounds of dough every day, each loaf starting with a starter mix he feeds daily.

"We plan to increase our baking four times that," he said.

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