Thursday, March 28

RVA Eats: Meet Winburn Carmack

All photos by Nicole Lang.

Throughout the spring, Nicole Lang will be blogging for us about her adopted hometown of Richmond, Virginia (aka RVA). We've chosen Richmond as the site for this year's Summer Foodways Symposium, which will take place from June 20–23.

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Richmond, VA, April 2, 1863: Midway through the Civil War, the men off fighting, women were left to provide for their families under crippling economic strain. A group of starving women, (defying social and gender constraints of the time) gathered and rioted at Capital Square and in bakery shops, demanding bread for themselves and their children. This dark moment in the city's history is now known as the Richmond Bread Riot. 

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Once a basic necessity, homemade bread is now an art form. Thankfully, today in Richmond, artisan bread is widely available. Richmond native Winburn Carmack returned to the city after spending more than a dozen years as a pastry chef in Charleston, South Carolina. She wanted to learn bread baking from the folks at Billy Bread, a beloved Richmond bakery that supplies bread to some of the area's favorite restaurants and markets. 

When I arrived at Billy Bread on a recent morning, it was 8 a.m. Winburn had already been at work for hours.

You have worked in kitchens for 15 years, a very male dominated space for sure, what have your experiences been like in that respect?
“I of course wanted to be treated as an equal to the guys in the kitchen. Once the guys forgot about me being a girl, I was privy to what I could only imagine you’d hear in a men’s locker room. It did wear off a bit on me—I felt like I became one of guys. Then, the longer I worked with them, I started to want girly pink tools.”

Along those lines, Winburn mentioned mentoring newbie young women cooks who started their careers in the kitchens where she has worked: “As the minority gender in this profession, it’s important to show your strength, but you can still be a lady.”

A daily workout: 150 lbs. of dough

What is challenging about bread baking?
"Maintaining consistency on a daily basis is a challenge I enjoy. It can be physically demanding, attempting to lift 150 lbs of proofing bread dough from floor to table. I have to wait for someone to help me."

Finished loaves fresh out of the oven at Billy Bread

Why Bread?
“Besides the terrific smell and loving to eat it, [I'm drawn to] the history. Bread has a 30,000 year history! It began with unleavened bread and evolved into leavened bread.”

How has Richmond changed since you grew up here?
“Richmond’s food scene has come a long way in the past 15 years, and I'm honored to have had a warm welcome in Richmond and to be a very small part of that community.”

If you're in Richmond, you can sample the results of Winburn's hard work at plenty of local restaurants, including Secco Wine Bar, Mamma Zu, Lemaire at The Jefferson, and many more.