My education in baking began under the tutelage of a fourth generation baker of Spanish and Italian descent from whom I learned old world techniques and where I came to know the dance that is production baking. Eight years later, after exploring a handful of vocations, I returned to baking in my own way — with a rigorous eye, inquisitive palate, exacting standards, and a desire to bring my customers products that feed both the spirit and the body. OWL Bakery has become my pulse and my practice, where I blend a formal education in food anthropology, a passion for improving my craft, and my experiences abroad, in the kitchen, and in the garden.
Maia Surdam — Co-Owner & Historian
My pursuits in baking began as a child, over cookies and cake with my Grandma, and grew in unexpected ways as an adult when I became a baker and then part-owner at OWL. While living in Madison, Wisconsin to pursue a PhD in U.S. History, I developed a passion for growing, preparing, and sharing food. I tended a small plot in a community garden and regularly visited the city’s plentiful farmers’ markets. Meanwhile, I studied, taught, researched, and wrote about the history of labor, agriculture, and the interesting lives of ordinary people. My academic career took me to various parts of the country, but eventually I chose to stay put in Asheville. A serendipitous meeting led me to Susannah and, eventually, OWL. My work at the bakery fuels my creativity, connects me to the past, roots me in the present, and enriches my life daily.
Melissa Ruttan — Lead of Pastry & Production Manager
I’ve always known what I wanted to be — a baker. My passion for baking was ignited as a little girl while making family recipes alongside my mother. Later, I pursued a formal baking education that was both immersive and intensive, including studies at Johnson & Wales University and Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie. But it was inside that small castle, among the hills of France’s Haute Loire region, where I fell in love with European pastry. I discovered a new appreciation for ingredients and their provenance on this earth. After many years working in the urban Northeast, I’ve come to Appalachia to discover this connection in a deeper way, to learn about this landscape, and how those who farm and forage are cultivating superior tasting ingredients. Dessert is so much more than just flavor, though! It provides celebration, comfort, and satisfaction. I am excited to create food at OWL that allows me to offer those things to people, all while playing in the kitchen and discovering more about myself, this place, and my craft.
Nancy Hughes — Senior Baker & Social Media Leader
Baking surprised me. I always found myself baking to relieve stress or to feel connected to my family, but it wasn’t until I got a push from a friend that I really pursued it as a career. While living in Birmingham, Alabama, I began baking French macarons from home for weddings, farmer’s markets, and other events. Eventually I wanted to evolve beyond the meringue-based treats, so I moved across the country to attend pastry school, and ended up working as a food stylist and recipe developer before settling here in Asheville. What draws me most to baking is the juxtaposition between strict science and endless creativity. I find the rigidity and fluidity of the craft therapeutic, a mirror of all the gray areas in life, with a decidedly delicious outcome.
Aaron Schilling — Lead of Bread Program
I began baking as a home baker living in San Francisco, inspired by all the great local food coming out of the area, and in particular by a few bakeries that were putting out very beautiful, naturally leavened bread (Tartine and The Mill in particular). As a college student and with a baby on the way, my partner and I decided that in order to save money we needed to learn how to make everything we wanted to eat (including bread!). What started out as a practical hobby became somewhat of an obsession as I started to learn more about the nuances of naturally leavened bread, different grains, and the agricultural practices behind grain production. Shortly after my son was born, my family and I moved to Miami. I started working for a sourdough bread bakery called Zak the Baker, where I learned the ropes of what it meant to work in a production bakery. A couple of years later, my family and I decided we missed nature and wanted to live in the mountains. We chose Asheville for its biodiversity, abundance of local agriculture, availability of fertile land, and its strong milling/baking culture. I am very passionate about and committed to using clean, organically-grown grain, helping to bring back into common the use of ancient and heirloom varieties of wheat, corn, and rye, and about restoring the relationship between small farmers, millers, and bakers. I am proud to work for a bakery that shares the same passions for locality, responsible environmental stewardship, and community through food.