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Artisan Food Has Gone Mainstream

Panera Bread has called itself an artisan fast food, and has termed its products artisan basing on the fact that their breads are hand-crafted. Wendy’s launched its Artisan Egg Sandwich two years ago—fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon, Asiago cheese and hollandaise sauce all laid in between two slices of artisan bread. Ralphs promotes its Private Selection Artisan Breads, a range of home baked goods which they also claim to be hand-crafted. Starbucks lovers make it a point to buy one of the chain’s Artisan Breakfast Sandwiches with their morning coffee; and just very recently Domino’s introduced its Artisan Pizza Line. The word artisan has indeed officially gone mainstream.

Artisan : a skilled manual worker who creates things that are decorative or functional, including jewellery, furniture, household items, clothing or tools. In recent years, the term artisan, as well as its adjective form, artisanal, has been used to describe food, which generally means “a handcrafted product done meticulously, made in little batches.”

Foodies have made use of the term in reference to a cheese, bread, chocolate or any other comfy item that has been made in a hands-on, old-fashioned manner. They have gotten to love the term so much, it’s now becoming to be a frequent marketing buzzword to a lot of food menu items in various restaurants.

Which brings us to ask—what makes artisan bread different from the rest? There used to be a time when the term artisan makes you think of the baker who made the bread. We picture an artisan cook wearing a black beret, baking with wood-fired ovens and training with the masters in Italy; far from the look of the modern chef in his top-quality yet inexpensive chef apron. The artisan cook is a craftsman who has been exceptionally trained to mix, shape, ferment and bake hand-crafted bread, understanding the science which explains the ingredient’s chemical reactions. He knows the ways that would provide the most suitable environment for the bread to develop.

Traditional artisan bread should not have any other ingredients besides the flour, water, salt and yeast. If the bread is baked with a sourdough, then there should be no yeast in the ingredients. It is supposed to depict one of the oldest, most basic foods there is—after all, it wasn’t essential to add chemicals to our bread for centuries. And that is what we are supposed to expect from artisan bread; it ought to look simple—crusty-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside, maybe, but simple.

But such is not the case. The word artisan now does not really align itself with the conventional, although the market does not seem to mind it. In fact, they love it.

But there are those who oppose the idea. “The word has been so co-opted by the food industry these days that it has lost its genuine meaning,” said renowned baker and author Peter Reinhart, who authored a book about pizza, American Pie.

Josh Viertel, president of an advocacy group for healthy eating called Slow Food USA, said he does not really object to the large-scale production of food that are being labeled as artisan, although he does worry about the fact that the authenticity is now being faked. He feels that the meaning of the word is slowly being diluted.

But the trend is there, people love it. And it certainly can be expected that many more chefs in their chef apron would come up with food items that are labeled “artisanal” in the upcoming days.