Destroy All Bread!dESTROY ALL

162 Essex Street
December 9, 2013




“I can't stand the healthy, respectable, wholesome reputation of bread,” says chef Michelle Dunning. “It’s ridiculous. More than ridiculous, it’s offensive. Bread should be for everybody!”

The idea of coming in to work in a white apron, becoming red-faced at minor imperfections in baguettes, and talking fondly about grains appalls Dunning, who wears a black apron instead. “At Destroy All Bread we talk about our favorite horror movies, our favorite bands, and how we're going to make a new demented loaf of bread.”

Destroy All Bread’s name is an homage to the title of a Godzilla film (in which All Monsters were destroyed), and a much less famous Detroit punk band (in which sensiblity was destroyed). Dunning's tastes lean more towards heavy metal than punk, although she has prominent tattoos devoted to both.

Her bakery is mostly known for its imperfect globules of dough that are baked in varying sizes and shapes. These are tasty little mutants that evade uniformity and respectability. The smaller misshapen globules are goblin skulls, the larger ones are ogre skulls, as monsterism is rampant throughout the bakery.

There are baguettes that start off elegant and then sprout doughy tendrils, or crocodile mouths; loaves that look like alien eggs; and angry legged lumpy things that look like they would scuttle across the floor. Inspired by a Columbian bakery in Bushwick, these breads have a cheesy taste contrasted with an agave jam center that is weird on the first bite, addictive on the second.

“There are two concepts at work here; bread made by monsters, and bread that has become a monster,” says Dunning, “But I don’t want to get too sentimental about the process.”

This lack of sentimentality is evident to anyone who has bitten into one of Dunning’s breads: this is the sourest sourdough; this is a pullman loaf that could actually pull a plow. Those who want to breathe fire can try a roti that's flavored with chipotles and cheddar cheese, so mouthwatering that they could be sliced and served nachos (its name is Blood on Satan’s Claw, which seems like hyperbole until you’ve tried it without a glass of water nearby). There is the loaf of rye that reminds me of Spinal Tap's album (How much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black). It is referred to as "the metal loaf", black metal being the strongest of the heavy metals.

So why all the monster-ing? After putting down her bass in the celebrated and feared band Death Nun, Dunning didn’t want to leave a scene of guttural screaming and nightmarish imagery entirely. So she created a bakery where she would feel at home, a bakery where imperfection was a point of pride. DAB is open late, has a liquor license and bottled beer, and sells the occasional record or cassette by the register. “I can't stand CD’s," says Dunning, “They have no oomph”.

It’s routine for existing or former members of BloodTendril, Mh'ithrha, or KANG to stop by, often with their instruments and families in tow. Signed eight-by-tens of other bands dot the (dark) walls, and posters of Dunning's favorite monster movies cover the restroom over liberal layers of graffiti: THIS IS THE BEST BAKERY!!! reads one layer, DUDE WHY ARE YOU VANDALISING (sic) THERE (sic) WALL THEN? reads another. It’s easily the best bathroom scrawl since the Verb Café in Williamsburg.

Although, it’s clear that some of these aeshtetic decisions have resulted in a tradeoff: Dunning has avoided respectability to such lengths that she evokes sympathy, even from her peers. “Dude, you've got a great place here,” I heard Ronnie Given Name (not his given name), lead signer of KANG say, “You should get rid of all our stupid album art that we made when we were seventeen.”

“That stupid album art changed my life!” shouts Dunning, pounding a tattooed fist on the counter. “Besides, a bakery is the most metal place you can imagine. It’s hot, like hell, the hours are nightmarish, and . . .” she looks around, “there are these bread tongs, which are kind of scary . . . ” She tests the bread tongs, dubiously. “Actually, we could get scarier bread tongs.”

Of course, people ask Dunning several times a day if she would ever change the name of her bakery. “Never! It resonates with people. It resonates with me. You know why we call it Destroy All Bread? Because, hopefully, all bread is destroyed; by our stomachs.”

While there is an inarguable truth to this, I prefer to think the name carries a different meaning; perhaps it will be necessary to destroy the respectable idea of bread in order to save it.

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