2018-03-01 / Spotlight

Rules of Crumb

with Tony Sapia, owner of Gemelli Bakers

Tony Sapia is a State College native — “Born and bred,” he says, the pun quickly followed by another. “Never gets stale. I’m on a roll! Give me a couple days and I’ll be the toast of the town.” The former restaurateur attended high school at the Marine Military Academy in Texas, but Cornell University and a life in food had a stronger pull. Since 2002, Gemelli Bakers has been supplying the Centre Region with unparalleled loaves, buns, rolls and more. Sapia says the company, named for Sapia’s 16-year-old twin sons, Jack and Enzo (“gemelli” is the Italian word for “twins”), puts out “tens of thousands of pieces” of bread a week, most of which is sold wholesale to area restaurants. “That’s our bread and butter,” he says mock-seriously.

But many people experience Gemelli’s goods at farmers markets or at the shop on McAllister Alley. “That allows us to share with the community,” Sapia says. “Bread brings a lot of people together. The word ‘company’ comes from ‘con pane,’ which means ‘with bread.’ That’s what my grandmother and mom passed on to me — the tradition, how people respond to a freshly baked loaf of bread. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to make a living doing that.”

“I had the opportunity to work with Antonio Conte, not the famous Chelsea soccer coach but the No. 1 pizzaiolo [pizza chef] in all of Italy as of 1994 or so. I learned not only the taste but the volume. On any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday he, his oldest son, Franco, and I would turn out roughly about 600 pizzas. He was a very successful businessman. He started a pizza delivery service — it was called Pony Pizza, like ‘Pony Express’ — and it was interesting being in Italy and seeing delivery pizza be birthed into the market.”

“I love reading books. I have a collection of more than 1,000 cookbooks. What I enjoy is reading the cookbooks and seeing how recipes have developed. Take something as simple as pie: Back in the 1800s it represented a great breakfast food, something portable, to now it’s something sweet and dessert-like.”

“The pretzel goes all the way back to the monks. The name comes from the Latin ‘pretiola,’ which means ‘little gift.’ The monks would give the children little gifts of bread. They prayed with their arms crossed against their chest, the shape of a pretzel. And the pretzel specifically is the international symbol for a bread baker. They would hang a wooden pretzel or a real one outside when they were open.”

“The secret to baking is practice. … And the easiest way to consistent practice is to weigh your ingredients. Get a scale, and you will see immediate results. My grandmother, she baked bread four times a week from age 11 to 84. Do anything like that for that long and, yes, you can do it all by eye and by feel. That’s where the art and the magic comes from. But you can get magical results just by weighing your ingredients.”

“For the last two years I have been working with Taproot Kitchen. We started an internship program through them. We’ve had eight intellectually disadvantaged young adults interning at the bakery. Right now we’re writing a curriculum with Penn College. It’s going to be a five-module culinary curriculum for an inclusive certificate program. I always say, ‘Engage the hands, and they’ll start thinking, and the heart will follow.’”

“Miso: That’s a great cooking ingredient that I could not live without. Miso adds a total umami fix to anything, gives it that unctuousness.”

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