Rami Badawi runs an artisanal bakery in Dubai’s Al Quoz district, where he makes some of the best sourdough bread in town. His loaves are only available to select outlets, but he’s also been handcrafting two special types for Spinneys.
You studied economics, worked in risk management and you’ve owned and run two pizza restaurants in Dubai… now you run an artisanal bakery. How did that happen?
My personal journey with bread started when my wife Amber and I owned our first restaurant in Dubai, called The Pizza Guys. I used to struggle with being overweight and the way I dealt with that was to stop eating bread altogether. But after a while, I thought ‘I cannot live like this, I love bread.’ So I started researching, and that’s how I came across sourdough bread and its many health benefits. We started making sourdough pizzas but the restaurant closed, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do this bread thing?’ Gluten was getting such a bad reputation, everyone was saying bread is bad, and I was tired of hearing that.
What inspired the name of your bakery?
It had to be called For the Love of Bread because that is what I am all about. It’s honest.
How many types of bread do you currently make?
Like any traditional village bakery, we don’t actually make a huge variety. We have the ability to make many types, but most of our customers (restaurants and cafés) are interested in either our country-style bread or the whole-wheat loaves. All our bread is 100 per cent sourdough and takes 24 hours to make.
Talk to us about the starter. What is it? Why do you need one?
A sourdough starter (made from just flour and water) serves as a breeding ground for natural probiotic bacteria and yeast that can be used to leaven bread. A symbiotic relationship develops in the culture where the bacteria eat sugars in the flour that the yeast cannot. The yeast feed on these sugars and produce carbon dioxide which leavens the bread. The availability of fewer sugars, especially simple ones, in the final product, is one reason why sourdough has a lower glycemic index. Another by-product of the bacterial action is lactic acid.
This breaks down gluten in the bread and that’s why sourdough is lower in gluten too.
We’ve heard starters survive for a while? How old is yours? Does it have a name?
Ha, ha! To be honest, it doesn’t haven’t a name but I guess we could call it Sourdough Sally. Mine is almost four years old. It began when we started our restaurant PI.Dubai, then it fuelled our pizzas at The Pizza Guys and it’s still going strong. At one stage it even lived with me at home, for about a year actually. You need to give it a lot of attention. But, you know, these things are so resilient – I was once away travelling and had to leave it alone and it didn’t die! It really is like a science experiment that goes through different stages: it bubbles, breathes, grows and shrinks – it’s alive!
What’s the difference between a starter and store-bought yeast?
In a starter culture there can potentially be up to 4,000 strains of yeast. Every culture is different, some have a few strains, some have hundreds, and some have thousands. It depends on what is naturally present in your area.
How much of the starter do you use to bake a batch of bread?
That’s a secret!
Tell us about the bread you’re making for Spinneys?
We’re making two varieties: country and wholewheat loaves.They’re both 100 per cent sourdough, made from 100 per cent organic stoneground flour imported from France, plus water and Italian sea salt. The French flour (especially sourced for Spinneys) is in a league of its own. It’s naturally low in gluten, it doesn’t get sticky when you work with it – this product really is just wonderful.
Most artisan bakeries don’t do sliced bread, or sell loaves in plastic packaging. So the way our product is presented is unexpected. This is intentional – we wanted to be different – we wanted loaves that look regular but when you pick them upyou’re surprised to see they’re artisan sourdough breads.
What’s the shelf life of these products? And how should they be stored?
The loaves come pre-sliced and are best kept in their packaging, at room temperature. They last between five to seven days. And you can also freeze the bread – just don’t ever keep it in the fridge.