Yesterday, we spoke with Zachary Golper, the co-owner of Smith Street’s new Bien Cuit bakery, about the career path he followed from Portland, Oregon, to Philadelphia to Brooklyn, and the decidedly personal relationship between a baker and his sourdough starter. Today, in Part 2 of our interview, Golper tells us about his influences, his 19-hour workday, and getting his bakery on its feet.
Who’s influenced you as a baker?
Of course, at the top of the list would be Raymond Calvel. He’s the one that showed all of the artisan bakers of the modern generation how to take this ancient practice and do it correctly with modern equipment. [Calvel was a French bread expert and professor of baking.] Didier Rosada [a master baker based in Washington, D.C.] has been a huge influence. The ones who have been a direct effect on me are William Raymond and Jean-Claude Canestrier. Very competitive and aggressive guys, and really wanted to make an absolutely beautiful, flawlessly good product. It wasn’t even a product at that point, just beautiful food. It was nice to be in a bakery where everything you make is a special piece. Those guys showed me all that.
Also, Christine Ferber [the Alsatian baker and cookbook author renowned for her jams and jellies]. The way she addresses food is very holistic and genuine. When I was looking for the perfect tart crust, I utilized some of her recipes and little by little got what I wanted. When I got what I was looking for, all I could do was pass a thank-you to her in the wind. Ultimately, my wife’s little sister went to France and she was able to ask if we could carry her jams, which are the best. She’s been an extraordinary person for me: She’s a pastry chef that knows how to use foods in her region and nothing outside of that.
So how do you translate that to baking in Brooklyn?
We’re trying with all our ability to get as much quality ingredients as we can within the region. A lot of our foods are coming from the area, mostly New York. Our lamb comes from Dashing Star Farm — she’s curing lamb belly and making lamb bacon for me. We’re getting our lardons and bacon from Willowbrook Farms. He’s also one of the suppliers for Cabot butter. I looked through many different kinds of butter and seeing how the cows at Cabot were going to pasture — who am I to judge, but they seem like reasonably and happy cows as far as cows go. Plugra comes all the way from Texas, and Cabot is making the same butterfat content.
I would eventually like to push toward some French ingredients. Right now, we have French chocolate, but we’re considering what we can do for the future and what makes the most sense, and when I think how far flour travels if we’re buying it from South Dakota, getting it from France has the same carbon footprint. We’ll continue to get local ingredients whenever we can, but it’s going to be challenging as we go into winter. We’ll reduce the amount of produce people see in tarts and focus more on heavier items that have longer shelf stability and don’t have to travel from Florida.
What’s your most popular product?
That’s a little difficult to answer because there are bread fanatics that come in and pastry fanatics that come in. And we’re selling good coffee, so coffee fans come in. As far as sales, we seem to be very heavy with breakfast pastry and tarts. And then bread lovers are coming back and trying every single loaf. I’ve seen people become less and less scared to buy large loaves. I’m making mostly 1.2-kilo loaves; I want to keep them large because fermentation happens better when it’s bigger. It was really nice when I saw bread sell out on Monday — that was exciting for me, because it’s typically a slow day.
What are your hours like?
At this point, I’m trying to finish the day before 9 p.m. and trying to start sometime after 2 a.m. It’s a little crazy, but I really care and I’m trying to train a few different people at the same time. As we grow, I already know from doing this that we’re going to have to utilize the space 24 hours a day, and I need to train people 16 hours a day. Right now I’m looking at 18- to 19-hour days. Soon enough I’ll be able to reduce to 14-hour days. Sleep is weird. I don’t even know how to do sleep anymore.