Baker provides breads for altar

Bryan Hicks turns out a mass of country wheat dough onto a table top and within minutes it’s a large alligator with eyes made from fava beans.

The alligator-shaped bread gets brushed with butter before going into a 400-degree oven which “shoots steam to give it a nice, shiny coat,” explains Hicks, bakery team leader for Whole Foods Market’s Baton Rouge store.

Hicks’ creation is destined for the St. Joseph’s Altar at the Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center. He’s also made breads for the altar in such cultural and traditional shapes as a cross; St. Joseph’s sandals, hammer and saw; a dolphin, which symbolizes the prayer center; a crawfish; a turtle; and St. Lucy’s eyes. St. Lucy, a Christian martyr, is the patron saint of the blind.

Hicks began making breads for the St. Joseph’s Altar three years ago.

Debi Grimes, who works at the prayer center, approached Whole Foods about preparing the breads, and “the marketing person came to me and said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Hicks said.

Hicks, 37, who’s been in the bakery business for 14 years in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, has been cooking since he was 11 years old. “When we had company, my mama always wanted me to go in the kitchen,” he said.

He majored in accounting at Southern University, and “home economics was my minor,” he says. “I took it in high school, too.”

He wanted to learn more about cooking, but found an added benefit was being the only guy in the classes. Hicks draws on “the creative side in me” to shape and decorate the St. Joseph’s Altar breads, plus “I have pictures of altars to give me ideas of what to do,” he said.

The specialty breads are made with “an Italian ciabatta dough with a little wheat added to give a much firmer bread.”

He estimates it took him about three hours to complete the prayer center’s bread order.

The Whole Foods Market bakery needs a 48-hour notice for specialty breads, he adds.