The moment I knew I wanted to be a baker was when I started at my first restaurant in LA at Bottega Louie about ten years ago. Initially I was supposed to be a pastry chef, however, my section of the kitchen directly faced where the bakers worked. I’ll never forget, they were making traditional French bread and I was immediately intrigued and amazed, kind of ironically, about how much work was being done. Everyone was moving so quickly, and effectively. Not one move was wasted.
Being Head Baker at this level (LA’s Quince, Cotogna, Rose Cafe Venice, L’ATELIER de Joël Robuchon, NYC, and now Atelier Crenn,) is incredible of course. I am honored to get these jobs and work with this caliber of people. However, there is a real level of anxiety that comes along with it. Once I get in the kitchen, this anxiety transitions into focusing on what I’m doing. I have been very lucky to get to work with very humble, although still very demanding chefs. There’s a lot of emotion in this work. I have learned the key for me is just to focus on what I am doing in the moment. This, and striving to stay positive no matter what really helps to keep my head on straight.
The truth is working with Chef-Proprietor Dominique Crenn (Three Michelin Star Recipient for Atelier Crenn 2018, the first female chef to obtain this distinction) has never been about gender. Chef Crenn doesn’t like to separate in that way. The team is the team. Anybody who has ever met her knows she’s very down to earth, super fun, always smiling and laughing, but at the same time she’s very serious about our work, but not in a way that creates stress. It’s interesting to be here because although we are grateful to work in a restaurant that has received so much notoriety and acknowledgment, we truly don’t focus on that. We don’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else. We just count ourselves lucky that we get to work on what we love as a team and strive to keep growing.
Atelier Crenn’s mission of reconnecting our guests with nature is very important to me and an aspect of the restaurant that I found immediately appealing when I was considering taking the position of Head Baker here. One of the first things I did was to reach out to local millers and farmers for grain. Forging these relationships with farmers and millers and using their products is something I find very creative and satisfying.
We get a lot of amazing ingredients from The Chefs’ Warehouse. One that really stands out for me is Isigny Sainte-Mère Butter. It’s just a really excellent and reliable butter that we use for a lot of different applications, from my croissants to Chef Pâtissier Juan Contreras’ very popular Brioche.
It can be difficult with bread to be super creative. In general, you want to keep it simple and use the very best ingredients. However, it is very interesting to create a new way to make a classic bread or to use a grain utilized from a heritage seed; an antique grain. This is a strong connecting point for me to Atelier Crenn in general.
Our connection to our guests is very personal. This aspect is amazing at this level. The meals we prepare is a story we are telling. We welcome the journey to providing the options our guests need. For instance one of our more popular gluten-free offerings generated from a polenta we made from heirloom corn breeds from local Full Belly Farms. From this, we created corn bread that is Vegan and gluten-free. Everybody loves it and we really love supporting small farms.
I consider myself very fortunate that my girlfriend Pastry Chef Christina Hanks and I have managed to get hired together a lot. We’ve worked together at Bottega Louie, Bouchon Bakery, The Rose Cafe, In Venice CA, and L’ATELIER de Joël Robuchon, NYC. We had been in New York City for three years working together when I got the offer to work here at Atelier Crenn. This is the first time I said I wouldn’t take the job unless they hired Christina and I together. Fortunately, they were already planning on offering Christina a Pastry Chef position.
I’ve never met another Baker-Pastry Chef couple, but couples working together in a