Thank F*** it’s Friday with Oto from Breadkeeper


Bread is beautiful: Oto Ramek

Bread is beautiful: Oto Ramek


“Peace goes into the making of a poem as flour goes into the making of bread.” — Pablo Neruda

Bread has been around for a long time. The Ancient Egyptians, apparently, came up with the idea of using a wild yeast “starter” to create leavened bread, and the Ancient Greeks had over 50 types of bread in their recipe books. Bread has been the subject of poetry, religion and war since mankind first learned to knead, and it tastes bloody good smeared with honey, too.

Oto Sramek is a man who knows his bread, and he’s kicking off a series of ‘Breadkeeper’ bread-making workshops in the new year. LAURA WILLIAMSON caught up with him on the eve of the summer solstice to get the low-down on dough.

You have an excellent accent and we hear you’re a bit of a gun ice hockey player. Where are you from?

Thanks! I am originally from the Czech Republic, and that’s where I learned to play ice hockey.

Where did you learn to make bread?

I’ve always had a thing for good real food, but never had to learn about bread as it’s fairly easy to find a good bread back home. When I arrived in New Zealand, though, I noticed I was missing something.

It didn’t take long before an idea started brewing: “Bloody hell, how come it’s so hard to find a decent bread in this beautiful place? I’d better do something about it.” I was actually in Australia then, and since the universe conspires to help you when you are onto something, I met Simon who bakes from home in a wood-fired masonry oven, producing sourdough exclusively–a dream come true. For a few weeks, I’d bake with him once a week.

When I returned to NZ, I experienced an episode of perseverance and kept throwing myself in the deep end, not taking ‘flat breads’ for an answer. Then I had a revelation: “Don’t worry how it looks. Just shove it in the oven–it will be the best bread for miles anyway.”

How did you come up with the name Breadkeeper?

The making of an authentic sourdough becomes a very personal experience, thus the baker shares something of his or her own with every loaf. I have been contemplating my own personal experience with bread-making for some time, and it turns out my calling is to protect, preserve, guard, ward and share the way real bread is made. Hence the name.

I later found that ‘Breadkeeper’ existed before. In old times, it was a person who had the right to plant the fields, to make and to give bread. The word ‘Lord’ is a derivate of an old English word meaning bread-keeper. ‘Lady’ (the Lord’s wife), on the other hand, describes a person who kneads bread.

The aim of Breadkeeper is to inspire, encourage and support everyone to make their own real bread, regardless of their lifestyle and without the need for special equipment.

What’s your favourite kind of bread? I’m all about sourdough myself.

There is only one way to a real bread, and it’s sourdough.

Further explanation is needed here. Sourdough merely refers to the way of baking/thinking that is naturally fermented, and not to the taste. Thus the name sourdough is a little bit misleading. You can have sourdough just about anything–pancakes, ciabatta, baguette, etc. In reality, up until the advent of commercial yeast, everything was sourdough.

The smell of baking bread makes me go all weepy and long for childhood. Why is that?

It’s the memories created and handed down by generations–bread is hearth and home. It’s what we are made of. It was also once intertwined with power, and shaped whole social structures.

Oto bread

You talk about bread as more than food, but as something that can bring a community together. Can you explain this further?

Community for me starts at home. I don’t think these times are more turbulent then any other times. However, if you experience the urge to make a difference in your community, I recommend to start with yourself, at home. There is a love to be experienced when making real bread, and sharing such bread creates home filled with love. The more homes like this we have, the better community we create.  

According to the BBC, bread prices have risen 500% in Syria over the last two years. When I read that, I started to think of bread as a human rights issue.  Would you agree?

It has happened before, bread being the leverage for someone’s agenda, hence my comment regarding bread and power.

Bread is referenced a lot in global religions. There’s Jesus with his loaves and fish, Jewish Passover, also know as ‘The Festival of Unleavened Bread’, while in the Islamic world, bread is treated with reverence–if a piece falls on the ground, it is picked up, blessed, and placed somewhere safe. What is it about bread that inspires such holy attentions?

It sustains us. So does spirituality. And I don’t mean spirituality the way it’s practised and too often misinterpreted by global religious groups.

Can you tell us one of your bread-making secrets? Just one? Pretty please?

The wetter the better. Fermentation thrives in moist environment, so try to make your dough as wet as you can handle.

What’s your favourite condiment to put ON your bread?

Champion’s breakfast: my neighbour’s goat’s feta with homemade apricot jam

Yum! There was a band called Bread who topped the charts in June 1970 with their single ‘Make It With You’. It’s pretty appalling. Which of these bands with food-themed names would you rather listen to on a cross-country drive: The Smashing Pumpkins, Meat Loaf or Salt-N-Pepa?


Me too. I completely love ‘Shoop‘! Describe the perfect loaf of bread in five words.

Everyone can make real bread.

Join Oto for one of his Breadkeeper workshops, where he’ll teach you the art of making your own naturally fermented artisanal bread. There are five dates to choose from, starting from January 5 and Xmas vouchers are available. Contact Oto on or 022 679 3188 or check out Breadkeeper on Facebook.


Meanwhile, there’s plenty ON this weekend to help you work up an appetite.

Friday starts with a Happy Birthday for two of our fave spots for a feed in Wanaka: Francesca’s Italian Kitchen gets to blow out one candle after their first year in business (congrats guys–you completely changed my opinion of tiramisu!), while Urban Grind have two full trips around the sun under their belts. Friday also sees local songstress Anna Van Riel and Robert Glen take the stage at The Creek from 7pm, while Ghetto Blaster will be at Opium with an amping live show of reggae and DnB.

Don’t stay up too late though! December 21st is the longest day of the year, and Mission WOW is marking the occasion with a 123.5km Longest Day MTB Ride. They’ll be leaving from the wharf on the Wanaka lakefront at 5.54am–bacon and coffee supplied. You’ll need it!

In the evening, the crew from Gin and Raspberry are holding a fundraiser for the Philippines – head on down to help them meet their goal of raising $6000 for a generator for Coron Hospital. It kicks off at 5pm, with live music from Anna Van Riel from 5.30pm, and raffles and a silent auction throughout the night.

If you still have any energy left at sundown, check out DJ C:She and guest at Opium or stray further afield for good vibes and good times at the Wanaka Summer Solstice Outdoor Dance Party with Civilian Sol, EPOD, C:She and Witch Doktor–Mt Aspiring Road to Mototapu Bridge, turn right. Get pre-sales from LaLaLand and score a free Solstice Drink at the pre-party.

Daytime Saturday also brings another Crafty Craft Market at Federal Diner and the fabulously-named Treble Tones A Capella Choir at the Wanaka Library.

Whatever you do, enjoy your solstice Wanaka! December 21 is the day when the path of the sun reaches its southernmost point–it’s the most sunshine you’ll have all year. Don’t waste a minute of it.

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