It’s hard to pronounce, but it’s the special bacteria that 14-year-old Christopher Gee says gives his freshly baked sourdough bread its distinctive taste.
Gee, a Lowell High School freshman, has been baking bread since he was 10 years old. But he only began selling it—for $7 a loaf to his Richmond District community—when the pandemic hit, and he started his first year of high school from behind a computer screen.
Remote learning can be difficult, says Gee, and having an activity that gets him away from his laptop and working with his hands is important.
“To be able to turn off the computer, walk to my baking table and start mixing some bread... I could be listening to music, or I could just be talking to my dad. It's a very relaxing thing to do,” says Gee.
The young wild yeast wrangler, who bakes around a dozen sourdough loaves each week, advertises his business on Nextdoor and through word of mouth. Customers can either pick up their loaves at Gee's home address, or Gee and his father will deliver by car within the Richmond District.
Watching his customers' reactions to still-warm bread doesn't get old, says Gee.
“My English teacher was actually talking about how we all need something to be happy about these days, especially with the pandemic going on. So by making someone happy—making at least one of their meals in the day a little bit better—it's a good feeling,” he says.
Gee first got interested in sourdough bread when his cousin came to visit from Canada in 2017. She brought some sourdough starter with her. Soon, Gee was baking up a storm—though his early attempts often ended up soggy and burnt.
“The fourth time I ever made sourdough bread it was so flat,” recalls Gee. “You could have thrown it like a Frisbee.”
Over the years, Gee perfected his recipe. Though he says he “hates chemistry,” his bread is made from four types of flour and requires a precise ratio of water to flour. He also made his own starter and traveled to Ocean Beach to collect air from there in addition to collecting air from his own backyard.
“I did a lot of research, watching YouTube videos,” reflects Gee. He also picked the brain of famous baker Richard Hart (formerly of Tartine Bakery). Gee messaged the renowned bread maker on Instagram and asked for sourdough tips. Hart replied with advice.
“I was so excited,” recalls Gee. “It made my entire day and made me so much more enthusiastic about trying new things.”
Sourdough, says Gee, is his passion, even though the business isn’t especially lucrative. It’s more about breaking bread with his neighbors during this unusual time.
“By being able to share something with the entire neighborhood—it really makes me feel a little closer to people even though it's just one interaction that takes up two minutes of their life and mine,” says Gee. “I'm just trying to make this dark time seem a little bit brighter.”
Bread orders can be made with Christopher Gee by emailing email@example.com.
Video by Mimi Schiffman and Peter Bell.
Sophie Bearman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org