When Graison Gill graduated from NYU Liberal Studies in 2009, he only knew that he wanted to try something new and ground himself in a tangible vocation. As Graison trained at the San Francisco Baking Institute, what began as imperfect experiments in a shared personal kitchen soon became a plausible career. In 2013 he opened Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans, Louisiana. Today, Graison is a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Baker finalist and educator, sharing his recipes with aspiring bakers worldwide. What’s more, he lectures on bread, stone milling, health, ecology, and craftsmanship alongside Karen Karbiener, an NYU professor and Walt Whitman scholar.
How do you describe your philosophy and mission when it comes to baking?
I love baking because it’s so tactile—it requires your hands and head and heart, creativity and discipline and consistency. But on a deeper level, the act is really historical. My background is in farming, and early on I became very interested in ingredients. To me, the passion we bring to what we do is the premise of this bakery. And the quality of the ingredients we use meets and matches that passion.
Right before COVID-19, we milled about 5,000 pounds of whole wheat flour per week to use in the bakery. I believe we have a duty to our customers and our planet to maintain and even improve people’s health. If a food heals the person eating it, then it’s doing the same thing for the earth.
And now you’re an educator as well. Tell us about your educational efforts.
I’ve been teaching baking classes at the bakery for about seven years now. In addition, I teach classes all around the world. It’s an unbelievable way to connect to people through my passion. Teaching makes you better at what you do—it reinforces your integrity and ability to do a really great job. And bread is meant to be shared. The fact that you can not just share the product but teach people how to make it themselves is incredibly empowering and emotional.
For you, food is more than a career—it’s a passion. What other food-related initiatives have you been involved with?
Professor Karen Karbiener, my mentor at NYU, invited me to guest lecture for one of her classes right before the pandemic. It went so well that we had to do it again. We presented for the Walt Whitman Initiative Robust American Love Speaker Series, along with Stephen Jones. He’s the director of the Bread Lab at Washington State University. Additionally, we presented at the Association for the Study of Food and Society and the Oxford Food Symposium last year.
What’s next for you?
On my website, GraisonGill.com, you can find online classes to experience my bread recipes directly. There are also blog posts—some of them excerpts from my new book—that are a great resource for people interested in learning something deeper about bread. And in early September, I sold my bakery to the employees for it to become an employee-owned cooperative. This is a unique and special opportunity for people who have worked here for years to share in the business, and I’m really excited about it. My relationship to Bellegarde has changed, but everything else is staying the same—the same quality ingredients, the same recipes, the same passion.