A city’s food scene is only as good as its best bakery. We went too long in Austin without a truly great bakery, so when I learned that my talented friend David Norman was coming on as head baker for the new Easy Tiger a couple years ago, I was beside myself. David has punched dough at the Michelin-starred Bouley in NYC, run a Hill Country resort and spa with his wife Paula Disbrowe, and now brings his considerable talents to Austin customers hungry for crusty, tangy sourdough; golden baguettes; levain studded with toasty walnuts or chewy olives; flaky croissants and pastries; authentic old-world sourdough rye; and hand-twisted, freshly-baked, soft pretzels that rival the best in Bavaria. Finally, we have arrived: with Easy Tiger on the scene, we can hold our own amongst the great culinary cities of New York, Portland and San Francisco, and those of us who stop in daily for a loaf of bread, a pastry, and a fantastic cup of coffee are deeply grateful for David’s mad talent with wild yeast and flour.
*photography by Thomas Winslow
In college, I studied German Literature and spent my junior year in Munich. When I came back home, the two things I missed the most were the bread and the beer, so I started making both. I came across an opening in a small French bakery, and turned a hobby into a job. As I continued baking, I found the craft deeply satisfying and it evolved into my career, a career that has taken me many places including Seattle, New York City and the Texas Hill Country.
If you weren’t a baker, what would you be doing?
When we first moved to Texas, we were running a guest ranch in the Hill Country, where besides helping with the hospitality side (and baking in the wood-fired brick oven we built when I arrived), I got a taste of farming and ranching. If I had the land to do it, I would happily be taking care of animals and growing food.
What is your earliest cooking or food memory?
I remember making scrambled eggs at about the same age as our six-year-old daughter. But she and her younger brother have already had their hands in plenty of dough. I am hoping their food memories start with the breads, biscuits, or cookies that we have made together.
What’s your favorite ingredient?
I love spelt and use it in place of modern whole wheat in several of my breads for its unique flavor.
What are your favorite food businesses in Austin? What are they doing right?
Bufalina is making great pizzas, well-executed salads and sides and has pitch perfect service.
Contigo is a favorite spot, not just because it is close to our house. It captures Hill Country atmosphere perfectly, and the food is always good.
I also love the sausages and other beautifully crafted foods from Dai Due.
A tip to a newbie baker:
Here’s my Zen approach to baking: Shaping bread for hours on end is repetitive and monotonous, but if you can get yourself to concentrate only on the loaf you are shaping at that moment—working toward shaping that one loaf perfectly—you can relieve the tediousness. No loaf will ever be perfect, but striving toward perfection in each loaf can carry your soul through the work. Each customer experiences only one or two loaves at a time, so making each as well as possible is crucial.
Your favorite cocktail:
I learned to make margaritas in South Central Texas, inspired by ventures to Laredo and across the border. I use a ratio of three parts blanco tequila, two parts Cointreau and one (heavy) part freshly squeezed lime juice, preferably from tiny Mexican key limes, shaken with plenty of ice. A strong concoction, but I find those proportions to be the closest to what we tasted in the old haunts of Nuevo Laredo.
Where do you get culinary inspiration?
Mostly through reading. I don’t cook directly from recipes very often, but I will read about a dish, or unusual combination of ingredients, and then I will cook my own version.
Also, I have been fortunate to work in several bakeries that are connected to or associated with great restaurants and some inspiring chefs, so I have learned a lot about cooking through them.
Favorite food and drink pairing?
Gravlax with horseradish infused aquavit.
The one cooking tool you can’t live without?
Tell us about a meal you will never forget.
Bringing pork chops, potatoes and gravy to my father in the nursing home when he was near the end of his battle with cancer. We found a private spot down the hall and enjoyed a proper, homecooked meal together. He fed me and our family passionately and so very well through the years; to be able to give that gift back to him was deeply important to me.
What is ‘comfort food’ to you?
Just about any dish with a sauce or gravy, preferably with some potatoes on the side.
Kitchen Inspirations :: Radish Panzanella
Panzanella is one of my favorite ways to salvage leftover bread—when tomatoes are waning, this version is a favorite. Definitely greater than the sum of its parts—you won’t believe the depth of complexity you get from so few ingredients.