When you first step foot into Hot Bread Kitchen's space, you're deluged by a doughy aroma, the air swirling with smells of freshly baked lavash, naan, baguettes, bialys and buttery m'smen. The atmosphere is convivial – a diverse team of women work passionately to churn out the Kitchen's wide array of multi-ethnic breads, happy to be in an environment that encourages learning, growth and independence. And running things is Jessamyn Waldman, a baker with vision.
Like waiting for dough to rise, the development of this vision took patience and time. When she first graduated, the social justice-minded Jessamyn applied for a position with Women's World Banking – she didn't get the position, but she did get a laugh out of mishearing the name as "Women's World Baking." That laugh planted a seed in her mind that slowly grew into a larger idea about combining immigration reform with baking, as she spent the next few years in grad school for immigration policy and working around the world with Amnesty International and the United Nations. It was while she was working in public education that she decided to also make time to earn a Master Baker Certificate at the New School. One thing led to another, and Jessamyn landed an apprenticeship at Daniel Boulud's restaurant Daniel, which led to her being his first female baker. But as Jessamyn tells it, she only learned to bake to start Hot Bread Kitchen: and it was time.
In 2007, she won a grant from designer Eileen Fisher, allowing Hot Bread Kitchen to finally become a reality. What started out of her Brooklyn kitchen (much to her roommates' chagrin at the time) soon grew into a larger commercial space in Spanish Harlem's city-owned market La Marqueta, and now even has an "incubator" that rents space to 45 other startups. HBK is a thriving non-profit bakery that pays low-income immigrant women to bake and also learn the skills needed to move on to their own enterprises. They've trained bakers from Morocco, Mali, Mexico, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chad, Tibet and Ecuador.
Bakers who've been in the kitchen include Antonia from Mexico, juggling two jobs and caring for four children; Bouchra from Morocco, rolling baguettes at Restaurant Daniel when not making M’smen (an irresistible flatbread); Lutfunnessa from Bangladesh, who also holds a degree in Political Science; Fatima from Morocco, a master at lavash.
“Bread is such an elemental food, and it’s eaten everywhere,” Jessamyn has said. “It seemed to me that a bakery was the right way to help women entering the country.”