Thursday, June 16, 2022

Don Guerra reflects on his win as Outstanding Baker in the James Beard Awards

Posted By on Thu, Jun 16, 2022 at 11:30 AM

Don Guerra, the founder of Barrio Bread, took home the Outstanding Baker Award at the James Beard Awards in Chicago on Monday, June 13.

But Guerra says he doesn’t plan to rest on this particularly noteworthy laurel. Instead, he looks at the award as another ingredient in his recipe for success.

“It feels surreal right now,” Don laughed. “You know, it is definitely a recognition that I am on the right path with my profession. I love baking and I have been in love with it for 30 years.”

The James Beard Awards are considered the “Oscars of Food” and are granted to those who have performed exceptional work in the culinary arts with focus on talent, hospitality, the broader food system and sustainability. Guerra was previously nominated for this national award twice, in 2019 and 2020.

It’s a huge honor for Guerra, who started out baking about 900 loaves of bread a week in 2009 with his Italian Dutch oven in his garage, with his main focus on feeding the community—hence the name “Barrio Bread.”

Today, his mission stays the same: To feed and cultivate the community of Tucson with a hyper-local model.

The Beard Award is just the latest milestone for Guerra, whose work has been celebrated in national publications. The New York Times called him “a leader of the local-grain movement in Tucson” who “challenges others to reimagine craft baking with an eye towards Latino and Indiginous roots.”

Guerra’s Natural Love and Bread uses local grains and an ancient French sourdough technique without sugars or oils.

During the pandemic, Guerra was able to feed his community due to his “grain chain,” a hyper-local model he has used since he started baking bread and ran his own bakeries in his 20s.

Guerra finds all his ingredients within 100 miles from Tucson. He has recruited farmers to plant grain through the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant under the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) program, which not only enhances the local economy, but also reduces pollution and shines a light on Tucson’s indigenous lands and history.

Guerra was able to provide large supplies of flour to Tucsonans during the pandemic due to the thousands of pounds from his local farms. He also had instructional videos on his website teaching the community about how to bake Natural Love and Bread.

Outreach education is a priority. He worked as a teacher in the Tucson Unified School District for seven years and has traveled all over the world to share his hyperlocalism model and Natural Love and Bread, including speaking events in Mexico, Taiwan and Poland.

Guerra also paired up with Carlotta Flores, owner of El Charro, and her family to open Barrio Charro, as well as the pantry-styled restaurant that recently opened downtown, The Monica. Guerra and Flores were recently featured on Bravo’s Top Chef for the season 19 finale that was filmed in Tucson.

Moving forward into his next chapter, Guerra plans to continue bringing light to localism in Tucson and serving his neighborhood.

“For me, it has really been about my community, feeding my community,” he said. “Teaching and learning with my community has created this passion. I feel this encouragement from my community to do my best and contribute.”

To hear more about Guerra’s journey as a baker, listen to the Prickly Pair Podcast on Apple Music and Spotify.

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