Best Bread in Honolulu

Breaking Bread: Chris Sy uses flour power to make the best bread in town.

Chris Sy, an alumnus of Town, The French Laundry and Alinea (he even has a shout-out in the Alinea cookbook), wants to change Honolulu with bread.

photos: martha cheng

"Bread is very easy to relate to,” says Chris Sy. “It’s not serving someone a live ant or something on a pin and expecting him to get it right away. It’s somehow very real and visceral, but, at the same time, it can satisfy in a very primal way.”

Primal, indeed. Sy is basing his business, Breadshop, on flour, water, salt and fire. He makes each loaf of bread completely by hand, from start to finish, a process that takes 12 hours. The result: the best country bread on the island.

His country loaves are a blend of whole wheat flour, dark rye flour and white spelt flour, mixed with a starter that Sy built five years ago with wild yeast. The bread is baked in Prima’s oven (fueled with kiawe wood), which Sy uses at night after dinner service; he’s there from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m., mixing, folding, shaping, letting the dough rise and baking it off. This is bread with character—a dark-brown crust, bread with chew and heft, and yet soft, with a tangy finish.

This month, Breadshop is debuting its Community Supported Bread model, aka a bread subscription in which you get a loaf of bread a week—perhaps the country bread, or Sy’s other breads such as the demi-baguette or city bread, a loaf made with white flour. Additionally, Breadshop breads are available at The Whole Ox Deli and The Pig and the Lady’s table at farmers’ markets.

Ways to Eat Breadshop Bread

  • For the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich
  • Bread salads, such as a tomato panzanella
  • Pan con tomate: Rub toasted slices with garlic and a cut tomato, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Top with jamon or prosciutto if desired.
  • Pan con chocolate, Ferran Adria’s childhood snack and Sy’s favorite. Grill, toast or fry slices of the country loaf in olive oil, top with chopped dark chocolate and sprinkle with Maldon salt. 

How It All Begins

An unpromising bit of dough is the beginning of every loaf of bread. Requiring three daily feedings, the starter is like a baby (a baby from which Sy breaks off a piece every day and sells). Between feeding the starter (with flour) every eight hours and making bread 12 hours a day, he has to settle with snatching a few hours of sleep here and there, even if it means on Prima’s wood bench. Tuesday through Saturday, the days he bakes bread, “is just one long day with naps,” Sy says. 

From top to bottom

1) Sy adds salt a little later in the mixing process, to give the dough a head start in developing gluten—what gives it chew. He breaks the dough into little balls, and when the salt is added, the dough breaks down slightly, giving it an appearance similar to cheese curds. “Time helps a lot in the process,” he says. “The dough will be shaggy and not cohesive—when I come back in 20 minutes, it’s kind of made itself into dough.”

2) He folds the dough, stretching and pulling in lieu of kneading. He says it develops the gluten better, but it means he has to tend to the dough every half hour instead of kneading it extensively once and just letting it sit. “It’s a pain in the ass, mixing by hand, but it’s still an enjoyable experience,” Sy says. “It’s really cool. Maybe in 40 years it will stop being cool.” 

3) Sy manages the fire all night, keeping it just below 600 degrees. When he’s ready to bake his loaves, he removes all the coals and the oven retains the heat for at least two rounds of baking.

4) Arranging the baguettes on the pizza peel for transferring into the oven.

5) Scoring the bread before baking allows for maximum expansion.