The Science of BREAD
The brainchild of Emerson Manibo and partner Min, StarterLAB has grown from a neighborhoodbakery to one of Bali’s most sought after bread and pastry manufacturers.
“THE IDEA at first was just a neighborhood bread bakery doing naturally levain sourdough. I just wanted to do small batches. Keep it small and special. I’m talking like three or four types of loaves. And then we came up with the name StarterLAB because for one, I didn’t want to call it a bakery because it’s super mainstream, and also, there’s a lot of science involved in baking – you write down your formula, do the math – so it is very much a laboratory and we want to have that feel as well,” Emerson Manibo explained the conception of StarterLAB.
Experienced baker Emerson, together with his partner, Min, first established their bread baby, StarterLAB, with the goal of providing the best and healthiest sourdough on the Island of the Gods. After loads of rewarding hard work, and thanks to their passionate – and very much scientific – approach, what started with a humble beginning of showcasing on Sunday markets has become a well-known brand growing organically inside the hearts of Bali’s F&B community and bread enthusiasts.
“We would sell out in two hours or less every time. It was so satisfying and it spurred us on to keep improving. It was in October 2017 that we officially opened with full-fledge production capacity. Eventually cafés started approaching us to wholesale to them, and from there we developed a fantastic collaboration with great names like Locavore and other hotels.”
StarterLAB’s clientele grew big in no time, reaching all the way to Ubud, and Emerson and Min continued to refine their craft based on feedback from restaurateurs, chefs, and owners, who all share really positive things about StarterLAB’s products. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for them.
“We’ve encountered quite a few obstacles, but for us it’s all a learning lesson. The most challenging part for me, as a baker, were the ingredients. When I trained in New York and San Francisco, we had access to pretty much everything, such as the most amazing flours, whereas here in Indonesia you basically have one type of flour. Knowing this, we have to rise up to the challenge and just be extra creative. Fortunately we can get some imported flour like wholewheat from the US and rye from Germany, and we work with that to make an end product that’s of artisanal quality.”
Emerson gave credit to his mentors in the past for shaping him to be the baker that he is today. One such person is Kathleen Weber. Emerson worked in Della Fattoria for 2.5 years, becoming head baker after the first year. With Emerson as head baker, Della Fattoria was nominated for the 2015 James Beard award. “Her bakery is a family-run business that has been around for 30 years. One of the greatest lessons from her is how to manage the staff and treat them like family. She took care of me and I felt like the bakery was my home,” Emerson remembered his days in the rustic working ranch in Northern California.
Going forward, StarterLAB is expanding its repertoire to do pastries, but they would set out to do so with big ambitious goals in mind. “If we’re going to do this, we have to do really amazing pastries that would stand out. After a lot of planning, we will do at least eight kinds of pastries on a daily rotation – this is what many of our clients have been asking for. As part of our commitment to accommodate this, we recently expanded our working space and hired an experienced pastry specialist as well,” Emerson explained.
Yet it does not just stop there for StarterLAB. “Min and I are always looking and planning to do more stuff in the community. We may be looking to acquire an even bigger space to accommodate more activities, such as workshops, consulting, or collaborations,” the passionate baker remarked, imploring us to look forward to plenty of good stuff that’s coming ahead from StarterLAB.
“When I trained in New York and San Francisco, we had access to pretty much everything, such as the most amazing flours, whereas here in Indonesia you basically have one type of flour. Knowing this, we have to rise up to the challenge and just be extra creative.”
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