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From Greek Aspirations to New York’s Iconic Rye Bread, Here’s Why I Love My Daily Slice of Bread

Published: March 5, 2024
Made primarily from rye grain, rye bread is known for its distinctive flavor and dense texture. Often darker and stronger in taste compared to wheat bread, it can range from light to dark in color and is sometimes flavored with caraway seeds. Rye bread is a staple in many European cuisines, particularly in Eastern and Northern Europe, and is celebrated for its health benefits, including high fiber content and lower glycemic index. (Image: Courtesy of La Brea Bakery)

Published with permission from LuxuryWeb Magazine

In 1967, I found myself stepping into the vibrant oasis that is New York City. Fueled by a fervent ambition to become a renowned advertising photographer, my journey began as an assistant in London, 1964, under the tutelage of the legendary David Bailey. By 1965 and 1966, I had already started dabbling in semi-professional photography back in Athens.

Despite this early exposure, I recognized my need for deeper technical understanding, an education I couldn’t find in Greece. My sights were set on mastering the sophisticated realms of fashion and advertising photography, yet Athens offered no grounds for such aspirations.

Prompted by this quest for knowledge, I was drawn to an advertisement from the New York Institute of Photography, which boasted a comprehensive training program for aspiring “professional photographers.”

Optimistic, I enrolled, only to discover that the experience paled in comparison to the rich, practical learning I had absorbed while working with Bailey. This realization did not dampen my spirits; instead, I immersed myself into New York’s creative milieu, setting up home on Mott Street in the Lower East Side and freelancing as an assistant in some of the city’s premier photography studios. It was here, among the top advertising photographers, that I sought to refine my craft.

(Image: Manos Angelakis/LuxuryWeb Magazine)

Amidst this chapter of professional growth, I discovered an unexpected passion: a profound love for rye bread. The Lower East Side, with its unique Jewish eateries, introduced me to the colossal delights of corned beef sandwiches lavishly layered on rye bread with coleslaw.

This newfound love was, I believed, a gem exclusive to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, elusive in cities across the United States, from Dallas to Boston to Miami, despite their significant Jewish communities. Imagine my delight when I recently uncovered a local bakery crafting the quintessential artisanal New York Rye Loaf, complete with its characteristic dense inside and crunchy crust.

(Image: Manos Angelakis/LuxuryWeb Magazine)

Enter La Brea Bakery, an eminent name in artisan bread in the United States. Originating from Los Angeles in 1989, the bakery expanded its horizons with a West Coast production site in Van Nuys and, by 2001, inaugurated a baking facility in Swedesboro, New Jersey (now known as Aspire Bakery, following a 2021 acquisition).

This expansion aimed to cater to the burgeoning East Coast demand for its thirty-five varieties of artisan breads. Maintaining the revered La Brea brand, these bakeries, including one in Queens, now operate predominantly on a wholesale basis, though La Brea breads remain accessible in numerous supermarkets.

(Image: Courtesy of La Brea Bakery)

Recently, I had the pleasure of sampling their Sourdough Baguette, but it was the introduction of the Seeded Rye Loaf in 2024 that truly captured my palate. This exquisite rye, combining wheat and rye flours, is not only a delight with its moist interior and crisp crust but also pays homage to tradition with embedded and sprinkled caraway seeds. This bread transforms the humble corned beef sandwich into a culinary masterpiece, right from my own kitchen.

However, the joy of good food transcends cultural boundaries. From the savory layers of a corned beef on rye to the delicate flavors of Xiao Long Bao or the rich depths of eggplant Imam Bayildi, there’s a universal delight in culinary exploration. And let’s not forget the festive touch a corned beef sandwich with coleslaw can bring to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations – complemented perfectly with a side of potato salad.

Moreover, the versatility of this rye bread extends beyond sandwiches. It is equally splendid when enjoyed fresh or slightly warmed, spread with rich, creamy Irish butter and paired with peach, apricot, or quince preserves for a blissful breakfast or an energizing midday snack. While I still appreciate the Sourdough Baguette, it’s the Seeded Rye Loaf that truly holds a special place in my culinary heart.

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