When Iliana Berkowitz headed to American University, she set out to study anthropology with the thought of perhaps becoming a professor. And with her Palo Alto education at Duveneck, Castilleja and Gunn, Iliana was bound to succeed at anything she pursued in college. But a funny thing happened when Iliana moved off campus and had her own kitchen for the first time: she fell in love with baking, especially bread.
Putting a degree to work…as a baker
Between assignments and writing her thesis, Iliana began to hone her baking skills, initially just for fun and then getting paid by friends to bake items for events, parties and more. “I was going to continue and get an advanced degree in anthropology,” Iliana remembers, “But then my student debt was piling up and I just decided to focus on baking for a few years. Little did I know that baking would become my true passion.”
Philadelphia was the perfect place to learn
When a friend suggested moving to Philadelphia, Iliana was delighted to discover a city that is, as she said, the “opposite of Palo Alto, unpretentious, affordable, diverse and a great food town.” She started working at Four Worlds Bakery in West Philly, where Iliana had the crucial role of ‘croissant laminator.” If you’re wondering what that means, we found this video to explain it, but the short answer is: Iliana was in charge of the butter that makes croissants so yummy. From there, she landed a job as a baker for Parc Restaurant, a top-rated French eatery that is renowned for its homemade baked goods.
“I made all kinds of baked items at Parc, but it was there that I discovered that bread was my focus, not pastries. I loved making the large, rustic loaves, baguettes and sour dough breads and wanted to keep learning more.”
Back to the Bay Area for bread culture and family roots
And where else to hone a love for bread than the Bay Area? From Acme Bread in Berkeley to contemporary bakeries like Tartine and Craftsman and Wolves, San Francisco has long been known for its bread culture. And while Iliana loved Philadelphia, she wanted to move closer to her family in Palo Alto, so returned to California in 2015.
After a short stint as a baker for Facebook’s employee dining program, Iliana decided to start her own bread business. She leased space at Kitchentown, a commercial kitchen that serves as an incubator for new food businesses and began to envision a different model for getting her bread to consumers.
Launching As Kneaded: A Community Supported Bakery
With the high cost of commercial real estate in the Peninsula, Iliana eschewed opening a bakery in lieu of an alternative distribution system. Modeling herself after the always popular produce ‘boxes’ that Bay Area foodies love, Iliana created a delivery-based ‘Community Supported Bakery‘ called As Kneaded.
Three ways to get As Kneaded’s delicious bread
- Subscribe: Sign up on the As Kneaded website for a month of bread (one loaf a week), which can be picked up at a number of locations. The closest pickup spot to Palo Alto is just over the border at Cafe Zoe in ‘Menalto.’ Subscribers can join the baguette club for traditional French bread or the Bread Club, for a special loaf each week that Iliana chooses.
- Reserve: Iliana sells her bread at the San Mateo Farmer’s market- and regularly sells out. You can reserve a loaf on the As Kneaded website and she’ll hold it for you at the market.
- Shop: As Kneaded breads are for sale at Sigona’s Market, Willows Market and soon, at local fave Piazza’s.
What’s ahead for Iliana and As Kneaded?
Although Iliana’s been developing her baking skills for many years, she is just getting started with her vision for As Kneaded. She is looking for new distribution locations (especially in Palo Alto), expanding her subscriber base and finding ways to integrate her Jewish heritage with her baking business. And while she has nothing against cupcakes, Iliana is proud that she is holding her own in the male-dominated world of bread baking.
“Baking bread requires strength and endurance and these are qualities that come naturally to women,” Iliana said. “That’s why I am excited to keep baking bread and show what a woman can do in this field.”
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All photos courtesy of As Kneaded.