The Creativity Conundrum

Our pastry chef Jack Revelle and I had a wonderful meeting last week.

He and his staff-to-be have been working on the opening pastry menu.  I thought it was too creative.

Too creative ?? !!

Bread bakers like me are drawn always to tradition.   We connect to history.  We’re not interested in sun-dried tomato-chickpea-basil bread.  We assume that 6,000 years of bread have absorbed enough creativity and our responsibility is to make very well this most historically important of all foods.

Our most important value is consistency.

Pastry chefs, on the other hand, are artists. They are drawn to artistry and invention.  Their art, as they see it, comes to full flower in restaurants where they can paint on plates and “reinterpret” old ideas.

I used to see very starkly the difference between us and those pastry people when I was teaching at the Culinary Institute of America.  There career-changer students divided themselves naturally into stocky bakers, satisfied by pulling a hundred pounds of dough from the big mixers while across the way grave, meticulous pastry students created sugar statues with their blow torches.

Jack and I have been working together on Bread Furst for several years and I have had my heart set from the very beginning on turning away from the fancy to make American desserts.  Jack concurs.  But he can’t resist – nor can his colleagues, Chris, for example – invention.

I want a seasonal pie, one that looks like this:

Jack, on the other hand, has in mind something like this:

I think people want a pie that looks like a pie.  He thinks those flimsy aluminum pie plates make even good pies look cheap.

Jack pointed out that I have on the opening food menu a hot and sour asparagus soup?  If I can be creative with our food why shouldn’t he create pastry?

But I think that people are accustomed to commonplace take-out foods and we want to surprise them by being more daring with our savory food.

In pastry, on the other hand, as I see it, nothing is more commonplace than French tarts topped fruits that are never ripe.

At Bread Furst we should be different with our desserts by being familiar. Paris Brest is very nice but nothing is as good as an Alice Medrich cookie or an ice cream sandwich.

We should make the desserts people love and make them perfectly.  That’s enough novelty because Americans respect pastry but they love desserts.

We had a great discussion that delved into tradition and creativity and we found a compromise.  Jack and Chris and the others making desserts will make what I want and they will make what they want – and we’ll see.

Our creative desserts with their lemon verbena and Earl Grey flavors will be made – I am confident – with great love.  And Jack agreed to make with equal love the desserts I am betting on.

It will be a lot of fun to learn what you want.  I expect you’ll let us know.

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6 thoughts on “The Creativity Conundrum

  1. Mark , I thought I was with you all the way on the traditional side of things until I laid my eyes on your photos of my favorite dessert, pie. I liked the look of the creative pie more than the traditional pie. I felt like I could have better portion control over the creative rectangle. That was an appetizing thought and feeling. Go figure, I surprise myself.

    I do love the thought of a terrific baguette, croissants (chocolate, plain and almond). A terrific chocolate chip cookie remains a great idea in my mind.

    I love the thought of your bakery. I wish you every success.

    A future customer,

    Susan Caporaso McBride

  2. I am with you, Mark. A great baguette, corn rye, and smallish chewy malty bagel and a great cherry or strawberry/rhubarb pie will keep me coming in on a very regular basis. Think this may be an age thing. I also like restaurants with table cloths where you can have a conversation with your tablemates.

  3. Mark-
    I agree somewhat with your comment in the posting that America-type desserts can be terrific but so often around DC I am mostly disappointed with the result, i.e., pie crusts that are soggy (card-board taste usually) or fruit that has been over sugared. I will be happy to try Jack’s pies and strudels but my wife and I love french fruit tarts/pie that are made with puff pastry. I am always amazed when in France how I can come into small villages and find perfectly prepared tarts that most would think would only be found in Paris, Cannes, Nice or other large cities, I am sure Bread Furst will satisfy my appetite for the finest prepared food.and bakery items. I look forward to tasting your treats.

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