Paris is alive and well in Brooklyn. I catch snippets of French as I enter the subway. Bistro cuisine is almost as prevalent as ramen bars. And, no matter where I shop for wine, someone’s always suggesting that “super affordable bottle of Beaujolais.” The latest addition in this Francophile-ification of the borough? BK’s first-ever Maison Kayser, a multi-national bakery known for its piping-hot baguettes and grab-and-go lunches.
Chef Eric Kayser’s latest expansion just opened a few weeks ago in Downtown Brooklyn, so we figured we should take some time to chat with him about French bread, his love for Kings County, and how he turned his raison d’etre into a paycheck (after all, we could all use a little more dough). What is this pastry-mogul’s recipe for hard-earned success and how can you replicate it? Kayser explained it all to me — in heavily French-accented English — the night before his Brooklyn store’s grand opening on Court Street last month.
Have you always wanted to be a baker?
I come from four generations of bakers. From the time I was three, I have dreamed becoming a baker and of traveling. It was a long story for me, eh? I started working in a bakery when I was 16. I started to travel when I was 18.
So you really are living the dream?
Yes. Sometimes you can realize your dream.
What was your first job?
In a bakery! I think I spent seven or eight years learning, working places in France or around the world. It’s important that to see how other countries do bread and to learn about fermentation, which equipment to use, a lot of things.
How did you learn to make such good bread?
After I finished bakery school, I started to be a teacher. I started to travel, to teach other people, but at the same time learning a lot. How you can manage people, how you can push people to be better. To do a good baguette, you need good flour, good water, good salt, and good levain. You need to a lot of patience.
What made you decide to open your first bakery?
When you are working as a teacher for a long time, you start to say, “Oh my god, am I wrong or am I right?” So you decide to go show people. I opened my first bakery in 1996. I didn’t know how the business would be, but I decided to just push.
Is there a recipe for having a good bakery?
Like Donald Trump: location, location, location! (laughs) You need to have very good workers, patience for the food, good ingredients, nice equipment, and you need to have a beautiful design with a good prime location. In Paris, people know us. But to start in [a] new country you need to be at the right place. If you don’t have this ingredient [good location] it’s difficult to do something beautiful. You can see here we try to put French atmosphere.
All the time, people write me in France and they say, “Why don’t you open in Brooklyn?” I receive so many emails. And for me, it is an incredible area. You have a lot of artists, beautiful houses, beautiful streets, beautiful shops, people are always in movement here.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Usually I got to the bakery in the morning. After I go to do newspaper interviews if I’m in different countries, or I go to the office if I’m in Paris. When you’re a baker and you start to build a company, you need to understand a lot of things. I’m like – how you say? Maestro for an orchestra.
Do you eat a lot of bread?
Yes, every day, three times a day. It’s good for my body.
Word on the streets is you’re also an inventor. What did you invent?
The Fermentolevain, in 1993. I was teaching with my friend Patrick, giving lessons on how to work with natural levain. After one week we realized that the students understand nothing. We have two solutions. First solution: We are bad teachers. Second solution: It is too difficult. So we decide to take the second solution and to find a solution for a baker to have levain ready all the time.
Wow. You seriously invented a fermentation machine? Did it catch on?
At first, many bakeries all over the world bought the machine but nobody really got it.
What advice would you give to someone trying to become a baker today?
I say all the time to young people…they need to have a lot of passion and they need to work hard. If you don’t work hard, you can never be a good baker. When you start to mold a baguette, you think it’s easy, but it takes years to do very nicely. You need to spend time learning.
I have to ask … how do you feel about the gluten free trend?
We have one bakery in Paris where we just sell gluten-free bread. But we don’t sell too much. It’s a niche market. Most people don’t want to eat that. They want brioche.
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