The Hard Realities of Commercial Bread Making
Silent Treatment: Loic Feillet knows how to take criticism
Loic Feillet is, without question, one of the area's most skilled bakers. The owner of Panorama Baking Co. in Alexandria has, over the years, sold bread to some of the finest restaurants in the District, including both CityZen and Citronelle. But when Feillet took part in the Washington City Paper's debut baguette competition, his entry finished far down the list.
Feillet's loaf scored only 24 out of a possible 80 points, placing it eighth among the 12 competing breads. The baker, whom I asked to join our contest as a non-voting judge, remained mum as his fellow critics sliced and diced their way through the various baguettes. Some of the judges were not kind to Feillet's bread.
"It looks really good," said CityZen chef Eric Ziebold. "I was surprised. It did not taste good." On his scorecard, Ziebold awarded the baguette only 10 out of a possible 20 points. Mark Furstenberg, founder of both Marvelous Market and Breadline, scored the bread slightly higher, giving Feillet 11.5 points, but his comments were coarser than Ziebold's.
The crust, Furstenberg noted, was "old — should be better." As for the crumb, or the interior of the bread, the baker wrote on his scorecard that it was "dense" and "badly done."
It was only after all the breads were sampled and all the scores tallied that Feillet finally spoke in defense of his baguette.
"I made this baguette not to my personal tastes," Feillet told the crew gathered around the conference room table. "It's made according to the will of my customers."
In fact, Feillet told us, he used to make a baguette based on master baker Eric Kayser's recipe, but when Feillet moved from Florida to Alexandria about four years ago, he learned that his clientele wasn't interested in a classic French baguette. "It was a nightmare," Feillet added. "All the customers wailed, 'What is this baguette?'"
Feillet calls what he makes now "commercial bread," meant for many of the restaurants he serves, not for retail sales. (I should note that the high-end restaurants mentioned above don't or didn't buy Feillet's baguettes, but some of the other breads he produces.)
His customers, Feillet added, "want something very soft. I can't go against my customers."
Upon hearing this tale of woe, Furstenberg offered some advice to Feillet: "Never lower yourself to your customers' tastes."
Perhaps realizing the harshness of his words, Furstenberg immediately changed his tone. "You don't want to fight with your customers, I understand that," Furstenberg said. "I want to fight with my customers."
Photo by Darrow Montgomery