I Loaf You's Rachel Rolon is making fiber art with bagels & beer bread

Rachel Rolon is making fiber art with bagels & beer bread



Rolon loafs Kansas City.
  • Rolon loafs Kansas City.
Rachel Rolon doesn't want to sell you just one piece of her art. She's hoping you take three, six or even a dozen at a time - and then butter them. The Kansas City Art Institute graduate, who has a fiber studio near 15th Street and Oak, is perfecting her new medium: bread.

"It's a really similar process to dyeing fabric," Rolon says. "It's a time process. All the ingredients are based on percentages. You're just adding dye or flour or yeast to make it reactive. I think that's why I like [baking] bread."

On a recent Monday, Rolon, 23, arrives at The Pitch offices after running deliveries: dropping off bagels, bagel balls (the size of dinner rolls but without a hole, and infused with herbs and cheese) and beer bread, all baked that morning in the kitchen of her midtown apartment. She's wearing a KC baseball cap from the Boulevard Brewing Co. store and a T-shirt she made herself. On the shirt are the letters I and U, separated by an illustrated bread loaf. It's her company's name: I Loaf You.

"I love Kansas City," Rolon says. "The arts community is really supportive, and I realized how much the food community is involved with the arts. People are willing to help each other out. I lived in New York, and I don't think I would ever find that there."

After some Internet research, Rolon began experimenting with bagel baking in August 2011. By the end of the year, friends were clamoring for her creations, and word began spreading in a seriously bagel-starved town. She worked out trade deals with fellow artists, bartering her baked goods for an end table here or a waffle iron there. Her first such deal was with Garnet Griebel, the co-owner of Scarlett Garnet Jewelry, for a pair of earrings. Griebel suggested that Rolon sell her baked goods at Griebel's Gypsy Market in the West Bottoms. I Loaf You's first retail incarnation - Black Dog Bread, named in homage to Rolon's dog, Meatball - was born.

"I think art is about making a world and creating a space where people can have a connection or experience," Rolon says. "With bread, you can do the same thing as a video piece. At the Gypsy Market, I got to interact with people through my bread."

In February 2012, Rolon also began working in hospitality at Boulevard, tending bar for special events and leading the occasional tour. The company's beer proved to be the catalyst that her baking needed. Soon she had worked out recipes for a jalapeño-and-cheese bread made with IPA; an Amber Ale - and-nut bread made with almonds, walnuts and flax seeds; and a Dark Truth Stout loaf.

"The beer is all bottle-conditioned, and that really helps with the bread," Rolon says. "The yeast in the bottle helps give it flavor. The Bully Porter whole wheat has a nice malty quality, and the hops bring out a nice saltiness. The wheat beer bread [made with Boulevard's Unfiltered Wheat Beer] has a slight citrus taste and a crackery bite from the wheat."

Rolon boils her bagels, but they're otherwise untraditional. Instead of malt water, she uses Boulevard's Bully Porter. The result is a slightly denser bagel that delivers an agreeably chewy crust. And she steps further outside the circle with her ingredients. Monday's delivery included coconut-almond bagels (more nutty than sweet), with those elements mixed into the dough rather than dusted on top. ("You get the ones with everything on it, and then you have everything on you," she says.) Her richly flavored bagel balls - this day's batch matches up brie and rosemary - were a hit this past December when she took them to a City Arts membership drive.

Rolon has about 30 regular customers so far, enough that she's spending most of her Sundays proofing, kneading and shaping loaves, and then baking them in her oven, two at a time. This weekend, she's testing a commissary kitchen in a local shop, which would let her ramp up production. She says her breads should soon appear at the Filling Station and at Soho Bakery.

"With art, there are so many things you make, and you wonder if people consume them properly," Rolon says. "With bread, I can make something that is beneficial, that gives them sustenance. It's an object without any aftermath."

I Loaf You sells weekly, biweekly and monthly memberships. Bread and bagels are delivered or can be picked up Mondays at the Smile Salon (801 West 47th Street). See iloafyou.com.

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