Sam Dargen has been in Kigali for many years, recently starting up a sourdough bread delivery company called Daybreak Bread with his business partner Francois. You can learn more about them at http://www.daybreakbread.com and order a delicious loaf for delivery!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sam: Francois and I have known each other for a long time, and he is a natural at all things culinary. I had dreamed of building a brick oven since I first moved to Rwanda. When my friend Francois discovered a passion and gift for making great bread, we decided to team up – and build the perfect oven to make the best bread in the city.
Francois: I have always loved making food, especially the experimentation and exploration of ingredients and methods. After picking up a book on making bread in Sam’s house, I found myself very interested in exploring the world of bread.
What brought you to Kigali in the first place and what is it about the city that’s kept you here for so long?
Sam: I came to Nyabihu Rwanda with my cousins almost 15 years ago, and shortly after moved to Kigali and started Great Lakes Energy, a solar energy engineering firm.
Can you tell us a bit about your first business, Great Lakes Energy?
Sam: Great Lakes Energy is the oldest operating solar company in Kigali, specializing in larger off-grid and on-grid solar power systems. I was first introduced to solar when I began working at a hospital managed by my cousins: there was no grid, the generator was frequently failing, fuel was an hour away, for a hospital that served a population of around 200,000.
In 2005 I founded Great Lakes Energy – and we have kept a very strong focus on solar power systems for rural healthcare. It has been quite a journey – 12 years of exploring a fascinating market with my favorite technology. The best part by far has been the people who have joined in the journey, and with whom I own the company today.
Why did you decide to transition from solar energy to the world of bread?
Sam: In late 2016 I stepped out of my leadership role at Great Lakes Energy, handing the reins to my colleagues with whom I own the company. This freed me up to start exploring a number different activities. I had for a long time wanted to build a brick bread oven, and now I had the time to do it. My Fiancé, Marcella, and I decided we would team up with Francois and start an artisanal bakery.
Where did your love of baking bread come from?
Francois: I had been working in a restaurant which exposed me to a lot of variety of dishes – and I wanted to explore even further. Also, I found that the quality of bread in Kigali was not so good and I believed I could change this for the better.
I love making bread because it is a very interesting combination of science and art. The science is about the chemical processes that happen when you mix flour, water, salt, and yeast. The conditions of temperature, moisture, and time all have major impacts – even small changes to any of these can produce big changes in the final product.
The art is being creative, trying new things and ideas – ranging from changing the type and source of grain in our starter culture, to trying various oven temperatures for baking, or experimenting with different rise times.
Any expert tips for home bakers?
Francois: Having your own culture is important. You can use commercial yeast but the flavor won’t be as good. If you are baking it in a normal kitchen oven, then you will want a large iron pot – this replicates the experience of the brick oven in terms of how the pot retains and delivers heat to the bread.
How important is the oven to the baking process and where did you learn to make it?
Sam: My cousin loaned me a book about brick ovens, including instructions for design and construction for the ideal oven. The chamber shape is key, as it controls heat distribution, airflow patterns, and critically, moisture control. The lower the ceiling the more moisture retention, which the loaf needs to get a good rise and delicious crust. Too low however and the heat distribution and airflow patterns deteriorate. The author of the book (link) travelled the world studying brick ovens, some up to 800 years old, and based on this study proposes the ideal bread oven parameters.
We fire it with LPG gas- no wood, no smoke, no ashes. Two 9kw gas burners rage blue flame for 2 hours. They are then turned off so that the heat becomes evenly distributed in the bricks.
(Safe Gas Rwanda http://www.safegas.com delivers gas in composite canisters that are light enough to be stored up and behind our oven)
What makes sourdough bread different from regular bread?
Francois: Its the source of the yeast. We grow our yeast in what is known as a culture. This process releases very intense flavors and these flavors give the bread the taste that defines it as sourdough. Only using yeast from culture, as opposed to commercial yeast in a package, qualifies as sourdough bread.
Sam: But just as important as the rich flavor is the health benefits. Natural yeast from a culture releases enzymes which help our body digest the gluten on the flour. Bread made from commercial yeasts do not have this key advantage, which results in the bread having much lower nutritional value.
Francois: We use as many locally grown ingredients as possible. The wholewheat in our bread is grown here, as are the sesame seeds on the crust.
What are some of the health benefits to eating sourdough bread?
Francois: The enzymes released during the fermentation of the culture bring many health benefits, ranging from nutritional value to improved digestion.
Where can people buy your bread?
Sam: We have a website (http://www.daybreakbread.com) which you can order a loaf that will be delivered to your home. We bake on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. Once the bread is out of the oven, it goes out for delivery in the afternoon. So every loaf we delivery is freshly baked.
Who are your main customers? Is sourdough bread commonly eaten by Rwandans?
Sam: That is very much a core part of our mission. Thousands of loaves are consumed every day in Kigali, but they are not healthy loaves. Our bread is the same cost per kg of typical white commercial bread in town, but has so much more nutritional value.
What has your experience been like in Rwanda running two very different businesses?
Sam: I have had a very positive experience starting and running businesses in Rwanda. I really appreciate the positive bureaucracy of the various institutions managing the private sector, and the growing market size provides opportunity for new things.
You’ve been here for many years, what are some of the most obvious changes you’ve seen in Kigali since you arrived?
Sam: Ha, that is a common question I get. So many things. The general spirit of the city, of dreaming big and working hard to get there, is the same – what has changed is the ‘getting there’. Kigali has developed and grown in leaps and bounds in every way, ranging from infrastructure to the huge growth in the ecosystem of business to business service companies.
What do you hope for for the future of Daybreak Bread?
Sam and Francois: We want Kigali residents to be eating bread that is good for their health and delicious. One challenge we have is that the grind of whole wheat grown here is not consistent. We will soon have our own grinder so that we can buy grain for the whole-grain proportion in higher bulk and better control the grind.