Cookie Roberts

             I don’t write these little essays as advertisements for Bread Furst. I rarely beat the drums in this blog for our breads or tell you about new foods on the shelves. But this time I can’t resist telling about our new Cookie Roberts.

When I was young and in college I plunged into a group of politically active students from many colleges who met each other in the National Student Association.

In those days – the Fifties – we were said to be “the silent generation” that followed the “Greatest Generation” and preceded the Civil Rights/Vietnam generation of the Sixties.

But we weren’t silent at all. We campaigned for Civil Rights and disarmament. We marched to protest the Soviet repression in Hungary.   We were able (thanks, as it later turned out, to the CIA) to travel to Soviet-sponsored international youth festivals.   Politics, domestic and foreign, occupied us fully.

Nearly all my lifelong friendships were made in those days. Marriages were made among us. Many of us went on to careers in public life streaming into Washington in the early 1960s. Some of those over time became illustrious as politicians and journalists and in other professions as well.  There were even a few lawyers but no one I knew then became an investment banker.

I had a dinner party a couple of weeks ago. Former Congressman Barney Frank was visiting and was staying at my apartment. Steven and Cokie Roberts came. Steve went to high school with Barney in Bayonne, New Jersey and then to Harvard with him. Cokie was at Wellesley at that time.

Jane Mayer, the writer/author, was there with her husband, Bill Hamilton of the New York Times. David Hagedorn came with his husband Michael Widomski. Hagedorn is a former chef, now a food writer, and Widomski is at the Department of Homeland Security.

The dinner was good (if I may say so) but I had an agenda beyond serving good food and having good conversation. So when it was time for dessert I bought out a platter of four different cookies and announced that we would select “Cookie Roberts.” Everyone would have a vote but Cokie would have all the votes.


Cecile Mouthen, our pastry chef, had outdone herself. There were four cookies.




There was a bananas Foster cookie flavored with a rum glaze, chocolate chicory shortbread, a chocolate-brushed shortbread with a crunchy praline top, and a cookie with praline throughout.





And so we tasted:


We consulted:


And we chose.


The winner was the praline shortbread and it’s available at the bakery.  (As is the bananas foster cookie — the bakery staff couldn’t resist.)

We had a good time that evening, of course and the contest was a lot of fun.  But we noted as well as we always do when we see each other about the importance of lifetime friendship.






Aliens in the Kitchen

Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.                                          Franklin Roosevelt, 1938


We used to call ourselves a nation of immigrants.   We still are that – more so now perhaps than ever.   You may be tired of hearing about immigrants and immigration as that subject is on the front pages of newspapers nearly every day.

Many Latinos didn’t show up for work on February 15th, “the day without immigrants,” and many restaurants in the city closed, partially in solidarity and partly because they couldn’t open without their immigrant staff who didn’t go to work that day. It was to have been a demonstration of how dependent we are on immigrant labor – at least in the food business.


We are living in an unkind age in which some believe that newly arrived people are harming those of us born in the U.S.

The argument right now, although now aggravated, is not new at all. American history has been filled with controversies over immigration and periods of xenophobia – whether the targeted immigrants were Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, or as now Middle-Easterners and Africans, Latinos and others.

I have no wisdom to add to what has been said and written during recent years and especially during recent weeks but I have a lot of day-to-day experience with immigrants.

In 1989 when I decided to open Marvelous Market I was not acquainted with the lengths to which foreigners had to go to get employed here even though government scrutiny was lax then.   I began to meet people who lived in Mt. Pleasant and a few suburban neighborhoods. They lived in apartments often with seven, even ten other people.

It was possible then to find those who had had cooking experience or said they had; but no one had bread baking experience. The people we hired were hard-working quick learners, however.

And so they came – men who presented American names like Douglas that they supported with dodgy identification cards, or sometimes counterfeit Social Security cards and even driver’s licenses. After getting jobs with us they offered their brothers, friends, wives and even high-school aged children for part-time jobs. And feeling more secure Robert would ask to be called Raul and Douglas would re-introduce himself, this time as Asiro which of course were their real names.

Miguel Baez from El Salvador, Cesar Cfuentis from Guatamala, Eugene Sampah from the Ivory Coast, Dahmane Benarbane from Algeria – an international potpourri of men and women nearly all of whom had arrived in the U.S. under questionable circumstances and who (I hasten to add in case the immigration people are looking) eventually became legal.

Becoming legal – that’s a story. My partner Eun Yim who runs Bread Furst came to the U.S. in 1977.   Her family paid a broker $10,000 to get their visas.   Nonetheless it took three years.


When I opened Marvelous Market fake IDs were easily available on the streets of Mt. Pleasant.  I fantasized then that all the Social Security withholding we sent to fictitious accounts would help fund the trust fund for an additional few decades.

In those days there was an industry of lawyers who offered to help people who had arrived illegally get green cards that made them legal. You can imagine how much they charged and often they took their fees and did nothing.

Bread Furst’s chef, Robert Dalliah, came to Washington from Gambia in 1993 on a student visa to attend Montgomery College. He got a job at the Original Pancake House in Bethesda to support himself and then a second job doing pastry at Marvelous Market. He stopped being a student in 1995 but continued working. In 1997, he became the back cook at The BreadLine when it opened.


One day in 1998 he mentioned that he wouldn’t be coming to work the following day. Knowing how dependable he was, I demanded to know why. He said simply, “I am going to be deported tomorrow.”

I called Elliott Lichtman, an impeccible lawyer who specializes in immigration matters and over the next year or so we went through the arduous process by which Dalliah became a legal resident. I don’t know that such a thing would be possible now.

Politicians rail about our porous boarders. It still amazes me that the same people who get so hot under the collar about immigrants often are those who espouse the old theories of American exceptionalism that ought to help them understand why those who live in other lands want to be here.

I don’t know how pourous our borders used to be but they are hardly that now. It is very hard for non-citizens from many countries even to travel to the U.S. much less immigrate. And the un-American practices now being adopted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to divest us of immigrants already here remind me of the World War II roundup of Japanese that began in 1942.


Now: A Los Angeles immigrant arrested as he drops off his daughter at her school.

Now: A young woman brought to this country as a child arrested in Jackson Mississippi after speaking up for immigrants. (Her father and brother had been arrested days before.)

Last week:   ICE agents raided homes and workplaces in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.

Mr. Trump talks about “getting rid of the bad actors,” but in fact under his administration, ICE is going far beyond immigrants with histories of serious crime and is beginning to enforce immigration laws aggressively with a strategy not known and perhaps non-existent. And if Congress agrees to Mr. Trump’s request to add 15,000 agents who knows how aggressive the agency will become?

Is this what we want of America?

There is such passion in this country. Mr. Trump did what he could last year to make “illegal immigrants” the Willy Horton of the election year. He and his angry or frightened or bewildered supporters argue that these illegal people take jobs away from real Americans. But in my experience that’s wrong.

In the 27 years I have been in the food business, there has always been a shortage of cooks, wait staff, cleaners, dishwashers, etc. We in the food businesses are looking all the time for staff.   Cooks are in great demand and new restaurants are always raiding existing ones to find staff.

In the three Washington food businesses I have begun as well as in every other American food business I know, newly arrived immigrants do a lot of the work.   They are the bussers clearing tables and pouring water. Frequently they can’t understand English well enough to point customers to the washroom.


Look into the kitchen of any restaurant or into the eyes of someone sweeping the floors and you will see Spanish-speaking people doing the hard, repetitious, exacting work of food preparation and service.

Whenever I see an industrious cleaner in an office building or a gym, whenever I am served by a smiling person in a coffee job, I pitch him or her to come talk to us about a job at Bread Furst.

Some immigration opponents argue that the availability of immigrants depresses all wages.   Not in my experience.

In my experience in Washington immigrants are not taking jobs from native-born Americans.   I presume that is equally true in the fields of Texas and California where each year farmers must bring into the country as temporary workers to help with harvests.

We have always had a nativist impulse in America and anti-immigrant periods before.  But never before have we tried as we do now on our southern border to wall ourselves off.

Our new Attorney General has just given approval to using Guantanomo once again. Are we now going to create little Guantanamos in our country to hold people until we can find countries to which to send our farm workers, restaurant and construction workers – and for what?   For taking their lives in their hands to come across our borders to work hard to earn a living wage much of which they then send back to their families in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico.

It’s a crime to come here illegally.  But why has it become so important a crime?  Something terrible has happened.  We are forgetting who we are.



Cleveland Park Woes

I have been reading on the Cleveland Park neighborhood listserv an interesting discussion. It began this time with the news that 7-Eleven has rented the space that used to be Dino’s Restaurant, Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street, and will now open a store one block from the store it closed several years ago.


I say the discussion began “this time” because the neighbors in Cleveland Park pretty frequently write to each other about their disappointment with their commercial strip on Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Porter Streets.

It is not up to their standards and they have lots of explanations most of which seem right to me. Among them:

Parking is difficult in their neighborhood and people don’t walk much. The constricting little lanes on Connecticut Avenue to which the neighborhood is so attached complicate traffic and don’t permit storefronts as visible and inviting as they might be otherwise. Landlords seem willing to tolerate long vacancies in their stores rather than reduce their rents and fill the stores. The massive Metro entrance on the west side blocks the view of the stores there and is always dirty.  A lot of the strip is now owned by a large, national, publicly traded company that doesn’t care much about vacancies or the neighborhood. There are greater attractions on Wisconsin Avenue since the opening of Cathedral Commons. The neighborhood is not densely populated enough for its businesses and further residents don’t support small businesses as much as they should.


I agree with all of this. The Magruders/Palena space has been empty for two and half years, the former Dino’s for three years.

Small business is hard; it is risky. When they are entertaining the proposals from small, independent businesses landlords are able to extract few protections of consequence. They ask for personal guarantees and for larger-than-usual security deposits; but in the end they take greater risks than they would like to.

One Woodley Park resident wrote to the neighborhood site:

I can’t stress enough how problematic landlords are in this situation. Woodley Park wanted small locally owned business that would come into our neighborhood and make positive contributions to the community.

But the landlord made this argument

Market conditions demand tenants with good credit ratings, and eating establishments with a national presence have the requisite financial stability to not only sign leases but proven track records of success. Without such capabilities, the space is at risk of remaining vacant, which negatively affects the streetscape and viability of other retail spaces.

If you were a landlord wouldn’t you prefer to rent to 7-Eleven that might fail but will never default on its rent rather than a local operator who might have to struggle all the time to create a viable neighborhood business?

Businesses don’t always work well. Often they fail to pay their rent on time or at all and landlords have to make the difficult choice of hoping that things will work out or foreclosing, taking their spaces back and looking for other tenants.

Here is what another resident had to say:

Landlords invest in a neighborhood wanting nothing more than the vibrancy of the neighborhood! That said, they are people trying to earn a living, like everyone else. They’re trying to find a safe “investment” of their resources, just like everyone else. And when they spend $ tens of thousands to fit out space for a tenant (no exaggeration), PLUS pay a broker a hefty leasing fee, PLUS deal with the space being empty with no income while it’s being built, PLUS legal fees to negotiate the leases, …and then, after all that, the tenant fails and shuts the door before the lease term ends (e.g. Remember the cereal store, the StoneCold (sic) Creamery, the French pastry shop, the knitwear and running gear stores next to Petco, etc, etc…),  that’s the landlord’s money down the drain. It’s not that landlords don’t love independent retailers, or care about the neighborhood…they absolutely do! But it’s a very risky business

The 7-11 is exactly the kind of business the rental agent dreams about, a national chain with deep pockets that can carry a store that cannot always pay its own way. Neither the ANC representative nor the local residents can do anything to convince a rental agent to rent to a bookstore or stationary store, a fabric shop (one of my wishes) or a consignment shop (my other wish).  If you can crack that hard nut called the commercial rental agent, you will be accomplishing a lot.

Commercial property losses are valuable and sometimes landlords abuse them. They stop really trying to rent their vacant stores in the hope that a 7-Eleven will come along. They reject supply and demand and hold their rents at whatever level they think might be possible if some national chump does come along – and sometimes one does.

Then neighborhoods lose a second time. After having endured long periods of vacancies they end up with stores they don’t really want.

Landlords ought to be penalized for refusing to drop rents; someone wrote that in the listserv discussion:

If you want to force private building owners to stop sitting on vacant spaces and show some interest in the vitality of our neighborhood, then urge the Council to stop the practice of exempting them from the vacant property tax for up to two years if they “advertise.”

I think that’s right.

All this explains only partially why Cleveland Park appears to be doing poorly in its retail because other neighborhoods are doing better.   The other side of the neighborhood, along Wisconsin Avenue, is prospering. Van Ness is blooming. Even Adams Morgan is coming along.

Adams Morgan has been in the doldrums since 1991, even before that. It has an abundance of apparently avaricious landlords who rent their spaces to awful businesses.   Eighteenth Street looks deteriorated. It is perceived as dangerous.


But a new luxury hotel is rising on Columbia Road now and a few new restaurants and good old ones are doing very well. Adams Morgan appears to be on a slow rise.

When I decided to open Bread Furst I first looked at a space on Connecticut Avenue near the Washington Hilton, the Dupont Circle area. Then I considered a vacant space in Adams Morgan next to Mintwood Place. It had been vacant for a few years then (and is still vacant). I considered Mt. Pleasant and other spaces at Dupont Circle. I negotiated on the space at Chevy Chase Circle that is now Macon, the restaurant.

But I never considered looking in Cleveland Park.

Van Ness has never been very much of a neighborhood, not nearly as glamorous as Cleveland Park. Forest Hills is beautiful but on the whole the area is dominated by the looming University of the District of Columbia and by the massive futuristic Intelstat complex.


An unlikely candidate for renewal – but since Bread Furst opened in May 2014 here is what happened at Van Ness:

Neighbors formed a “vision committee” and applied to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street America program and to the city for a grant.



They recuited Theresa Cameron to be a full-time director of the program and she has been at work for a year guiding community and economic development, organizing neighborhood events, and recruiting small businesses to enrich the neighborhood.

It was the right time for Van Ness. The old arcade, lovable but threadbare and impractical, was about to be demolished and a high-end rental building erected. The project belongs to B.F. Saul, not a detached national giant, but a local company committed to the city.


The Saul leasing agent, Zachary Friedlis lives in the neighborhood and, with the support of the Saul Company, rejected overtures from national chain                       stores and set out to find local operators for the two retail spaces in the building.


So Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola, one of the city’s illustrious chefs, is about to open a neighborhood pasta restaurant and the operators of Broad Branch Market in Chevy Chase have opened a market-deli in the other retail space.





And the building itself is beautiful.

Park Van Ness, DC

As for us, the neighborhood values us so much that we see the same customers all the time, many several times each week. And there is no day during which someone fails to tell me how much we have done for the neighborhood.

OK, Cleveland Park. You are a few blocks down the street. Your neighborhood has always been my favorite in the city. For 60 years I have envied friends who live there. You are one mile away from Bread Furst. You should have fabulous neighborhood retail.

You have some disadvantages: You really have only half a neighborhood as the east side of Connecticut Avenue is practically in Rock Creek Park. Parking is more than difficult; it is a daunting challenge. Commercial development on the Connecticut Avenue side of your neighborhood has been eclipsed by development on the Wisconsin Avenue side. Those little parking lanes to which you are so attached are unappealing to prospective retailers. There is no possibility for customers to dash into and out of a store.   Shopping there is a project.

But you have a fabulous movie theater and a few very good restaurants.  You have far more street life than Van Ness does at the moment.


And just like us, you have a loveable but impractical little shopping mall. But what a spot it could be if you would encourage development of it into a mixed use building like our new Park Van Ness.

You know that you have a bad reputation among small business-people who say you don’t support your neighborhood’s independent business.

There are things we can do to re-energize the Conn. Ave. commercial area. One thing we should stop doing is publicly complain about our business area. We have many great businesses and it does them no benefit to have residents declare that it is a sleepy, sad place to visit. Let’s support our businesses to the rest of DC…

We can’t force building owners to lease to our desired businesses, but if we don’t support a business it can’t survive. But that isn’t how you want to influence the mix of businesses in Cleveland Park.  Let’s focus on our current businesses and show future businesses that Cleveland Park is an exciting place to be.

It puzzles me that you don’t exercise your formidable neighborhood power.

Here is what one of you wrote:

Cleveland Park looks a bit derelict anyway: broken trees, broken sidewalks, parking meters that don’t work, empty retail spaces, plus it’s a speedway five hours a day — which prevents commercial activity for those hours. Would be nice to have a total make-over, with multi-story buildings, more restaurants with outdoor seating, traffic flow rationalized… Cleveland Park has no cachet: you go there for a specific errand, not to browse or take in the ambience or to linger on the sidewalk. It needs to tart itself up.

Small business is very hard; I have written that here before and everyone knows it. It gets not easier but harder. The new wage and hour regulations of the Obama Administration are complicated, expensive, and burdensome.

The universal paid leave policy for the District cheerfully advocated by right-minded good citizens is going to make things even more difficult for small businesses.

Our American habit of passing off onto small business the costs of social services that in virtually every other country are bourn by government makes life perilous.

But we are here, a small independent bakery with no aspirations of expansion, very happy to be an important part of a single neighborhood that is self-consciously pursuing its own improvement.

Surely Cleveland Park can do all that too.




Staff Sadness

We talk a lot at Bread Furst about ways of increasing the wages we pay to staff. It’s complicated.

Bread Furst’s starting wage for sales help is $12 an hour; that is 50 cents higher than the minimum wage in Washington but it’s hardly worth boasting about. We’ll increase our minimum wage again at the end of the year and we’ll continue to increase it. But I am afraid it is always going to be too low.

Restaurants are able to pay far more than we can. Even though the minimum wage for wait staff is $2.77, the staff are not dependent on that wage. In a successful restaurant, the minimum wage becomes unimportant because of tips. A server at a busy restaurant can earn $70,000, even more, $100,000.   The wages of servers are three or four times higher than those of our sales staff.


A small independent retail food business like ours cannot compete for staff, at least not with money and I don’t know if we will ever be able to pay a living wage in a city as expensive as Washington.

We have a heterogeneous staff: People who want to learn, culinary school externs, people who want to open their own bakeries, some saving for school, some trying out a career, people who have worked with us in other food businesses, and people who respond to our ads for help or just walk in.

Some of those are people who haven’t had much work experience, are marginally employable; some don’t speak English or don’t have good work skills or interpersonal skills.

Many of them pass though the bakery very fast. Our turnover is ferocious on the sales floor; you may have noticed that.

Eun, our general manager, and I sat down last week with a young man who had been coming to work late nearly every day. Eun wanted to give him a last warning, a last chance.

I told him that I realize that being punctual all the time may be a requirement he has never before encountered. But, I told him, if you can learn to do this your opportunities for work will grow and grow.

The next morning he called Eun on the telephone and told her that he wouldn’t be coming in again; he didn’t want to be held to a standard of punctuality.

People say they oversleep. Or their grandmother died. They can’t get out of their neighborhoods because there was police activity on the block. Their boyfriends are sick. Their boyfriends are arrested. Their baby sitter didn’t show up. They have to be witnesses in a trial. Metro was late. Busses didn’t come.

We are, for many people, an entry into the labor force. That’s not a bad thing to be.  When people succeed here – when they sharpen their food skills and service skills and acquire the habits of being dependable, they can, if they want, move on to jobs that pay more – like restaurant service jobs.

We try to compete with restaurant incomes in other ways – by creating an environment that is like family, by emphasizing how much the customers like us and return and learn the names those who work here (and vice versa).


Jerimi Meade came to us May 15th. Tall, skinny with dreadlocks, he was a whirlwind and some of you may remember him. He was always in the customer areas, wiping tables, sweeping, polishing glass. I, of course, took to him immediately and got quickly fond of him.

I told him that he was my “swat team.” We walked together through the bakery’s customer areas and I showed him what I see. He told me he would like to repaint the wainscots. He told others that he really liked working here. I didn’t ask much about his life – I wish I had.

Early in July he disappeared. He stopped showing up for work.

Eun did what she always does when this happened. She telephoned him frequently and got no answer and so she worried because none of thought he was the kind of person to stop showing up.

I felt bad that he had disappeared and then I went off on my cross-country drive.

I don’t know what happened to him. Perhaps the police do. What I know is that on August 25th we learned that he had been bludgeoned to death and was accidentally discovered in a field in southeast Washington.

There had been a death notice in the Washington Post on July 27th that said this:


Passed Friday, July 15, 2016. He leaves to cherish his memory wife, Aishya; son, Nehemiah; daughter, Nyema, mother, Gwendolyn; father, Steven; six sisters; one niece; one nephew; a host of other family and friends. Services will be held Thursday, July 28, 2016 at Austin-Royster Funeral Home, 502 Kennedy Street, NW. Viewing, 10 a.m. Service, 11 a.m.


Most of us encounter this kind of violence only when we read in the Post that a person or two was killed in Washington by a gun. But one of the sadnesses of a small business that employs a diversity of people is that we encounter it a little more.

For a while a young man worked for us. He was one of two young men who accepted our invitation to stay at the nearby hotel during the massive snowstorm last winter so that we could remain open.

A few months later he was arrested and charged with having murdered his girlfriend.

Stories like that are exceptional of course. Mostly, people who come to work here with narrow work experience and narrow life experience fail simply because they can’t manage our standards.

We try. Eun teaches and coaches all the time and some of the salespeople you encounter here respond and stay with us. It’s wonderful when they do.

Jerimi might have been at Bread Furst for a long time. He was a special person. He liked being here at 6 AM, an hour before we opened. I really knew that he was special and am ashamed that I did not take the time to find out more about that specialness.   I know more now.

He had a mother and five sisters and a devoted mentor with whom he lived for a while and who was in his life steadily. He had graduated from high school, was bright and artistic and had a presence, but even so, he had trouble with the police and spent some time in jail.  I was told he sold drugs to help support his sisters and ultimately his children too.

You know the cycle: A boy gets into trouble, has an arrest record and then a jail record. He doesn’t accumulate a work history and without that but with a criminal record it becomes harder and harder to get a job.

One of our staff who got close to Jerimi and who comes from the same background says, “When you grow up in a certain environment you get drawn in even if you don’t want to.”

It’s hard to overcome childhood. Indeed it’s hard to overcome – period. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who wrote about universal change, also wrote, “Character is fate.”

This bakery is becoming what I wanted when we opened, a neighborhood place. I am happy when I see as I did one day last week three young teenaged girls sitting together after school eating cake.

It is also more than any other bakery I have started in the past a workplace of diversity

President Kennedy once said, “A rising tide lifts all ships,” but in our modern culture that has turned out not to be so true. The tide has lifted some ships a lot more than others. We can provide here a place where ships can rise slowly but many of the ships go down.

Jerimi spoke about turning his life around and I wish we could have been part of that. Jerimi had character but I don’t think it was his fate. His fate turned out to be a great deal sourer than his character.

It is sad. In some ways Jerimi had more of a chance than others do. The family that adopted him was devoted to him. He had a chance to go to summer camp in the west when he was young. He had a chance to get more educated.


He wasn’t a hero.

Another of our staff who come from the same background but without some of Jerimi’s advantages says, “You have to be careful about your friends. Jerimi wasn’t careful enough.”

Perhaps for him as well as many others, environment is fate.



B Patisserie

You don’t have to know precisely where the shop is because the first thing you see as you turn from Divisidaro onto California Street is the line that’s there at almost any time but, of course, especially thickly on weekends.



The line is out the door and down the sidewalk where people wait very patiently, I must say. Finally still in line, customers pass slowly through the door and are hit with the powerful smell of butter baking.

It’s B Patisserie in San Francisco.

You may know that Bread Furst was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award this year and last year; but you might not have noticed that in both years B Patisserie was one of the other four nominees for “best baker in America.” It deserves that.

This bakery, classic in style, is three and a half years old and is the collaboration of two people, one of whom I have written about before.

Michel Suas

Michel Suas, as I have written, has done more for baking in America than anyone else. That is to say he designed most American bakeries that make traditional breads and he created the San Francisco Baking Institute, the premier baking school in the country. His collaborator is less known and followed a classic career path.


Belinda Leong is 39 years old. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she began her pastry career at the age of 19. At first she taught herself. Then she worked for nine years at a fancy San Francisco restaurant and then treated herself to three years of stages (working to learn) in Europe – at Pierre Herme in Paris, at Bubo in Barcelona, and at Noma in Copenhagen. Then she returned to work at Manresa, the excellent restaurant south of San Francisco.

She wanted to open a pastry shop, but not to manage the business parts of a small business. That’s how she teamed up with Suas.   He too used to be a pastry chef but here he manages  business matters while she makes pastry – all the time – really all the time.

She allows herself one day off per month

As you must know by now, I don’t have a taste for refined pastries. I think that  many pastry shops sacrifice flavor for appearance, making pastries with out-of-season fruits shiny with a thick layer of gelatin covering colors that don’t really appear in nature and making them far too sweet.


I prefer classic American desserts – pies and cakes, puddings, cookies and the like. But no one could resist what Leong does.

She stands at the back of the bakery next to the oven making what she calls “modernized French” pastries. The flavors  are classics like chocolate, almond, and hazelnut. In texture many are caramelization for crunch and to add character to the sugar.


They are, like Bread Furst’s desserts, not very sweet and the flavors are sophisticated. “I am not as stuck on presentation as on flavor,” Loung says. “I don’t want to be trendy; I don’t want to do what other people are doing. But I don’t want to do only traditional things like almond and chocolate croissants. I’d rather do fruit croissants along with the traditionals.”

B Patisserie, like Bread Furst, is open seven days a week and serves 600 customers on weekdays and 1,000 customers on weekend days so as you might imagine, service is very slow.

But this is San Francisco where food customers are patient with long lines – lines like those at Tartine Bakery, at the great breakfast restaurants like Plow, at Bi-Rite’s ice cream shop, and Delfina’s pizza joint.


Patience is a virtue – not in Washington, of course.




I used to believe that the best quality of life is found in America’s smaller cities. That was before I knew Reading, Pennsylvania

I spent much of three years in Reading and after I came to know it very well and to love being there, I had a greater understanding of the impact on smaller cities of American neglect – the economic and social changes that have reduced so much of this country to poverty and blight while we refuse to spend public money on our own public good.

I arrived early on a Friday afternoon in another small city, Bentonville, Arkansas and went immediately to the Crystal Bridges Museum.

I spent the next four hours looking at the extraordinary collection of American art housed inside a Moshe Safdie building.


I stayed the night a short walk away from the museum in a beautifully appointed modern hotel called the 21-C that is really an extension of the museum. The ground floor had room after room of paintings and sculptures and every guest floor lobby above had more – drawings, quilts, more sculpture.


The following morning was Saturday and I walked again through the manicured woods between the hotel and the museum and then drove through the town looking at its perfect lawns and carefully tended houses.

I felt as if I were in the Truman Show or in Seaside, Florida

As I prepared to drive away from the town I saw a farmers’ market ahead of me in the little town square. I parked to see it.

The produce being sold there was in quality at least as good what is sold by the Dupont Circle Market in Washington and, of course, at prices a lot more modest.


And then I left town for the long drive to Amarillo Texas, my next stop and I had a lot of time to think about Bentonville.

I drove through all of Oklahoma (a big state) sometimes getting off the highway to explore.  I ate fried chicken at June’s Place in Checotah.   There wasn’t much else in Checotah.   There was, however, a Walmart.

I saw many, many Walmarts.


As I drove on Route 69 to get back to I-40, there was a Walmart Superstore. I had seem them everywhere on my drive, even in Hazard, Kentucky.

I thought about Selma, Alabama. I had been there a week before and it was the first time I had seen it since the Civil Rights march in 1965 that required Justice Department protection from the famous sheriff whose force had attacked an earlier march with dogs and firehoses.


The Edmund Pettus Bridge has not changed at all and I don’t remember what the downtown of Selma was like in 1965. I know what it looks like now – deserted – I mean really deserted, stores largely locked up, the downtown mostly abandoned.


I stopped at a coffee shop, two women serving one customer. They were happy to have another customer. We talked for a while.

Selma was a trading center and cotton market a long time ago, also a manufacturing city. Nowadays its median household income is $21,000.

When I left Selma, I drove past a huge Walmart.


To say that Walmart dominates Bentonville is one thing but what I didn’t fully understand is how much Walmart dominates all of the American landscape   I know, I know. Everyone knows this but to experience it was another thing for me and awful.

I went though towns that were always poor, Harlan, Kentucky for example. But as I passed one Walmart after another, I kept thinking: There are more than 5,000 Walmarts in America.  It’s as if Walmart is a giant vacuum cleaner that sucked the retail out of every small town I saw in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida.

When I finally got to San Francisco a couple of weeks later I noticed with a new eye the number of small corner grocery stores there are in that city. There are lots of reasons for it: San Francisco is a big city, a rich city, a city of dense neighborhood, a city that’s doing very well.

Big cities are different from small cities and smaller towns and have greater economic wherewithal. I know. The migration of Americans from smaller places to larger ones began a long time ago. I know. And I have a bias about the contributions made to communities by small businesses so consider that when you read this.

Not every town can be like Bentonville but I can think of no excuse for allowing so many towns to be like Selma.




Michel Richard

My son Philippe and I were eating rib steak with our friend Michel. It was his favorite.

Someone came to the table and whispered to him that a tray of already baked puff pastry had been dropped on the floor. He left us and went into the kitchen of Central, his restaurant.

After perhaps 20 minutes, Michel emerged, smiling broadly as he put before us a plate on which a puff pastry swan swam in a huge pool of whipped cream. So was born a Michel Richard creation made from fractured puff pastry that itself had been made with Wondra flour, an ingredient I am far too snooty ever to use.

In the food world Michel Richard was a giant and in his personal life he was outsized too.

I met Michel in 1991. Marvelous Market had opened the year before and Jean Louis Palladin had put our bread in his restaurant at the Watergate and had invited me into his huge circle of friends. When we learned that he and I would be in Los Angeles at the same time, he invited me to join him at Citrus, Michel’s restaurant in Hollywood.

I had not seen a restaurant like that before. Light and open and simply decorated with the kitchen in the front visible to all. I was ushered to a back table that was littered with champagne bottles. Jean Louis was sitting with a round bearded man. Even before introducing us, Jean Louis poured a glass for me and said, “Taste this because you will never taste it again.”

“Don’t waste it on me,” I said, “I don’t like champagne.”

Michel looked angry and asked Jean Louis, “Qu’est ce cul?”

“He’s my baker,” Jean Louis said.

Michel said to me in a voice of pure scorn, “Oh, you’re boulanger. A boulanger!” He pushed a loaf of bread across the table and asked me, “Can you make this? Can you make a bread like this?”

I didn’t know how to do it.

Seven years later on the eve of his 50th birthday Michel Richard left Los Angeles and moved to Washington to take over full time his restaurant in the Latham Hotel.

This wasn’t a good time for Michel. His family didn’t want to move, but he had tired of Los Angeles about which he complained incessantly. “They come into the restaurant and ask for a piece of grilled fish, sauce on the side.” He felt unappreciated, his art unrecognized.

I do not use the word “art” lightly; Michel was truly an artist. The walls of my apartment would convince you of that. On them is Michel’s “Jolie Pomme,” a painting he gave to friends one Christmas as well as a caricature  of me he drew in charcoal.

He drew and painted and brought his artist sensibilities to his restaurants, imagining how he would like to have his dishes look, drawing them before making them.

But he was a chef above all. As he thought visually about his foods he thought about other senses as well – how to give foods flavor combinations and unexpected and pleasurable textures.   He loved “crunch” and talked all the time about the importance of texture.

Michel had complicated relationships with everyone who loved him but during those first years in Washington he was happier than he ever had been in his life. He said so.

Jean Louis had created in Washington a unique community of chefs who supported each other and socialized, but he had left the city and moved to Las Vegas, the first important chef to move to that strange place. Michel took over Jean Louis’ role as Washington’s host and his happiness about being in Washington made him the center of the food community.

Perhaps that would not have happened except that when Michel moved here somewhat bitter just before his fiftieth birthday, we learned that his birthday was approaching and Roberto Donna organized his chef pals to give Michel a surprise party.


We all arrived furtively, plans having been made to get Michel away from Citronelle while we gathered bringing foods with us; and when he returned we surprised him in the private dining room of his own restaurant.

He was astonished and touched and knew right away that Washington for him was going to be different. He told me so.

In fact he made it different. Every afternoon he sat at Citronelle, outside or in the upstairs bar or at the chef’s table in his kitchen, and people passed by for a cigar and/or a glass. Customers, chefs, Georgetown neighbors, visiting friends, whoever wanted to come.


Wine was freely poured, good wine, and generally Michel would ask, “Are you hungry.” No, people would say, and he would respond, “I am.” Shortly thereafter slices of my bread would appear with butter and a plate of thinly sliced American “prosciutto.” (Michel, like Jean Louis, was a champion of American foods.)

He had a wonderful life then and it became the most creative period of his life. He invented incessantly. He left his restaurant at 10 pm or so, sometimes going out with others.

He returned to his home and like most chefs had to do something before he could sleep. He watched infomercials on television, the contraptions they were selling. Often he would imagine a food use for them, a new idea, a new dish; and he would order one to be sent to him.


Michel with Phyllis Richman

            Sometimes in the morning before appearing at the restaurant he would prowl Home Depot stores looking at hand tools and imagining food uses for them. And he’d bring his newly purchased tool with him to the restaurant.

Often he arrived early in the morning and could spend an entire day, sometimes more than a day, inventing a new dish or a new technique for cooking. He was perpetually excited about his work always trying something new and different, a bright orange carrot mousse atop a bright green liquid made from carrot tops, a cloud of nitrogen to dazzle my 96 year old mother before serving to her the ice cream he had made for her.  A six-foot tall croquembouche, a wedding cake for my son’s wedding reception, carried to it by four men.

He was so happy then that he even started to exercise.


In those days he produced his magnum opus, Happy in the Kitchen, a beautiful book. This was the period in which he was named best chef in America and Gourmet Magazine put him on its cover.

But far earlier when Michel was still in Los Angeles people had put the bug in his ear that he ought to “expand his brand,” as it’s now called. So he had created Citronelle, a cousin of his fabulous Citrus and in the flash of an eye, there were Citronelles all over the country.

No one I know can manage successfully restaurant chains whose greatest virtues are supposed to be creativity and personality. Michel couldn’t. The Citronelles closed one by one, all but ours.

Many of us hoped that Michel was finished with that part of his life. He was so happy focusing on Citronelle, creating, entertaining his guests and enjoying their enjoyment.

He decided to open Central in downtown Washington. That seemed all right. A second restaurant a couple of miles from his own Citronelle where Michel was now in residence.

Central was fabulously successful.

Other opportunities came and came for Michel and others to profit even more from his prodigious talents. Some of his friends implored him to be satisfied with what he was doing. His life was so good. He knew it was good.

I organized Michel’s friends to try to dissuade him from expanding because years earlier I myself had given into the temptations of more-ness and ruined the highly successful bakery I had opened in 1990.

But Michel proceeded, first opening Restaurant Michel in Tyson’s Corner, an unappreciative neighborhood of our city that skins alive worthy restaurants that deserve support. Then he opened in Atlantic City – and then Los Angeles (again) – and then Las Vegas – and then finally in New York where he failed in a horribly visible way.

He returned to Washington, spent and lost. He lived just up the street from Bread Furst where we saw him often. His friends tried to brighten his life and I think we did. Certainly no one ever had more loyal friends than Michel.


Michel with Francesco Ricchi

            Michel Richard prepared us for his death.   All who loved him – and there are so many – tried to be attentive during his last years but we knew that he would die and far too early.

Of course no one could save him and now all those who loved him are left only with our memories. I have many:

A trip with him to Brussels where he was reunited with his mentor, the greatest of pastry chefs, Gaston Lenotre, then in his 80s, who threw his arms about Michel, kissed him on both cheeks, and said, “Mon protégé, mon meilleur étudiant.”

Those many occasions when I was permitted to join Michel when he was in earnest conversation with my son, Philippe. They had a special friendship and when they arranged to have dinner they sometimes included me but only if I agreed to come late.

A trip to Paris with Michel and Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and others. We arrived (of course) in the morning and agreed to meet at 10 AM at Maison du Chocolat. When we got there and began to look at the beautiful chocolates we turned around and there was Michel sitting, eating and he turned away briefly from his chocolate bombe to give us a mischievous look.

And one more trip, a particularly memorable one because the weather in Paris was alternatingly cool and warm, and we sat outside a little café just behind the National Assembly, watching the guards patrol, sipping beer in the sun. And Michel said, “Could anything be better than this?”


Perhaps, Michel, the opportunity to do that one more time.

On the Road

I am driving across the country for no reason other than that I have not driven across the country before and therefore there is too much I have not seen. This seemed like a good time to do that.

Seeing Asheville, North Carolina for the first time was wonderful; seeing Hazard, Kentucky again after 52 years was not so wonderful. It hasn’t changed very much.


I had in Birmingham an expectedly wonderful dinner at the Highlands Bar and Grill and I was disappointed by a return to dinner at the Boone Tavern Inn in Berea Kentucky at which I spent so much time in the early Sixties.

In the old days part of the adventure of travel, a big part, was discovery. That’s still true of course. I used to love in the old days seeing signs advertising a restaurant five miles ahead, then at three miles, then at one, and then coming upon it.

It’s still possible to do it but it’s harder. The Interstate highways are so easy and tempting and the old roads not always so good.   And the Interstate system, drawing so many motorists, has it made more difficult for small local eateries that once depended on travelers to prosper now, even survive.

But the bland predictability of the Interstate’s food offerings – Shoney’s, McDonald’s, Subway, Sonic, Pizza Hut – makes it impossible for a curious hungry man to stay on those highways.

So I found myself driving down Route 331 south of Montgomery, Alabama and I began seeing signs for It Don’t Matter Family Restaurant. I was about three hours from Eglin Air Force Base, my destination (that’s another story) and when I came upon the restaurant, I turned into its parking lot

It was 11 am, Sunday morning and 22 cars and pick up trucks were in the parking lot. I looked at their license plates and nearly all were from Alabama. I took that as a good sign and parked.

The glass door had a prominent sign asking me not to wear my sidearm into the restaurant and when I entered I saw a cavernous space with many, many tables and on the left two banks of steam tables. The greeter said, “We’re buffet today. Is that alright?”

She led to a table and asked, “Sweetened tea or unsweetened?”

“You must know I’m a northerner,” I said. She smiled sweetly.

I went to the buffet and saw what others were putting on their plates. Braised beef, fried chicken, lima beans, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, an array of salads, and so on and so on.

A big man wearing shorts and a T-shirt was moving among the tables talking cheerfully to people and I asked if I might meet him. Of course he had a story:


Pete Hayes has a complicated life. He is master plumber and a master electrician who works full-time for the Montgomery school system. In real life, however, he owns this massive restaurant to which he drives each evening after work and at which he spends his weekends.

In another real life he owns Highland Kar care, an auto shop next door to the restaurant. In a real life to come he is going to open a barbecue restaurant. And in a former life he was a professional wrestler. That was life he liked best.

He was based in Atlanta and wrestled in a different town each night, the Carolinas to Michigan. On weekends he returned to Atlanta for a Saturday morning television show, then drove to Chattanooga to wrestle in the evening, then to Marietta, Ga to wrestle on Sunday afternoon and then back to Atlanta to start the week again. He was knows as “The Enforcer,” sometimes “Los Lobos,” sometimes “The Masked Superstar,” and in the last part of his career “The Skullmaster.” I gather he was always the villain.

He bought the restaurant not for himself but for his son. He intended to be there only on weekends and only to grill steaks. The first time he did it, he went to a butcher in Montgomery before driving back and bought twelve steaks. They were sold out in the first thirty minutes of the evening.

The next weekend he bought 24 and they were sold out in an hour. Now he buys whole ribs and butchers them himself. A sixteen ounce ribeye for $18. I asked how that is possible. He shrugged.

I have nothing to say about Mr. Hayes’ wrestling career but I liked the food in his restaurant and I loved the place. His story seemed to me such an American story – a high school football star from a small town who became a maintenance man and really loved wrestling, still does – now an entrepreneurial with no interest beyond family and work – certainly no thought of retirement.

“Why would I do that?” he asked me.


Water, Water Everywhere

I recently returned from a trip with Philippe, my son. We were in hot climates and at high altitudes and he reminded me several times a day to drink water. He bought bottled water for me and made me carry it around in my little sack.


My other son, Francois, is calmly critical of my water intake telling me that the thirst instinct fails in old age and that when I sense thirst it is already too late.

I irritate them by reminding how much coffee I consume and how much water is in the fruits and vegetables I like to eat (not to mention Scotch whisky and gin I like to drink); and they scoff.

When Philippe and I were at the airport returning from our trip, I watched a young woman arguing with an official at the security x-ray machines. She didn’t want to give up her half-empty bottle of water. The line grew as the woman argued before, of course, ultimately giving in.

She was about to board a flight on which water would be available and free.   I didn’t understand what she was fighting for.

I rarely drink water but I know that in this respect as in so many others I am out of step with modernity.

I was born and raised in Baltimore which had when I was being born and raised there one of the most advanced water systems in the country. We were proud of it particularly my family whose friend Abel Wolman was the architect of the system and the founder of modern sanitary engineering.

We Baltimoreans thought our water was the best.

Even so no one ever suggested to us that we “ought” to drink water. When we were thirsty we drank from the tap and from public water fountains (that were segregated by race).  We took water for granted. It was ubiquitous. It wasn’t important.

If, when I was younger, someone had used the word “hydration” I would have thought it was a mispronunciation of the flowering bush.


What did “hydration” come from? I have always known the word “thirst;” but “hydration” seems to me to be one of those ailments we invent to excuse ourselves from personal responsibility. Instead of saying, “I am thirsty,” we create an explanation to justify a feeling, “I am dehydrated.”

I must acknowledge my sons’ loving fears. I am old, perhaps too old to know when I need water. Drinking water is indeed more important at the top of Machu Picchu than at Cape May.


But most of the water we put into our bodies comes from fruits and vegetables and coffee and tea and milk and much of we put in our mouths.

As nutritionist Marion Nestle says, “Watermelon is called watermelon for a reason. It is mostly water and perfect for hot summer days.” She also points out that thirst is a good indicator of the need for water as are some other bodily signs too intimate to write about here.


Photo by Quinn Grundy

So how did the world’s mostly widely consumed beverage become so quickly treated as a need we were being deprived of?   And particularly why have people turned to bottled water to satisfy their “need.”

I see people on subway trains here and on the streets, summer and winter, carrying bottled water. Sometimes the bottles are refillable steel, more frequently they are flimsy plastic.

People buy water in grocery stores. Why do people spend their money to buy something that is available free everywhere?

Some people buy water, I suspect, because they don’t like the chlorine and other strange flavors and odors that come from their taps. Others don’t like their tap water. (I share those sentiments.)

We have not kept up our water either. What has happened in Flint Michigan is an extreme outcome of our indifferent investment in water systems, not to mention all other public services and facilities.

Others are buying bottled water as they turn away from sugared and artificially sweetened drinks. And the consequence is more and more plastic bottles to dispose of.  (Read, if you wish, about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating island of trash the size of Texas.)

But we’ve been drinking water for all of human history – long before plastic was invented.   Ceramic jugs were carried on camel trips in the desert and more recently metal water bottles were carried on long hikes. But drinking bottled water in ordinary life was mostly unheard of except that we were advised to do so in countries that were said to have undependable public water systems

People in those dark and ignorant days did leave home not carrying water. They did walk on city streets without water. People rode the subways and busses and bicycles without water bottles. It’s a wonder the human race survived.

Now people carry bottles with them as if they fear they won’t find water when they are thirsty. Now we don’t trust our thirsts and wearing water has become a fashion statement like the silly often turned-around baseball caps young men now wear.


Could there be some nefarious commercial interests in all this? Tap water is such a better choice. It’s cheap and doesn’t involve polluting plastic. It is so much better in every way even if you have to put a filter on your faucet as I do.

As Marion Nestle puts it:

…let’s start with the fact that bottled water is the most brilliantly marketed product ever invented.  The companies get it practically free out of a tap and charge you a dollar or more – sometimes a lot more – for a quart or less).  The plastic bottles pollute the environment.  Worst of all, drinking bottled water makes people less apt to be vigilant about protecting public water supplies.

I could not believe that when Philippe and I were standing on the Equator a couple of weeks ago so many people also there were carrying with them bottles of Dasani bottled in Latin America and sold to suckers like us.

I confess to you that like my grandmother, I have no love for water as a beverage. When I see all those people carrying all those plastic bottles, I want to say to them, “Water is for bathing.” But even those who are fond of drinking it – even those who think they are preventing horrid maladies ought to consider getting their water in the old-fashioned way.




It’s Never Good Enough

I am a not an easy man to work for. (Ask anyone here.) I am frequently pleased but rarely satisfied.

Each morning I walk to the bread rack to look at and feel the breads – to see if they are baked to the color I want, whether they were proofed fully before baking, whether they are heavy or light.

For several days our Palladin’s bread was too dense.









It didn’t have the crisp crust and light, airy interior it is supposed to have. And so I came to work at 3 am the other day to learn what had changed and to make it possible for us to get back the qualities we want in that bread.

One very busy Saturday morning I passed through the bread bakery and saw baguettes that were heavy and soft. (You get accustomed to looking at breads and know if they don’t look right.) I picked one up. It was indeed heavy and soft.

I asked what happened. Nafta had felt rushed when at 10:30 we ran out of the 7 am baguettes. He felt the frustration of customers and baked the second batch before they were ready to be baked.

We talked about it.

Then as fate would have it, I ran into a customer who said to me, “I come here for your baguette because it’s so wonderful.” I saw her carrying a deficient one and I resisted saying what I thought. For this reason:

A decade ago a customer was sitting in a corner of The BreadLine, my restaurant downtown. He motioned me over and said, “You make the best baguette I have ever had.”

“That’s funny,” I said, “I have never made a baguette that satisfied me”

I saw his face drop and I realized what a cruel and insulting thing I had done. Now when a customer pays a compliment I say simply, “Thank you.”

But our customers are really sophisticated and I think you expect us to police our quality. You should expect it.

IMG_2125    So every day I taste our soup and a salad or two and other foods as well. (Not good for my figure as you may have noticed.)

Sometimes I say to Robert that the fried chickpeas don’t have enough cumin or the soup needs a little salt.

That’s my job here.

I am certainly not the only person here who pays attention to what we do – far from it. Eun Yim, our manager, certainly does. She is particularly sensitive; it seems to me, about English muffins too small or bagels with that tight navel opening that I dislike

I think our staff contains a lot of critics and we want that to be the case. We want to be proud of what we do and I believe – I hope we all take every opportunity to accentuate the positive: Our baguette is the best I have made in my baking career and our croissant is perfect every day. But I remain, I guess, generally critical.

I have no right to have such confident in my judgments. I became a baker at the age of 52 and before that had been just an eater. When I was a child my grandmother used to say that I had a stomach but no palate. I hope I became discerning as an eater and certainly I always had strong opinions about food that I felt free to express. But I wasn’t a professional. (One doesn’t have to be a professional to be opinionated about food.)

When I opened Marvelous Market in 1990, I knew nothing about bread other than how to replicate some of the breads I had seen in other bakeries. We offered very little food and no pastry at all. And seven years later I audaciously opened The BreadLine, a restaurant, never having been the chef of a restaurant.

Now after 26 years of making foods that others like to eat, I may have some claim to knowledge; but I am still a novice compared to many of my colleagues whose careers began practically in childhood. I just hope I have learned enough to earn the right to my naturally opinionated personality.

When I am trying to develop a food, bread, or dessert I nearly always have in my mind what I want, how I want something to look and taste and feel. It starts with an idea that I work on in my head before using my hands.

Driving to the bakery or reading the newspaper, I get an idea.   We had received colorful carrots from the Mennonite cooperative in Pennsylvania. Roasting the carrots would make them really sweet. Pomegranates are still available and I thought about adding arils for color, texture, and flavor. Wheat berries for texture. Radicchio for a seasonal bitterness. Radicchio with wheat berries. Two wintery ingredients. Different textures. Very different flavors. Then I thought about tahini for a nutty flavor.

Great ideas, perhaps, but the salad didn’t taste good and was utterly ugly. That was a really bad idea.   It doesn’t matter; I’ll think about it and another idea will come.

I am not autonomous here, however, and I certainly don’t do all the development. When we were tasting new coffees to replace what we had, I expected certain flavors of chocolate and a certain bitterness and sweetness. We tasted coffees but it was Eun who chose La Colombe.


In the pastry kitchen Cecile Mouthen is on a spree right now.  She is creating new muffins and cookies and greater varieties of all sorts of desserts. Just yesterday she presented for sampling a baklava pie and a coffee cake – a cake made with coffee.


Much of what we all do is monitor and correct. Eun and Jesse tasted the carrot cake and thought it was gummy inside. I agreed and so did Cecile. She thought she knew why and made changes in the size of the carrot pieces inside.

A soup had too much cumin. The rye bread was flat. We make imperfect foods every day.

Sometimes we have recipe drift; a recipe becomes so familiar and made so frequently that the paper disappears and that doesn’t matter because everyone knows how to make it anyway. Except one day we notice that it’s become something other than the original recipe.

Sometimes we get a better idea. Less rice and more peas in the chicken salad. We are lucky; we we can make changes right away in our food. A multi-store bakery wouldn’t be able to do that.

We want to be proud of what we do and one of the pleasures of making foods is that we always have a chance to make them perfect the next time we make them.

One of the frustrations of making foods is that they are never perfect. This is my third bakery and although I know we are making very good foods here I am never satisfied. It’s a curse. It prevents my enjoying as much as others do what we make here. It makes me restless.

I have a secret list of improvements, changes to make in foods customers already like. I have recipe fragments for spring vegetables. I look at cookbooks and favorite blogs and websites. Others do the same thing.

If consistency is the hobgoblin, invention is the angel.

I made a list of new foods for spring. We’re going to discuss it. Other will have other ideas.

Where are the customers in all this? Well, for one thing customers make suggestions. Customers remember foods I made 25 years ago and ask that we make them again. Most important, customers criticize. (Perhaps not as much as we would like.)

But if the customers like and buy our foods shouldn’t that be sufficient, indeed shouldn’t that be conclusive?

I just don’t think so. We are unable to stop tampering.