Photo by Tejal Rao
I'm doing alright, but I duck out of the poker game at 1 a.m. to meet Matthew Tilden at Toby's Public House on 6th Avenue in Brooklyn. The restaurant's completely dark, the chairs are piled up on the tables, and Tilden's working alone at the marble counter by the pizza oven. He's wearing a black beanie, and there's a Sharpie dangling from the thick gold chain around his neck.
His business' name, Scratchbread, was tattooed on his left forearm six months ago. A ballsy move considering Tilden hadn't even started the company yet. I ask if that's a bit like tattooing a girl's name on your arm before she's agreed to go on first date. A bit crazy.
"I'm not offended by that," he laughs. "Everyone thinks I'm crazy."
Tilden cooked with Daniel Eardley at Chestnut, in Brooklyn, helped reopen the Russian Tea Room, held the chef position at 360 in Red Hook--which has since closed--and finally went off to Cape Cod to resurrect what he called a "food factory resort."
Tilden was convinced he should leave Cape Cod, move back to Brooklyn, and start his own bread company. So convinced, he got that tattoo.
"What's gross about Cape Cod," says Tilden "is that a Sysco truck stops at almost every restaurant." He saw a few good restaurants open in his time there, but on a day when he was feeling particularly cynical about the food world, he came across a Craigslist ad that spoke to him. It read:
I have amazing brick oven. You bake bread.
Tilden answered the ad and spoke to Tim Judge at Toby's Public House, a soulful little pub in Brooklyn. Judge was looking to make the most of the restaurant's pizza oven after hours. Tilden was convinced he should leave Cape Cod, move back to Brooklyn, and start his own bread company. So convinced, he got that tattoo.
A few weeks later, Tilden received a key to Toby's night kitchen and began experimenting with baking. He'd implemented a bread program at Chestnut, but it's taken Tilden four months to get his sourdoughs right where he wants them.
Now, every night after the crowds go home and the restaurant's oven is turned off, Tilden bakes his range of artisanal breads using the residual pizza oven heat (he bakes some pastries in a separate oven in Toby's basement). The goods are served at Toby's but also at Bklyn Larder and Get Fresh Table and Market, where Chef Juventino Avila uses Tilden's chai sticky buns to make French toast.
And the one-man company is growing faster than he anticipated. "I need to pass this bread operation on to people who are more talented than me, some real bread people," says Tilden, "so I can develop all my other ideas." He's referring to the ice creams, which he currently sells only at Toby's, and the catering company. For now though, Tilden works all night alone to shape and bake the breads then loads up his Saturn to start deliveries at 6:45 a.m.