The culture and politics of food.
How New York City immigrants are earning their dough.
Hot Bread Kitchen is more than just a bakery. Founded by Jessamyn Rodriguez, HBK is a nonprofit organization, bakery, and training center located in New York City’s historic La Marqueta inside Spanish Harlem. The kitchen produces a diverse array of multi-ethnic bread, from European-style staples like baguettes and multi-grain loaves to regional specialty breads like Mexican tortillas and Armenian lavash. The bakers of these breads are minority and low-income residents of New York, most of them women who bring their own traditional bread recipes to the kitchen in exchange for training in computer classes, English, professional baking, and management—all skills necessary to obtain management positions in the culinary industry or start their own food business. Rodriguez calls Hot Bread Kitchen “the United Nations of bread.”
The organization seeks to highlight the contributions of immigrant communities while empowering those who might need assistance to break into the highly competitive culinary industry. “"So many people have an aunt, a mother, grandmother, some woman in their life with a special bread recipe,” Rodriguez told NPR. “It’s my secret goal to really change the face of the industry, to get more women bakers running the big bakeries in New York City and across the nation.” Hot Bread Kitchen accepts foreign-born and low-income bakers with a desire to become financially independent. Then, instructors at the kitchen teach the bakers how to perfect their skills and get ahead in the industry. All of the money earned from bread sales goes back to support training programs and pay the bakers wages for the bread they produce. After a year of working in the kitchens, the bakers are aided in securing professional baking jobs or starting their own businesses. Hot Bread Kitchen also rents industrial kitchen space by the hour, providing cheap rent while putting prospective bakers on the way to earning a food license.
The relationship between the bakers, Hot Bread Kitchen, and New York City is a symbiotic one. The kitchen has become a haven for those who have not had the resources to fulfill their culinary potential. The bakers learn invaluable skills and increase their economic security while gaining experience and access to the specialty food industry. In return, the retailers and residents of New York who buy from the Hot Bread Kitchen storefront and farmer’s markets experience new cultures and acquire a higher esteem for immigrant communities. The bread is made with local and organic ingredients whenever possible, so buyers can be sure that each dollar spent is promoting the local economy as well as helping real people improve their future.
Photo by Hot Bread Kitchen (Ken Goodman Photography)