We have entered a culinary age in which consumers and food professionals alike are starting to believe everything should be made from scratch.
Is it just me, or does it seem like an awful lot of restaurant folks are getting into the bakery business these days?
We Chicagoans are no strangers to the chef-turned-baker phenomenon, having seen a slew of upscale donut shops open up over the past few years. It began when former Lettuce Entertain You chef turned restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff opened the matchbox-sized Doughnut Vault to cult appeal in 2010. The tiny shop, attached to Sodikoff’s Gilt Bar lounge in the River North neighborhood was followed closely by Italian restaurant mogul Scott Harris opening Glazed and Infused on the near Northwest side adjacent to one of his Francesca’s restaurants. Then Lettuce chef Francis Brennan went from running the kitchen at L2O to creating Do-Rite Donuts in the West Loop. Outside the donut world, chef and restaurateur Stephanie Izard (of Top Chef fame) opened a scratch bread shop attached to her widely acclaimed Girl and the Goat restaurant.
It’s not limited to my home city. Washington, D.C.’s Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s latest project is a donut and fried chicken shop. Longtime chef and restaurant owner Thomas Keller is known almost as much for his French-inspired bakeries as he is for his restaurants across California, New York and Las Vegas. And I am about to jet off to Seattle next month, where I’ll tour Dahlia Bakery, one of 13 foodservice concepts owned by restaurateur Tom Douglas’ namesake group.
So what is it about chefs getting into the bakery side? When I was a culinary student, savory and bakery were known as different animals; you chose a track and proudly stuck to it. If you were a baker, you sneered quietly at chefs’ kitchen improvisation and rebellious attitude toward recipes. If you were a chef in training, you chuckled dismissively at the “perfectionism” of the bakers and their fussy decorated cakes.
But we have entered a culinary age in which consumers and food professionals alike are starting to believe everything should be made from scratch. Chefs want to butcher their own meat, pickle their own vegetables, make their own condiments and prepare breads and pastries from scratch. Most of the newly opened bakeries are not only striving to produce all their breads, cakes and pastries from scratch, but many are also tackling their own jams and jellies, or curing their own meats for sandwiches.
While it’s often more time-consuming and expensive to produce everything in-house (not to mention there’s much less consistency in the end product), the ability to control what goes into the product is inherently appealing in a society that increasingly cares what goes into its food. Plus, more and more consumers are willing to pay a higher premium for what they perceive to be a “quality” product.
I liked the way Amy Savoie, a former caterer and now general manager of Wheatfields, a foodservice bakery in Lawrence, Kan., summed up why it’s worthwhile to prepare everything from scratch.
“I’m proud of it; everybody’s proud of it. I think that’s what keeps staff here is that they’re doing something that they’re really proud of and they’re happy to make it,” she says. “Otherwise, they’re not going to wake up at 3 in the morning to go to work.”