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Published:January 11th, 2006 13:54 EST

The Bread Whisperer

By Maggie Ybarra

With a three-hour window to grow or die in, the tragic rise and fall of sourdough creations have become a common work hazard for rustic chef Chet Morris.

Patience is the virtue of bread.  As a chef for Great Harvest Bakery, Morris has spent five years of his life learning to adhere to the bread`s needs and wants.  The job has helped him to adapt to the bread`s personal Zen in the kitchen and boost its performance on the cutting board floor where new customers are made by trial and taste.

The secret is coming to understand what`s going on, " explained Morris.  Understanding how the bread works and how it`s going to behave.  You have to pay attention to it every day. "

A hippie-esque mane of black Rapunzel-length hair and smudged wire-frame glasses mask Morris` secret identity as a skilled interpreter of the complicated compound flour, yeast, and malt extract formula.  Without a blinding white uniform to bind him to his job description one would not guess that a man like Morris is overqualified to converse with just any piece of bread.  Most of the work that Morris does as a rustic chef is exclusively with sourdough and hard crusted types.

The bread never behaves quite the same, " said Morris.  You always have to pay attention to what you`re doing in order for it to come out right. "

Rustic breads are slow risers that can easily self-destruct.  According to Morris, that is what gives them their wonderful taste.  Eating the creations that took him a painstaking number of hours to make on a daily basis is both the perk and the curse of the trade.

You actually tend to become a bit snobbish after a while, " confessed Morris.  It`s definitely a work hazard. "

With the holidays in full swing, Morris has been forced to spend more and more time in conversation with his yeast-based formulas as they bathe in the heat of the oven, silently expressing their desires and complaints.  A philosophy student by heart, Morris can fully sympathize with the bread`s need to be understood.

Philosophy is a love of knowledge ", Morris grinned.  That`s what the word translates as.  It`s the quest for an understanding of all things. "

After five years of monitoring, modifying, and checking on the bread`s disposition, Morris has managed to prove that true knowledge can only come when one has learned to listen, even when the only form of verbal expression comes in the mimed actions of a lonely loaf of bread.