Reva Castillenti was a sculptor when she started her career. Over time, her medium changed: She dug her hands into blends of flour, water, and native yeast, stretching and pulling dough into rings and smooth, oversized pearls for bagels and boules. She spent her days teaching people how to make breads for themselves, sourcing native and heritage flours for baguettes and bagels she made out of The Brooklyn Kitchen in New York — those bagels won her second place at the World Bread Awards in 2018 and 2019.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, she found herself running out of cash and looking for somewhere new to land. “It just completely sabotaged my income,” she says. “I had lived in New York for 10, 11 years, and a few friends in Portland said, ‘Just come out here.’”
Now, she wants to bring those same sourdough ryes and bagels to Portland. Castillenti recently launched her Small Good Bakery, an underground bakery and online baking school, out of her Northeast Portland apartment. Castillenti teaches classes in the art of bagel-making and sourdough, and hawks boxes of babka, black-and-white cookies, and breads for pick-up and delivery.
Castillenti is used to switching things up. She studied fine art at Ringling College of Art and Design, before taking a hard pivot and training as a baker’s apprentice. “I came into it as a laborer; it was a way for me to make money,” she says. “There was something that felt better than art in bread-baking to me. I treated bread like a new sculpture material.”
She taught bread-baking as a part of the Brooklyn Kitchen for three years before coronavirus hit. She started teaching classes online and delivered loaves of bread around Brooklyn out of necessity. But she liked the idea of moving to the Pacific Northwest, where the other DIY artists she knew had found a sense of community. She started researching the native grains grown here, and began adapting recipes to her new home. “In so many years, our ecosystem will heavily depend on our ability to be biodiverse,” she says. “But also the flavor of these different species of grain is just incredible.”
To start, Castillenti is selling boxes of baked goods often spotted in New York bakeries, but using Washington-grown flours: Black and white cookies made with spelt flour, chocolate and cinnamon babka made with Hard Red Spring wheat flour, and good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookies. Her boxes are currently available for pre-order, and will be available for pickup on February 13 and 14 at the International Rose Test Garden and Peninsula Park.
The boxes are a Valentine’s Day special and a test-run for her future subscription service, which she plans to start in March. She plans to sell things like rye breads and potentially her award-winning sourdough bagels, adding some serious heat to Portland’s bagel scene. That subscription service, hopefully, will turn into a full-blown bakery down the line. “My goal in New York was to create a space that was a learning environment and a bakery co-owned by all the bakers,” she says. “I worked at a lot of bakeries and didn’t end up sharing the funds, while also managing the books. I think that there’s room for people in this industry to make a living wage, so that’s still the long-term goal.” Until then, however, she offers online bagel and sourdough classes, available via her website.