By: JEN KARETNICK
Accolades keep pouring in for a local baker whose baked goods are the stuff of legend.
When Zak Stern, otherwise known as Zak the Baker, first started making sourdough bread in Miami back in 2012, he wasn’t thinking about awards. Happiness and how to achieve it was his major preoccupation.
It was that thinking that led him to switch careers from pharmacology to artisanal baking, mixing everything by hand in his modest, single-oven operation, which yielded products sold at farmers’ markets.
Fast-forward a decade later and Stern is a much-admired figure in the artisanal Miami bread-baking scene he is credited with launching. In fact, he’s so renowned for his breads and pastries, the latter of which cater to his kosher/Jewish community but appeal to all, that he’s caught the eye of the James Beard Award committees. After garnering Outstanding Baker nominations in both 2017 and 2018 — where he achieved semi-finalist status — he made it as a finalist in 2022.
And while his Instagram posts made it clear how much gratitude he feels towards his customers, the chefs who buy and serve his breads and the staff who help him produce them, Stern is grateful for the recognition, even if he didn’t ultimately win the award.
“It always feels great to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation,” he says. “They are the standard bearers of excellence in our industry. Obviously, it was disappointing that we didn’t win the award, but the opportunity to be invited to Chicago for the ceremony as a nominee has left an indelible mark upon me, and will most certainly reflect on [our] work.
” In the meantime, Stern has filled the disappointment gap with another achievement: the Michelin Gourmand Bib Award, which he calls “thrilling.” Stern says, “I find the category to be extremely relevant: quality food at a good price. So much of quality is reserved for those of such privilege and is therefore out of reach to most. You can visit the bakery at 8 a.m. and spend $4 on a fresh croissant that was mixed, laminated, shaped, proofed, and baked fresh on site. That level of quality at such a low price point plays an important role in our culinary culture, and I’m proud that we were recognized for it.”
We couldn’t agree more.