Odesa’s Green Theatre
The mobile bakery has a new Odesa home in a beautiful woodland space for volunteers in the heart of the city, the Green Theatre. We’ve been baking there all week!
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Through a gateway at the entrance to Odesa’s Shevchenko park, there’s a hidden space, surrounded by woodland and trees: it seems a world away from the busy city streets outside. It’s the project of Odesa social entrepreneur Yegor Grebennikov who founded the social innovation platform Impact Hub - as well as the Green Theatre, carefully renovating a site which had been a concert venue back in Soviet times, but had fallen into disrepair. He turned it back into a social space for Odesa residents, and until Russia’s full scale invasion it once again became a popular place for open air concerts, films and craft markets in the heart of the city.
The venue had to close down when the full scale war began - but this year a new initiative opened there, the volunteer based forum Social Camp Odesa - bringing together NGOs, charities and volunteer groups from across Ukraine to help them learn from each other and build capacity. There was also a summer camp for children offering all sorts of activities from art classes to drama and sports - which the Green Theatre team said was aimed at ‘mitigating the influence of stress brought about by the military operation in Ukraine’. They also set up a regular ‘recovery space’ for volunteers, to help them deal with the long months of stress and fatigue. This summer, they also began hosting some cultural events, in support of the charities and volunteer groups who they partner with.
The Green Theatre
We are grateful that the Green Theatre has now also become the new Odesa home for Bake for Ukraine’s mobile bakery - the perfect location, tucked away under the trees, complete with its own water and electricity supply.
Last week the mobile bakery manager Oleg began the first test bake on board, together with our wonderful volunteer baker Alexandre, who owns Today Bread in East London and traveled to Odesa to work with Oleg and help get the first week of baking underway.
The first task was a shopping trip to buy all the bits of equipment which would make the space more efficient, from heatproof gloves to take the hot loaves out of the oven to a row of hooks on the wall to keep the work surfaces free of clutter. Oleg had been carefully looking after the sourdough starter, and 24 hours before the test bake he fired up the wood oven on board so that the ovens would reach the right temperature by the time we started to bake bread.
Oleg and Alex checking the dough
Alex was incredibly thorough, constantly checking the temperature of the dough and noting down the percentages of flour water and salt - making sourdough is a real science which I can’t even begin to understand. We waited for the dough to proof, divided it into 750g portions and preshaped it into nice round balls, proofed it again and then shaped them a second time before carefully putting them into baskets and into a neatly designed proofing cupboard to rest for another couple of hours before baking.
Then the bake itself: turning the loaves out onto our specially designed wooden paddle - long enough to reach the back of the huge deck ovens on board, sifting flour through a beautiful Ukrainian tryzub stencil kindly made for us by Campbell at Rackmaster, and cutting a slash through the dough so the crust could expand in the heat. One of the park security guards stopped by for a look, and ran back with a bag of delicious apples and plums from his garden, insisting that we share them - another act of incredible Ukrainian generosity.
It was a thrilling moment around 40 minutes later when we pulled 48 freshly baked loaves out of the ovens and set them out in crates to cool down. These first loaves went to Mykolaiv - the next batch to a big charity hub in Odesa: I’ll write more about them in a future post.
We saved dozens more loaves for a Bake for Ukraine stall at a weekend volunteer market in the beautiful theatre space, along with other groups selling crafts, clothing, some street food and music. This being wartime Ukraine, it was anything but straightforward: the event had to be closed down three times because of air raid alerts, until the all clear eventually sounded and everyone was allowed back in. The whole weekend was a wonderful opportunity to share our bread with Odesan people, and spread the word about our mobile bakery mission.
Our Ukrainian sourdough
While Olena and her friend Katya were running the stall, Oleg was busy baking again for the following day: sourdough is a slow and high maintenance process which definitely can’t be rushed. But the sight of those beautifully crusty loaves coming out of the oven, the smell of hot bread filling the air, seeing people enjoying it, made all the hard work worthwhile. We are so grateful to Yegor Grebennikov and all the Green Theatre team for providing us with this wonderful space to work, and for making us so welcome.