Originally from Kharkiv, Bogdan Krasnoperov lives and works as a baker in Odessa. Exposed to land, air, and sea attacks, both cities are vulnerable, practically permeable. As an 18 - 60 year old male, he is registered and prepared for military service. While he waits to be called up, he and the cooks that work for a private business are working without wages 10 hours per day baking bread and preparing food for soldiers and journalists. Exhaustion has registered little effect on his voice; it remains still, resolute. Baking provides a fleeting respite from the horror, exacerbating it at the same time. His wish to do more for people and for peace in Ukraine grows stronger and more desperate each day. As if guided by St. Honore, his focus remains on others.
Bogdan had worked, alternately as a chef and as a baker, when, in 2016, he enrolled in Peter Yuen’s Masterclass in Kyiv. He credits the class with inspiring him to leave the kitchen to focus on baking. He worked in a bakery in Lviv, learning as we all do, from repetitions and reflection. Later, he traveled to The Netherlands to study bread and viennoiserie with Michel Schroder, crystallizing his focus on bread. More repetitions and more reflection earned him an invitation to compete at the Mondial du Pain, proving once again, that bread itself is the most honest, if not the best teacher for a determined, curious baker.
I’m not surprised by Bogdan’s demeanor and carefully chosen words the past few weeks. We met in 2019 at the Mondial du Pain, a baking competition organized by Les Ambassadeurs du Pain. He represented Ukraine; I was a jury member. At this level of baking, all competitors have the same or similar skills; they may or may not model the same or similar character and judgment. Upon meeting him, his humble, but strong presence and determined expression were clues to what we would observe the next two days. His stewardship of the team’s apprentice, his respect for the organizers,, his appreciation of and encouragement to the other teams, his reverence for the craft, and his eagerness to engage with everyone were harbingers of the memorable bread and viennoiserie he would bake.
Our respective roles at the competition restricted our interaction; however, I gained respect and appreciation for him through his work. Our communication was clinical and professional, not personal. Two years later, we served together on the jury at the 2021 Mondial du Pain. In addition to being an honor, serving on the jury at a baking competition is as uplifting and educational as it is rigorous. Days begin at 4 in the morning and regularly end past midnight. Discussions are robust, even passionate, but never contentious. Serving on the Mondial jury last October continues to reverberate in my baking psyche and soul. Our work was collegial,professional, and enlightening. The exchange of information widened our eyes and expanded our minds. Some discussions ended with a sigh, some with applause, some left us giddy with excitement. And, importantly, fortunately, we were able to engage beyond the jury’s sequestration. The bond we share is impervious to time and distractions, and currently refortified by our respect and appreciation for one of our own.
Until the first sirens and explosions startled him awake at 4 AM, our conversations had centered on his dream to emigrate to Canada to pursue more opportunities with his love of baking. Having become inured to the sirens, not the explosions, he’s resigned to remaining in his apartment when he’s not working. His sheltering place is the basement of a neighboring building. Going back and forth seems tedious, if not pointless.
The images of rubble and death from his native city, Kharkiv, and the noise from sirens & explosions continue to deny him of sleep. Kharkiv, has been eviscerated. Drained and exhausted, he remains stoic in his hope for peace. He longs to be in Kharkiv baking and/or taking up arms. Like most Ukrainians still in their homeland, he has a small emergency backpack with his laptop and toothbrush should evacuation become imminent. A 20 L ration of fuel per automobile helped his family escape Kharkiv, flee to Lviv, and secure an apartment with friends.
Although Bogdan had begun the process of emigrating to Canada, he wouldn’t leave now if he could. He clings to his dream of baking naturally leavened bread and viennoiserie in a peaceful Ukraine. Like before.
Bogdan shared three recipes and photos of the bread he’s baking during the invasion. You will be able access them in the subsequent post and on the Adama Foundation website: www.adama-foundation.org The Adama foundation is a new organization helping refugees around the world with baking resources and education. The first bakery is operating in the Oruchinga Settlement Camp in Uganda. To donate and learn more about the Adama Foundation or to learn to aid refugees from Ukraine and/or bakers like Bogdan who remain there, contact Adama Foundation founder/director, Ayelet Berman-Cohen: firstname.lastname@example.org
I didn’t have to think about a formula to share to honor Bogdan. Pretzels are the only consideration. In pretzels, I see the work, story, and lessons of baking. Lore assumes that we will accept that Monks shaped scraps of dough resembling the crossed arms of a person in prayer, with the three openings representing the holy trinity. The savory treat rewarded children who memorized the prayers. It’s a nice story and I share it freqquently. But…
There is more than truth in beauty and there is more than beauty in the eye of the beholder. Before I was a baker, a pretzel was literally a pretzel, nothing more. As I gained experience and reverence for the craft, my perspective became prismatic, maybe kaleidoscopic. The subconscious/philosophical and artistic/emotional apertures opened, making it possible for me to see the curved, hunched shoulders and crossed arms of a working pretzel baker. All bakers, really, but especially those who spent a career at the bench, plying their trade, elevating it to a craft. Their movements from tens of thousands of repetitions over the years contoured and sculpted their posture. As a practiced baker, I perceive more than the pretzel shape. I sense baking history, tradition, and culture. As a baker’s journey begins, their baking motions are the respectful, unquestioning mimicry of their teacher’s motions. With practice, the movements become rote, then methodical, and over time, transcendental, allowing a baker to work ‘in the zone’. Viewed as a silhouette or a shadow, the bobbing and crossing motion of a pretzel baker would be indistinguishable from the bowing motion and crossed arms of a praying individual.
When I shape pretzels, I imagi-wonder how they came to be. Whether from desperation or deductive logic, who or what was the first to ingest a seed? How did the act of chewing a kernel lead to making a mush that became a lump that became a log that begat a tapered log that became the shape we recognize as the pretzel? How many bakers? How many repetitions? Iterations? Before we had a shape that resembles the heart and alludes to the flow & promise of the infinity symbol? How shall I shape this one? Arms up? Arms under? Ball at the end of the tapers? Thinner arms/wrists for a crunchier contrast to the softer, thicker base curve? Whether in language, art, or baking, I’m captivated by the power/factor/symbolism of “three.” For good, better, or worse, Body/Mind/Spirit and Farmer/Miller/Baker are common ones. When I feel dough in my hands, my body goes to work, my spirit soars, and my mind relaxes at the speed of light. It’s as if I’m touching time, sharing the experience, connecting with the spirit of all bakers, past and present.
Use baking soda for the dip/wash if you wish. I will not proselytize; that ain’t no lye. I prefer the traditional application of a lye/sodium hydroxide solution, to obtain the robust pretzel color and flavor I appreciate. I don’t understand the hand wringing and concern that people who are accustomed to handling gasoline, lighter fluid, bleach, ammonia, and chain saws have with the thought of working with lye. Working with lye requires awareness. Like working with fire in an oven. A reliable pretzel recipe.
That’s it for now. Whether you bake at home, in a bakery, or a factory, daily, or once a year, you share something with Bogdan. If you don’t bake, just close your eyes for a moment and share something with him. Salute the courage of a warrior, the skill of an artisan, and the heart of a champion. And, you know what? Rotate a pretzel 90 degrees, and it’s a Big, Bold, ‘B’ for Bogdan.
Of course, he would tell you that it stands for Bakers.
Until we bake again,
Congratulations Mitch for all this !!
I think very much of Bogdan and his family.
Hope to see him again soon to bake a good bread !!
Thank you so much for your help and your support 🇺🇦