Baking Bread – Eric Wolfinger Profile
This S.D. photog is the cookbook world’s hot upstart.
Try telling someone you plan to travel the world, bake bread, take some photos—as a career. Laughter and derision are appropriate. But that’s exactly what San Diego’s Eric Wolfinger (ericwolfinger.com) has done. Now the 29-year-old photographer and cook has collaborated with famed baker Chad Robertson to release Tartine Bread, a cookbook featuring creations from Robertson’s San Francisco bakery of the samename. The result is a stunner. In their roundup of 2010’s best cookbooks, The New York Times called it “the most beautiful bread book yet published.” And now he’s been tapped for more.
When did you know photos were for you? At 14, I had to fill out my career interests on a college entrance exam. Of the hundred options I only filled in two bubbles: “culinary arts” and “photography.” Everything else seemed like work.
Why Tartine? I graduated from Pomona College then moved to San Francisco to cook. I worked in good kitchens, but always admired the bread at Tartine. It’s still the best bread I’ve tasted.
That’s a famous joint—how’d you get on the inside? I did an unpaid internship at the bakery and eventually got hired. Chad was still making the bread alone. He had a perfect surfing schedule (mornings off until noon) but didn’t surf, so I suggested the trade: surf lessons for bread baking lessons. He became obsessed with surfing, and I with bread.
But you left? A year into my apprenticeship, I got the travel bug and took off to South America for a year. I did what I always do when I’m on the road—cooked with the locals and took photos—only this time I had a blog. I returned to San Francisco and continued baking with Chad. He liked my blog and asked if I’d do a book with him. We practically wrote the whole book on long drives to find surf from Bolinas to Drakes in Northern California.
Bread and surfing—simpatico? Bread takes years of daily practice to develop the skill and intuition to anticipate and adapt the process to changes. A new shipment of flour or a change in the weather can affect everything. A truly extraordinary bread day is rare and there’s a sense of wonder when it happens. Of course, this is all true for surfing—and what makes both pursuits so alluring day after day.
Up next? I have five cookbook projects, all of which “require” international travel. I’m shooting a Vietnamese
cookbook with Charles Phan and a memoir with the French chef Hubert Keller. There’s a baking book with Williams-Sonoma, in which I’ll be doing all the cooking and photography, and then a collaboration with an Argentine publisher on a cookbook featuring a tiny but extraordinary restaurant in Uruguay called La Huella. Somewhere in all this I’ll be traveling to Italy to bake and shoot for the re-release of The Italian Baker.
Sounds like an awful life. The dream has always been to somehow find a way to keep cooking and keep traveling. That the answer would be photography is the happiest surprise. I might not “work” a single day this year.