Meet the Punk Rock Baker Bringing AC/DC-Inspired Bread to Buenos Aires
Salvaje Bakery is churning out wild, 'emotional,' and damn good bread that's shaping the future of Argentinian baking.
All photos by the author
The 80s rock ballad "Rain" by The Cult blares from a grey Marshall radio, set on the last plank of a three-tiered wooden shelf on the first floor of Salvaje Bakery. Next to an old Spanish oven from 1986, Germán Torres, in a grey beanie and apron, scrolls through a playlist, eagerly searching for his next rock song to queue.
"Before I hire anyone, I ask them what music they like. That's more important to me than five years of experience," laughs Torres, owner and head baker, who runs a tight, reggaeton-free ship.
Grasping the long handle of a thick wooden bread board, Torres loads the next set of doughs on the plank, fervently baking his way through the day's bounty of 200 buckwheat, rye, and carob loaves, something the 32-year-old and his team have been doing since Salvaje opened at the end of 2016 in the trendy Palermo Hollywood neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
Inspired by familial heritage, Torres was just three when he first kneaded dough alongside his grandmother, cementing his love for bread at an early age and the cornerstone of his soon-to-come prowess as one of Argentina's best bakers. Tired of eating processed, industrial bread common to most Argentine households, Torres taught himself how to make and bake fresh dough through trial and error. After working in the kitchens of Buenos Aires' most prestigious chefs, including Francis Mallmann protégé Pablo Massey at Massey's famed La Panadería de Pablo, and a lengthy stint working abroad in New York and Uruguay, Torres returned to Buenos Aires to open a bakery reflective of his tastes, a place where his friends could gather and listen to punk rock and drink La Marzocco espressos. No Ricky Martin. No Shakira. Guaranteed.
Inspired by San Francisco's famed Tartine Bakery, Torres first experimented with a sourdough starter he calls masa madre while he was living in Uruguay. "I watched their YouTube videos," laughs Torres. "It was like watching a master guitarist play for the first time; I knew I had a long way to go."
However, Salvaje (which translates to "wild") really isn't here for the manicured baking typified by Tartine and other leading bakeries in the US. It's raw. It's emotional. Every day is different, and that's precisely the point. "This isn't South America's version of [Tartine]," says Torres. "I don't know how they make their bread look the same every day. We don't. I mean… we're in South America. We're Latin!"
Around 8 AM each morning, Torres, his two co-founders, and a team of bakers file into Salvaje, which is housed in a former mechanic shop. Inheriting graffiti-clad concrete walls within the industrial corner outpost, Torres kept the imperfections, putting in a street-facing courtyard entrance, which leads to an open-concept, two-tiered kitchen, replete with black tiles and framed art from Torres' friends. An AC/DC song is the bakery's theme: "It's a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll."
"I'm going to get that painted on the wall one day," says Torres. "I work hard, and I always push myself to become a better baker, but every day is beautiful because I do something I really like; and because I really like it, I do it every day."
Salvaje's bread-making routine is cyclical: "Our process always starts the day before," says Torres. "When we finish making bread today, the last thing we do is feed the starter for the next day. From that little amount, we make more. It grows overnight, like yogurt."
Using only water, flour, and the six-year-old masa madre, the team creates the next day's dough each evening, adding tension by folding it up to three times in a five-hour period. Torres then shapes the dough into loaves or confections like medialunas (Argentina's version of a croissant), before letting the dough rest for 20 hours until the team returns the following morning to, once again, bake.
"We don't bake to achieve a uniform result," says Torres, as he points to the sign at the front of Salvaje, which translates to, "the bread for the Last Supper was bought here." "I'm not very Catholic, but I wish I could travel back in time to the Last Supper. I would like to try that bread. How did it taste? What flour did they use? What kind of masa madre did they have?"
For Torres, his love of baking supersedes trends into spirituality. "It's hard for me to say goodbye to each loaf of bread I make," says Torres. "I try to imagine the bread's life after it leaves here: Are the owners going to toast it, eat it with butter, or put eggs on top of a slice? I try to imagine how they eat it at home, how it sounds when they bite into it."
Only a baker as dedicated to the dough as Torres could single-handedly launch an entire city's bread revolution, something he takes seriously. "You can get quality Tartine-style bread at many places in France, Australia, and the United States, but that's not the case in Argentina" says Torres.
"Good bread used to be a rarity in Buenos Aires, but with Salvaje, we're encouraging more people to buy and break bread than ever before."