Miami’s Zak the Baker gaining recognition for kosher bread

March 27, 2022 GMT

MIAMI (AP) — His name is synonymous with some of the best fresh-baked bread in South Florida, and now he’s being recognized as one of the best in the country.

Zak Stern — the Zak in Zak the Baker — has been named a finalist for a James Beard Award, which honors those who work in the food industry with its prestigious awards.

Stern, born and raised in south Miami-Dade county, had been named a semifinalist in the Outstanding Baker category twice previously, in 2017 and 2018, for the kosher bakery he started in Wynwood, after baking naturally leavened sourdough loaves out of his house and selling it around town at farmers markets.

Now, his breads are available throughout Whole Foods Markets throughout South Florida.

This is the first time Stern has made the cut to the five finalists, which this year include honorees from Chicago, Arizona, Maine and Montana. Winners will be named June 13 at a ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in an event that is called the Oscars of the food world.

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“I’m a bit … it’s hard to find the words,” Stern said at the news. “I’m in a text message chat with all (of the other Miami semifinalists) and I’ve been getting so much love and support.”

Stern was the only one of South Florida’s semifinalists to be named a finalist. Miami had seven chefs named among Best Chef: South and one restaurant, Zitz Sum, named among Best New Restaurants. And Café La Trova made the long list of Best Bar Program.

Stern has influenced an entire industry in South Florida. His proteges have gone on to open independent bakeries focused on artisanal breads all over South Florida.

A father and son, Manuel and Jesus Brazon, who studied breadmaking with him opened the Caracas Bakery in Doral, where they fuse naturally leavened and classic baking techniques with Venezulan flavors.

Naomi Harris mills her own wheat at her Madruga Bakery in Coral Gables, where croissants have a buttery but whole wheat flavor. And Mattieu Bettant bakes classic French breads in South Beach.

Stern became Miami’s king of kosher baking even though he was raised culturally Jewish but not religious. But he believes in preserving Jewish culture through its food and spent years in Israel and Italy learning to bake in traditional fashion.

In South Florida, he preserves a kosher culture, closing the bakery from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown. That and expertly baked bread have brought him into national esteem.