By Stephanie Burt
June 27, 2019
Despite her recent nomination as a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Baker, Black Bear Bread Co.’s Deb Swenerton sees herself as an uncomplicated baker. She simply wants things to look good and taste good. But maybe, just maybe, this straightforward approach is the secret to her skill. She’s been cooking and baking all her life, and she learned attention to detail at an early age, an attribute she’s brought with her to 30A. That, and a buoyant love of all things bread and pastry.
Swenerton grew up in California with a mother who was a baker and cake decorator. As a child and teenager, the budding young baker learned to love swirls of frosting and the curve of a fondant petal as she was learning things like how to tie her shoes or how to parallel park. Swenerton made baking her profession and it’s taken her to many choice spots over the years, including Hawaii and also an 18-year stint at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. But it was a Facebook post about 30A from a long-time friend that introduced Swenerton and her husband to the area for the first time, and surprisingly (or serendipitously) the couple purchased a home in Blue Mountain Beach on that first visit.
“I have great neighbors, and this community is not too busy, family-oriented with lots of kids,” she said. “And I like to share the calories with people in the neighborhood on my day off. If I’m eating it, I want someone to join me.”
If you’re not lucky to be one of Swenerton’s neighbors, then a visit to Black Bear Bread Co. is an easy fix. Seasonal fruits make their way into scones, pastries, and even housemade pop-tarts. There’s a wild yeast Grayton Beach sourdough starter that “is 3 years old now and developing some nice character,” Swenerton said, and of course, there are those brioche cinnamon rolls.
“We just can’t ever make enough of those rolls and sell them as fast as we can bake them,” she admitted. L to R Dave Rauschkolb, Deb Swenerton and Phillip McDonald of Black Bear Bread
Swenerton and her staff developed a following at the Seaside Farmers Market even before the cafe/bakery was officially open, and that ease into the business has given this baker time to transition geographically as well as in her work focus. For most of her career, she’s concentrated on the pastry and sweet side of things, but these days, she delving more into the craft and meditation of bread-making.
“I was a supervisor for the midnight baking staff at Deer Valley, overseeing things, but I am still learning when it comes to bread, constantly reading books, looking at different flours,” Swenerton explained. She, like so many bakers and chefs that spend time in the kitchen, also enjoys delving into podcasts, and her favorite is Flour Hour, which is all about baking.
As for the James Beard nomination? It’s not something she ever considered, and when she got the news from BBB co-owner Dave Rauschkolb, she was sure he was joking until she looked at her email and saw an official notice from the foundation.
“I never thought anything like that would happen,” she said. But take a bite of any of the baked offerings she serves daily at Black Bear Bread Company, and it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.