Keith Irwin, President of Old World Breads in Lewes, discusses baking at sea level and what goes into making their artisan breads and pastries. Jason Minto/The News Journal
If you are talented enough to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, the accomplishment can be an entree into a wide range of food-related career possibilities.
Graduates like Richard Blais and Susan Feniger have gone on to open wildly successful restaurants on both coasts.
Other alumni like Anthony Bourdain, Michael Symon, Cat Cora and Duff Goldman are well-known television personalities, combining their cooking and baking successes with appearances on popular culinary programs on both network and cable.
Keith Irwin also graduated from the institute and got his first job as a line cook at the famed Keystone Resort in Colorado. But when he decided to switch positions to work with the resort's five-star pastry chef, he knew he had found his culinary niche.
"I found that I have always been a pastry chef at heart," he said.
Eventually, his pursuit of a pastry career led him to southern Delaware where, 16 years ago, he found work at Nage in Rehoboth Beach and other local restaurants.
But he always knew that total freedom to experiment in the kitchen would only be attainable with his own bakery.
On Memorial Day weekend in 2014, Irwin realized his dream: Opening Old World Breads on the corner of Nassau and New roads in Lewes, a short distance from the Coastal Highway.
Though the bakery is just over 2 years old, its quality products have attracted the attention of consumers and restaurateurs alike.
And that is precisely why Irwin's business has been chosen as the best downstate bakery by the editors of Delaware Today magazine.
"People say, 'You’re finally getting the recognition you deserve' and I guess that is true," he said.
For customers, the retail section of the wonderfully aromatic Old World bakery shop is an oasis of unusual breads and pastries along with fresh-brewed coffee.
Outside tables with umbrellas are near the entrance so customers can enjoy the summer weather while eating fresh-baked pastries and sipping on fresh brewed coffee.
Also available for takeout at Old World: homemade soups, often made with local ingredients, and several types of quiche, all done in-house.
For local restaurants like the new Matt's Fish Camp on the Coastal Highway in Lewes or its nearby neighbor – Fish On – Old World is a great source of fresh local breads and pastries, delivered fresh daily and prepared by a chef who has 25 years experience baking artisan breads and pastries.
Maurice Catlett, executive chef at Matt's, uses Old World baked goods for his wonderfully tasty lobster rolls, a popular item on the menu.
The Old World bakery is a beehive of activity in the summertime, starting at 5 a.m. when the first of his staff arrives to prepare pastries. A short time later, additional help arrives to brew fresh coffee for customers and fill the bakery display cases for a 7 a.m. opening.
Before long, other workers clock in to mix and roll dough and prepare the breads, rolls, cookies and pastries for baking in the shop's huge ovens. All told, Old World employs a staff of 20.
And Irwin is fanatic about the ingredients in his baked goods: He does not use any preservatives, dough conditioners or artificial enhancers.
He uses local grains when possible and is adamant about supporting local farms for ingredients he uses in baked goods, homemade soups and his wonderful chicken pot pies.
And he constantly experiments with new grains, yeasts and other ingredients although he said that most of his test baking is done in the winter "when things slow down a little."
The bakery also sells milk and cheese from local farms and jellies that are made locally.
Irwin also experiments continuously, developing new starters for his bread. He has baked with leftover beer yeast from local brewers, an idea that was inspired by Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione, a perpetual experimenter at his brewery in nearby Milton.
The bakery even offers a beer bread that is currently made with help from the 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown.
In addition, the list of delectable products available in the shop is staggering. On a recent summer day, display cases at Old World were filled with cookies, cinnamon buns, croissants, danish, muffins, tarts, scones, shortbread, quiche, carrot cake, pies and, of course, bread.
Among the bread offerings: sourdough, Italian, foccacia, baguettes, pumpernickel, rye, cranberry, cinnamon raisin, multigrain and cardamom. Rolls include brioche, ciabotta and multigrain.
The selection changes regularly and it is not uncommon to see some selections disappear toward the end of day. Those that don’t disappear are donated to area soup kitchens and other charities.
Despite the incredibly diverse selection, Irwin is adamant about the bake goods they produce.
"Everything, and I mean everything, is made from scratch," he said.
Though Irwin sells to local restaurants, he said that the bulk of sales are in the retail store and at a dozen local farmers' markets.
"The farmers' markets open up a different demographic for us," he said.
Patrick Monaghan of Bethesda, Maryland, vacations in Lewes every year and always stops at Old World for breakfast pastries and his favorite focaccia bread. He first discovered the bakery at the Lewes farmers' market then took the time to track down its home base.
"After I discovered this place two summers ago, it has become part of my ritual of coming to the beach," he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Old World Breads
WHERE: 32191 Nassau Road, Lewes
CONTACT: (302) 313-5191; www.oldworldbreads.com