In conversation with Ava, founder of gluten-free bakery, AERA.
Growing up in a country whose inhabitants have a life-long love affair with bread, for actress-come-baker, Ava Celik, her diagnosis was doubly difficult. Born and raised in Berlin, Ava enjoyed Brot in all its glorious forms until in 2014 she was diagnosed with celiac disease.
“I was no longer allowed to eat the food I love, cakes, cookies, pasta and of course, bread.” She tells me how the gluten-free bread that lined the supermarket shelves, with its loud, yellow packaging, served as a constant reminder that normal bread was off limits.
“It looked like bread for sick people! At dinner parties, I would take my special bread from my bag and people would say..’Oh, poor Ava. Sorry you can’t have any of this nice bread we’re all having.’” So, in a bid to “flip the script”, she started baking, at first out of necessity, until making the perfect gluten-free loaf was all she could think about.
“It took a long time to get the recipe right. I would wake up thinking about bread and go to bed thinking about bread, and so I thought, this is what I need to do.”
Today, the artisan loaves that are pulled from the oven at the AERA bakery are enough to make even the most experienced of bakers envious; flawless, thick-crusted perfection. Watching Ava knead methodically, working and shaping the dough, it’s clear to see she’s found solace in baking- which is somewhat ironic given that a few years ago baked goods had caused her so much discomfort. But, like all good things, it took time- two years in fact.
Ava tells me, “it took two years to perfect the recipe and I was sharing my progress online along the way. I had some money saved from acting, so I could spend my days baking.”
Though gluten-free baking isn’t anything new, (plenty of grains like millet and oats have been used in place of wheat for many years), Ava took on the famously difficult task of baking wheat-less sourdough. “Of course, I didn’t think it would take this long,” she continued, “but I studied the flours, which took some months, then I needed to learn about milling, the grains, where they come from, how they react to each other…
…it became important to me to question everything.”
Despite complex recipe research and plenty of trial and error, the end goal was blissfully simple: create something as close to conventional sourdough as possible. “We don’t try and sell bread for sick people, we just try to make a product that’s good because it’s good, and not because it’s gluten-free.” The steady stream of customers who want to buy bread, despite the bakery being officially closed that day, is testament to just how good it truly is.
Ava puts much of the success of AERA bread down to simplicity; focusing on perfecting one thing at a time and the same philosophy can be seen in AERA’s visual identity. The bakery, coffee shop hybrid is minimal and sleek, lit with warm strips of light and dotted with cheese plants. Unlike traditional bakeries, where bundles of bread are stacked behind the counter, the products at AERA sit in a uniform row behind glass- in Ava’s words, “you know what you’re getting”. She acknowledges that the bakery wasn’t always so beautiful, “in the beginning, it was very ugly, it was just white walls because it was a garage. We built the space together with Modiste Studios, who also designed Bonanza Coffee in Kreuzberg. We basically just wanted to make the space as useful as possible.”
The AERA philosophy then, is one rooted in simplicity, after all what greater, simple pleasure exists in life than a loaf of crusty bread?
Ava’s commitment to studying, proving and baking wasn’t to create something extraordinary or unusual- quite the opposite. AERA is a quiet rebellion in the face of mediocre, plastic-wrapped alternatives and it was ‘mission accomplished’ when at a party, friends wanted to tuck in to her bread, instead of their own.
And, if you’re wondering what’s next for AERA, I can tell you in three wonderful words: gluten-free croissants.
You can find AERA bread at:
- Fasanenstraße 74
- 10719 Berlin