Harlem's Tortilla Headquarters: Hot Bread Kitchen

October 24, 2014 | Posted by The B-Team

You could call Harlem's Hot Bread Kitchen the United Nations of Bread. The bakery and incubator of women-run food businesses produces 35 types of bread, from za'atar flatbread and challah to dense German rye and Moroccan m’smen. We visited its East Harlem headquarters early one morning with one particular product in our sights: freshly made corn tortillas. (It is Taco Month, after all.)

Nancy Mendez, Hot Bread Kitchen's main tortilla maker

Nancy Mendez is responsible for the thousands of tortillas that emerge from Hot Bread Kitchen's bakery a few days each week. Rising at 2 AM to travel from her home in Queens, she arrives in Spanish Harlem by 4 AM to start the grinder and turn dried blue and yellow corn -- from New York and Illinois -- into masa for HBK's flavorful rounds.

These wheels are made for grinding

Mendez has been making tortillas at Hot Bread Kitchen for over five years, but her grinder (which turns the water-and-lime-soaked corn into masa) is only three years old. In the early days, Mendez used a bicycle-powered grinder to get the job done. We struggled with too-dry or too-wet masa when we tested recipes for our homemade tortillas, but Nancy's freshly ground masa is pliable, elastic and easy to work with (not to mention totalmente aromatic and flavorful).

Masa ready for the machine

HBK's business incubator, founded in 2011, helps women and minorities build food businesses, providing services like culinary coaching, computer and English classes, financial advising, and kitchen space.

Tortillas hot off the press

Hot Bread Kitchen's goods are avilable at grocery stores and markets throughout New York (Whole Foods is a major buyer). Not in NYC? Don't despair: there are a handful of retailers across the country and online, too; find them here. We brought a load of goods (Persian-style sesame bread, an artisan fruit-nut loaf, seeded rye and more) back to the office, and can say from a lot of tasting: these products are exceptional.

Early morning at HBK's Almacen at La Marqueta in East Harlem

Once you get your hands on HBK's stellar tortillas, give these Taco Month recipes a go.