Rising To The Challenge

Rising To The Challenge

If Martin Philip hadn’t lived it, he might not believe his own story, he admits, laughing. How does a small-town singer end up at the Oberlin Conservatory? How does that singer then morph into a successful investment banker in New York City? And how does that investment banker become a baker in Vermont? Speaking with Philip, it seems the answers to all three questions are the same: Serendipity, determination and hard work.

Philip, who is now also the successful author of his first book, “Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes,” is in Fayetteville this weekend to teach, speak and sign autographs. Even the book, he says, happened with the same combination of good luck and effort.

In 2016, Philip was competing to represent the United States in the Coupe Du Monde — sometimes called the “Baking Olympics” — held once every three years in Paris. Other competitors, he says, created brochures to go with their entries. But overachiever that he clearly is, he wanted to up the ante with a book to accompany his final round: five recipes, five loaves of bread, one chance to win.

“Over time,” he said in an interview with Julia Reed in 2016, “I came to realize that the only way I could win was to connect with myself, to connect with my heritage. I had a story that I could tell about each one of the breads I baked in the final round that had meaning to me — that said something about where I came from and who I am, because that’s the only thing that’s interesting. That’s the only story I have.”

He didn’t win, but he had risen to his calling.

“You, me, everybody — you go back two generations, and we come from people who did things with their hands,” he told Reed. “We’re just not that removed from it, even if we have fallen out of it. Baking is my way of going back.”

That connection is what pulled Philip away from the lucrative halls of Wall Street to start over as a beginning baker at King Arthur Flour, a Norwich, Conn., business that dates to 1790. As he tells it, the shock and horror of Sept. 11, 2001, made him realize he was disconnected from any meaningful work. And the years spent at his mother’s hip baking in Fayetteville prompted the idea of reconnection through yeast, flour and food.

“I bake because it connects my soul to my hands, and my heart to my mouth,” he says.

Of course, like his other endeavors, the book required serendipity. Philip had, a few years previously, consulted with novelist Jodi Picoult when she was writing about a baker as a central character. He turned to her with the idea that he might publish what he had written for the Coupe Du Monde competition. Within a day, he was talking to her agent. Within a couple of weeks, they were meeting with publishers. And almost immediately, they had sold a book. The result is what he calls a “memoir of sorts, although I don’t like that word. I feel like it may indicate incorrectly that what I’ve done is in some way prescriptive. It’s not — but maybe it’s an example of moving toward something you’re passionate about.”

Categories: Food