In Her Own Words: Malin ElmlidSeptember 24, 2015
Meet Malin Elmlid—model, baker and global change-maker. In 2008, the Berlin-based Swede was a neophyte learning the ins-and-outs of bread baking. With more loaves than she could eat, she serendipitously founded the Bread Exchange, where her delicious, freshly baked sourdough is traded, not sold. By eschewing currency for more creative forms of payment, like bicycle repairs, concert tickets and guitar lessons, Malin has swapped stories and shared experiences with over 1,400 people. We were so inspired by Malin’s culinary community building that we had to learn more. Come along as we break bread with the social entrepreneur and discuss the connections she’s making in her neighborhood and beyond.
Why did you first start baking bread?
I love bread, but would often feel ill after eating white bread. I began researching how to make healthier loaves, without any additives, that still tasted good. I realized that the healthiest way is also the simplest way. All you need is flour, water, salt and sourdough. You also need time and dedication, though—that’s why it is so hard to find this kind of bread in stores. Luckily, you can make it on your own.
Can you tell us how the Bread Exchange got its start?
I did not plan to start this project—it just happened. I was giving away bread because I had too much and, after a year or so, people started to give me things back. This is how the Bread Exchange was born. I realized that is how life is: if you start giving without expecting anything in return, you’ll get back what you gave times a thousand.
What is your signature loaf of late?
I’m a bit of a color nerd and I often try to reach certain Pantone colors when I bake. One of my favorites is my Dior-shaded bread colored with edible ash and baked with a sage crust. I started to use leaves as decoration on my bread, not only because they are pretty, but also as a reference to my last name, Elmlid. In Swedish, it means, “the light that shines through the leaves in an opening in the forest of Elm trees.” So I started coating my bread in leaves before I baked them. Sage is resistant to high heat and the color is just beautiful.
What has been your most meaningful trade? What about your oddest?
Looking back, I would say that my most meaningful trade was probably during fashion week in Munich. I gave a loaf of bread to a photographer in exchange for the use of an oven in the café he owned. As I was baking, I met Alex, my husband, for the first time. He was a friend of the owner, visiting from Brussels.
My oddest trade was probably for an invitation to a 22-course dinner at an art foundation in Basel. I did not know what the trade was about when I came to Switzerland, so I packed hiking boots for the Alps instead of heels! I ended up buying shoes, but I posted a trading wish on my blog and was able to borrow beautiful black silk overalls in exchange for bread.
Does serendipity still play a role in the Bread Exchange? How so?
Yes, it does. It would be very easy to pick out which trades and offers seem most attractive, but I would lose that element of surprise, and part of the overall experience. Instead, I have a first-come, first-served policy, so I meet new people and learn things that I might not discover otherwise. If I want something specific, I can just as well buy it with money. But what makes the Bread Exchange so exciting is enjoying the unexpected.
You once said, “Without money, people get to be honest.” Can you elaborate?
When money is not involved, the right people stay—whether for friendship or anything else. There is something child-like and simple about making an exchange instead of a payment. You get to share something about yourself. For me, this means sharing bread that has taken 24 hours to make, and sometimes even ruined a good night’s sleep. In return, you share whatever that might be worth to you. Some things are possible to value in money, but some are not. The beauty is when you still see their value.
Finish the following sentence: People assume…
That I love to cook! To be honest, I like to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. I enjoy spending meals with my friends at the table instead of running in and out of the kitchen. When I throw a dinner party, I usually cook family-style and put everything on the table once—that way I can enjoy the evening.