How Bien Cuit Fills NYC's Bread Baskets
A bakery's business depends on its oven capacity. One small oven might be just enough to fill its shelves, while more ovens lead to a more ambitious business plan. We know Bien Cuit from its Smith Street store, where the ovens in back fill the space with a warm and toasty aroma—and great loaves. But owners Zachary Golper and Kate Wheatcroft also have a big baking facility down in the Sunset Park industrial zone. There, they're crafting great baked goods for coffee shops, sandwich stores, and some of the city's best high-end restaurants.
To my bread-centric tastes, too few restaurants pay real attention to their bread baskets. (Bring back Vandaag, with Nathan Berg's amazing breads!) For most chefs, it's enough to offer a few pro forma French rolls, grissini, and flatbreads. However, if they really want to integrate their bread baskets into their menus—and don't have their own ovens like Boulud and Bouley—then they turn to bakeries like Bien Cuit to produce their own bespoke bread creations.
"This is my background," says Golper, "taking a chef's cuisine and matching the flavors and textures of the dishes to bread that would be appropriate for the food."
Before he came to New York, he oversaw the ovens at Philadelphia's Le Bec-Fin. Since Bien Cuit opened, he's made bread baskets for restaurants like Aldea, Corton, Rouge Tomate, and Gramercy Tavern. Working closely with Gramercy's Chef Michael Anthony, he developed that restaurant's current offering, a Chive Pain Au Lait. Unlike Bien Cuit's more rustic retail offerings, this is a round and delicate puffball of a roll that stimulates the tastebuds more than it fills the stomach. It's suffused with a rich chive flavor that blends seamlessly with the roll's soft texture. A few grains of sea salt punctuate the top. For a Gramercy Tavern autumn harvest dinner, Zach invented a "Must & Mash" roll made from bourbon sour mash, grape must, and corn flour. (Note to Bien Cuit: let us mere mortals purchase these rolls for our home bread baskets!)
Bien Cuit also produces a more conventional roster of rolls that it sells to dozens of restaurants around the city. This includes the 'wichcraft ciabatta roll, which manages to be uniformly-sized but still crisp and well-flavored (unlike so many pale and sponge-like industrial ciabattas). It also makes the pastries sold at a number of the Joe the Art of Coffee stores. My favorite is Pineapple Whole Wheat Muffin ($2.50), made from chunks of roasted pineapple that provide a delicious, slightly sweet and rich counterpoint to the moist whole wheat dough.
About the author: Andrew Coe is the only reporter covering the city's bread beat.