There’s a new bread business in the East Bay called Base Camp Bakery. Chase Agee is the baker, and he started hawking loaves at the Grand Lake farmers market in January. Base Camp breads are all organic, use whole wheat and are sourdough based. The grains are local, procured from Community Grains. Agee sells four hearth loaves (country, an oatmeal porridge bread, a 100% whole wheat bread and a sesame durum loaf), plus a Danish brick-style seeded rye, everything bagels, bialys and baguettes, ranging from $2 for a bagel to $8 to $10 for a whole loaf. Agee’s newish to Oakland, but has put in work in the food world here. He spent nine months as a cook at The Ramen Shop in Rockridge. And, most relevant to his new gig, he worked at Pain Bakery, the now-closed wholesale bakery in San Mateo.
Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Agee said that growing up, he’d eat sourdough pancakes for breakfast. Sourdough is big in Alaska, having its start during the Klondike Gold Rush. Miners carried sourdough starter in their pockets and sustained themselves with this modest mix of yeast, sugar and flour. Agee started working in kitchens as a teen, and went straight to culinary school after graduating from high school. Agee spent many years as a cook in various restaurants, in New York and the Bay Area, but when he and his now-wife, Ayla Groom, decided to move to Oakland about three years ago, he knew he wanted to be a baker. Agee fell in love with baking with sourdough while in culinary school after his instructor gave him a sourdough starter. “I started to learn more about it and I started to get really into it,” Agee said. “That’s where I really realized, ‘oh, I think this is fun, I could really go somewhere with this.’”
His ultimate goal is to have a brick-and-mortar bakery with additional foods like sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, dips and more. Agee imagines it would be a gathering place for folks to not only pick up food, but to meet with community. “I’d love to have community events in the evenings, do a pizza night, have live music, vocal artists,” Agee said about the concept of the storefront bakery. “[It will be] a gathering point for going out, doing adventures, then coming back and decompressing and being with community, just like how a base camp would be in the mountains.” Base Camp loaves can seem pricey, especially compared to bread from a grocery store, or even Cheese Board or Acme, but considering the time and labor, and all organic ingredients — Agee even used to mill his own wheat, something he’d like to return to doing — the price is reasonable. (Think of all the avocado toast you can eat from one loaf!) The bread takes a few days to make — he rents space from the former Pain commercial kitchen in San Mateo — and is an art in itself. Cutting into a new loaf with a serrated knife can be so satisfying. Many folks, Agee says, cut up the loaf right away and freeze a portion for future noshing. And if you end up with bread past its prime, Agee suggests making strata, a savory bread pudding, or panzanella or ribollita, an Italian bread soup using stale bread.
For now, Base Camp’s available at the Saturday farmers market in Oakland, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Groom, a Berkeley preschool teacher during the week, is there along with Agee, selling loaves and bagels and chatting with customers. They usually sell out before the end of market hours. (Agee’s bread can also be found for sale at Bay Grape, a wine shop on Grand Avenue in Oakland).
For now, Agee says he loves the vibe of the market. Working in a commercial kitchen and as a cook, he didn’t get to chat with customers that much.
“There’s like a wall broken down, people feel like they can take their time, you can talk about what’s going on with the bread,” he said. “People always have a lot of questions, and I love that I can fuel those questions. You know, when a loaf of bread is on a shelf in the grocery store, there’s no one there to answer your questions.”