What Chris Boles wants people — especially kids — to understand is that you can do amazing things with your own two hands.
The heart often follows.
Boles is the baker behind Fire & Flour Bread, a business based in his home in Chaska, an unassuming split level in a typical cul-de-sac. But it may as well be an Old World bakery, given the superbly flavored rustic sourdough loaves that emerge from it on weekends.
It’s real bread, he said, made with organic flour from Sunrise Flour Mill in North Branch, Minn., and a sourdough starter he’s tended for years.
“You can do a lot of things that satisfy you, all by hand,” he said.
But Boles takes satisfaction a step further, often surprising families with a gift of bread, or turning loaves into sandwiches that he gives away to folks in need.
“I don’t choose when to gift bread to someone,” he said. “It’s how my heart moves me.”
If he had his druthers, he said he’d give away all of his bread. But that’s short-sighted charity; he needs to sell some loaves in order to afford to make more.
And frankly, he said with a hapless grin, his goodwill sometimes meets resistance.
“A lot of times, I try to give bread to people and they say, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t.’ ” Eventually, he convinces them that it’s OK.
Boles, 41, has been baking bread for years, learning his skills while working in the Minneapolis kitchens of Lucia’s Restaurant, Turtle Bread and Rustica Bakery. It took awhile.
“I always had a culinary drive in me, but I was afraid of bread, it seemed too complex,” he said. Mentors taught him the essential simplicity of flour, water, salt and yeast, and he was hooked.
But with a growing family — he and his wife have three youngsters — he returned to school to study physiology and now works for Health Fitness Corporation, managing wellness programs for businesses.
Still, he continued to bake bread, starting Fire & Flour several years ago as a pop-up business. People order loaves online, then show up for a “bread drop” at farmers markets, tap rooms or simpatico restaurants. (Minnesota’s Cottage Food Law allows bakers to sell homemade bread.)
“I just wanted to get people to try my bread,” he said.
Then the lessons of another influence began to figure in, that of a 1995 book, “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. It describes five ways to express and experience love: receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch.
“We all have a love language that we give out and mine is an act of service in baking bread,” Boles said. “I just think, ‘Let me make something with my hands and give it to you.’ ”
His daughter helps him make meat-and-cheese sandwiches and package them with a pair of socks. Then they drive around looking for people who appear in need of a kindness.
There was no particular epiphany that inspired this service, no personal drama that compels him to be a giver of bread.
“I just want my bread to bring happiness and sustenance.”