Sun Street Breads' Solveig Tofte: chef chat, part 1

Categories: Interview

Baker Solveig Tofte CREDIT Martin Ouimet.jpg
Martin Ouimet
Baker Solveig Tofte, making use of her weaving skills

Solveig Tofte's baked goods are familiar to fans of Turtle Bread Company and Tofte's farmer's market stand, Sun Street Breads. Recently, Tofte announced she would leave Turtle Bread to take Sun Street from summer staple at the Kingfield Farmers Market to a full-time bakery and breakfast joint at 4600 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Tofte plans to open the bakery in March. In the meantime, she took a break from her home baking to talk with us for this week's chef chat.

When did you first get into cooking?
I started baking in college as my procrastination tool to not do homework. My professional career started in about 1999. I did a baking and pastry course at the San Francisco Culinary Academy and worked at a wholesale bakery out there. I hung out there for 10 years and worked and stuff. I moved back here when it was so expensive and crowded and I was making food service wages, so I left.

How did you realize you had professional talent?
I don't know if I had talent; I just can work.

I had been working in sales and marketing because in the '90s that's what you did, but then the investors decided they should probably get some grown-ups involved. I started working with mid-40s, mid-50s pros, and I said, this was not my future. I could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life.

Since I had been in such a lucrative field, I had some money saved up to go and get a skill. I always had wanted to learn a trade. I had been into textiles for a long time, thought I was going to become a weaver. I liked working with my hands, having an actual and useful skill that people can use, and that I can travel with. Everywhere I go chances are there's going to be someone who's going to want to eat some bread. That seemed really utilitarian and a good way to get through life.

What are the essential qualities you require in kitchen staff?
When everyone gets to work and says good morning to each other. We work crazy hours, and quite often we're in our own world. Walking in and acknowledging that you're surrounded by people really gets the day started right.

For me it's fun, it's not real rocket science. General happiness and having fun. Being responsible and creating that kind of atmosphere where you're not scared to take responsibility for a mistake you've made. The sooner we find out [a mistake has been made], the sooner we can fix it. I really like open communication and funny stories and a pleasant place to be. We spend so much time at work that we should all be grown-ups and enjoy each other's companies.

What was your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen?
There's lots, but when I first started working at Turtle Bread, I got hired in early November, so just before the holidays. When you're new at a bakery, you're not really trusted to do much--not to mix anything or scale anything. It was just after Thanksgiving and we had started Christmas cookie production. We were making these little almond macaroons--egg whites, sugar, and almond paste. So I had been trained a thousand times to bake them and pipe them, so then they taught me to mix them. And then it was time for me to make my own. There were people there, but I didn't want to look like an idiot and ask a lot of questions, so I just put them in the oven. But when they came out, they looked really pale. I had used salt instead of sugar. Twenty sheet pans full of almond paste and salt and egg whites that had to go into the trash. That was quite an expensive mistake.

Does your husband do any of the baking at home?
No, but he cooks, and he's a good cook. I was pretty much the house cook, but the last few months have been ridiculously busy. He's cooking up some burgers and fries right now.

Honestly, I don't bake much at home. But I've started. My last official day at Turtle Bread was last Tuesday, so now I'm trying out new things at home.

What is the hardest lesson you've learned from baking?
Patience. I am not a patient person. I always think this is the lesson I need to learn every day of my life, and with bread you have to do that. With bread, you have to wait: an hour from point A to point B, and an hour from point B to point C, and there's nothing you can do to make it move faster.

Our chat with Solveig Tofte continues tomorrow.


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