Rarely does a chef cross over into the world of baking—let alone excel at it. But such is the case with Michael Hackman, who mans the kitchen and the oven at Aioli, a neighborhood eatery known as much for its food as its friendly atmosphere. Following stints at such high-end local favorites as The Breakers and Café L’Europe, Hackman and his wife, Melanie, opened their sandwich, salad, and soup shop on South Dixie Highway in 2014. A desire to make everything from scratch piqued Hackman’s interest in bread, and he began developing Aioli’s recipes for authentic French baguettes, flaky buttermilk biscuits, and sourdough, a four-day process that yields his biggest hit. Today, Aioli has expanded to a second location in downtown West Palm Beach and supplies bread for 12 area restaurants, putting out a daily average of 300 loaves. Read more to learn more about Hackman’s passion for baking, community, and running a family-owned business. (561-366-7741, 561-444-3842)
PBI: What sparked your passion for baking?
Hackman: It was more of a challenge. We had a great product already, but we weren’t making it from scratch, so I started looking into it, reading books, and asking other people questions. Once I found sourdough, I fell in love with the process. It blew my mind that you could take flour, water, and salt and make this beautiful bread, something that everybody enjoys, and that they’ve been enjoying for thousands of years. It’s about tradition and family, and it brings everybody together.
PBI: Did you do any formal training in baking?
Hackman: I took a weeklong sourdough-making class in San Francisco. I also did three stages [internships] for experience and to learn how to write a baking schedule. The stages I did at Balthazar and Daniel Boulud’s in New York really expanded my mind to the possibilities of baking.
PBI: What are your tips for making sourdough at home?
Hackman: The reason it’s hard to make it like this at home is because of the oven we use. It pushes steam into the air for the first part of the baking process to keep the bread moist on the inside. Then, venting lets out the steam so you get those blisters, and that crispy crunch on the outside. Recently, I found that you can get a similar result by baking the bread in a Dutch oven if you take the lid off half way through.
PBI: Besides sourdough, what’s your favorite thing to make?
Hackman: We have a list of chef projects.I get together with the guys [the cooks], we pick something we want to make, and we accomplish it. We wanted to make our own sriracha and hot sauces, so now that’s under the belt, and we serve those here. We did jams. Next is sausage. We try to collectively grow together.