Story by Kris Bordessa
Photo by Jyoti Mau
In the early hours of a Waimea morning, chef Kevin Cabrera pulls his dome-shaped portable oven into place on dewy grass. He kindles a fire inside the oven, adding kiawe wood until the internal temperature reaches a blazing 800 degrees. Parker School is quiet yet, but within hours regulars will start arriving for their weekly trip to the Waimea Town Market. Those in the know will make a beeline for the Sandwich Isle Bread Company, where Cabrera will be sliding the first of dozens of yeasty loaves in to bake.
“There’s a certain romance to baking bread this way,” he says. A wood fire presents variables that a conventional oven does not, and Cabrera must stay attuned to every batch: Baking time, for example, must be adjusted as the heat dissipates (though Cabrera generally gets three batches of bread out of one firing). He jokes about his ninja skills as a baker, but his perfect loaves of pane pugliese, olive herb bread and sprouted rye are a testament to his timing and patience.
The portable oven at the market today came—in pieces—from France and took Cabrera a couple of months to assemble. He made his debut in Waimea in 2008 and quickly developed a following. “It turned into a niche thing, and people seemed ready for it,” he says of his on-the-spot baking. So many people were ready, in fact, that Kevin has added a second wood-fired oven, and he now bakes all day Friday in preparation for the Saturday market. Exercising his creative freedom, he varies his selection of breads each week, but he always makes sourdough. “My customers,” he says, “have gotta have it.”
Despite the chill that often hangs in the Waimea air, Cabrera sweats as he works in the heat of the oven, his back to the long line of customers who have gathered to buy his bread—and the specialty pastries that his wife Kay contributes to the table. Later he’ll have time to talk a bit, but for now his focus is on the age-old art of baking bread.