Bread a universal language for UNESCO designees

ELLEN O'NAN | The Sun

Josh Ryan (left), owner of Kirchhoff's Bakery & Deli, and Giuseppe Biagini, founder of the International Traditional Knowledge Institute, relax in Kirchhoff's bakery on Thursday in Paducah. Biagini is from Carrara, Italy, and lives part time in Tucson, Arizona. Biagini came to Paducah for the first time during last year's meeting of the UNESCO Creative Cities of Crafts & Folk Art, a designation Carrara and Paducah share.

From baguettes to pitas, tortillas to Chinese mantou, bread boasts a long history of providing more than physical sustenance.

To break bread together is to form connections that transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries, said Giuseppe Biagini, founder of the International Traditional Knowledge Institute. That made the Italian native's stop at a local bakery this week all the more appropriate.

"You don't need to talk. You just need to taste," Biagini said of the power of sharing a meal. "Food is a really tremendous transfer of feelings. It can make a community come together."

Biagini, who hails from Carrara, Italy, and lives part time in Tucson, Arizona, first came to Paducah during last year's meeting of the UNESCO Creative Cities of Crafts & Folk Art, a designation Carrara and Paducah share. He spent much of his second visit stopping at local eateries and speaking with Paducah's restaurateurs, chefs and bakers, including the crew at Kirchhoff's Bakery & Deli on Thursday.

Local bakers welcomed Biagini with their own walnut and bleu cheese bread, along with pita and rolls that appeared in the first phase of a book project, "Days of Bread," that Biagini compiled. He solicited recipes and stories from Creative Cities around the world, including Paducah; Kirchhoff's entry is a salt-rising loaf traditional to the Appalachian region of Kentucky.

"(Running a bakery) is very hard work. It changes completely the philosophy of your family life," Biagini observed as Kirchhoff's staff bustled in the bakery and other locals sampled bread from Parma, Italy, and Zahlé, Lebanon. "Passion is a tremendous drive. They wouldn't be doing anything else -- and it shows."

An app to which Biagini contributed, also called Days of Bread, puts global recipes -- and with them, local traditions and stories -- at one's fingertips. People who may lack the time or money to travel are able to connect to people on the other side of the world in a way that fosters friendship and understanding, which Biagini says is important in today's age.

"Connections are the driver of this kind of project," he said. "We want to use the internet in only the positive ways."

He added that he's beginning a second phase of the project, now known as "Breads of the Creative Cities," and he encouraged Paducah bakers to participate.

The Italian's visit provided a fitting conclusion to the month of November, which marked the five-year anniversary of Paducah's designation as one of nine UNESCO Creative Cities in the United States.

Despite President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paducah has continued to participate in the Creative Cities Network. The designation has benefited the city, both in terms of economic growth and exposure in national and international media, the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau reports.

Direct expenditures related to tourism grew 14.7 percent, from $203.9 million in 2013 to $233.9 million in 2017. Tourism spending also generated taxes that led to each McCracken County household paying $1,400 less in local taxes, according to the CVB.

Other impacts can't be measured in dollars, but are still vital, local advocates of the designation say.

Paducah residents have represented their hometowns in countries including Mexico and South Korea, an experience that gave some of them a renewed appreciation for their hometown.

"We sometimes forget how rich and deep our culture here in western Kentucky (is)," local potter Nathan Brown told the Paducah City Commission. "It is very difficult for some people to brag on where they're from. … I felt empowered by the UNESCO experience to talk about my city."

Added chef Sara Bradley, who runs the Freight House: "(When) telling people I'm from Paducah, Kentucky, one of the first things I would say is it's a UNESCO (Creative) City."

Biagini also offered kind words for Paducah.

"It's the top of (my) list for friendly cities. The connections we made last year were like family," he said.

He added that he's witnessed the benefits of the UNESCO designation in both his home bases, as Tucson is designated a Creative City of Gastronomy.

"The jump in jobs, applications and growth in the job market connected to gastronomy has been phenomenal," he said, adding that Tucson has since appeared in major media outlets. "That is something you don't expect. … Being nominated has led to an increase in awareness worldwide."

Biagini emphasized that the impacts of the designation can be felt beyond the art form for which the city has been recognized.

"Big brand names come to the city because you are on the map. Others look at your city with completely different eyes," he said. "(The UNESCO designation) is for everyone."

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