What a treat it was to sit down for a one on one chat at breakfast with Eric Kayser, one of my favorite bakers, at one of my favorite French bakeries.
Kayser, a fourth generation Parisian master baker helms the Maison Kayser empire which now spans the globe. He is known for his high quality ingredients, slow fermentation and artisanal processes, which makes up the heart of his operations worldwide.
Maison Kayser USA offers a wonderful variety of handmade breads, pastries and cakes, as well as a menu that features seasonal and organic dishes which infuses French bistro classics. Here is a synopsis of my cozy breakfast chat with Eric Kayser:
What inspired you to become a baker?
I had an actual dream when I was 3 years old where I saw my life as a baker who would travel the world and open my own place. This journey really began when I was 16 years old and I started to learn baking. After several years I began to teach baking and then I opened my own place.
What are your earliest memories of food?
My father was a baker and I still remember the first time he allowed me to make an apple pie by myself. I was about 8 years old and he gave me a knife to cut the apples and dough to make the pie with. It was perhaps one of my best memories because I did everything from baking my own apple pie to eating it to cutting my finger – all by myself!
Talk about the process of how you built your baking empire?
We started in Paris on September 13th, 1996 and within two years we had opened two more bakeries. We then expanded to Japan in 2000 – it was a very small place because we didn’t have much money then but we found that there were so many people standing on line waiting for our bread there. We then opened more locations in Japan and then expanded to other countries till we reached New York City!
What matters most to you when you walk into one of your bakeries?
I want to see that the people who work for us enjoy being with us because if they are happy then they will treat the customers well. Of course I check the quality of the products and cleanliness and so on but I really believe that if the customers are treated really well and we have great quality products, then the customers will keep coming back.
How do you manage to keep your quality in check – given your brand is spread out around the world?
Before I opened my bakeries, I was a teacher. I taught everything about baking bread – this was my job. So, I am very particular about training my people. Here in New York I have more than 15 French Chefs who I have trained and they train all the American bakers. I am just a small piece in this puzzle but I need to do my part – I need to teach and then those people teach others – it’s all about transmission of the knowhow.
Of all the breads, which is your favorite to make and eat – if you have one that is?
My favorites depend on the season. During Christmas time I love the Marron bread made with chestnuts. Right now I like to eat baguettes and in summer I like Ciabbatta. This is the reason why we offer seasonal breads at our bakeries.
What’s your regular comfort meal?
I love chicken, pasta and sunny-side up eggs!
Do you have any Kitchen disaster stories to share?
One day we had guest coming over and my wife asked me to make a cake. I was not motivated that day and I put too much flour and didn’t take too much care whilst making it. It was a disaster but I served it anyway and we are still alive!!!
What do you consider to be your best creations?
I think the Baguettes Monge. We have won a lot of prizes and awards for it.
Was there anything that you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
I love art – painting and sculpture and I love the stock market.
Where do you go when you want to eat at a restaurant? Are there any favorite cuisines?
I love to eat local food. If I am in Japan I love to eat Sushi. If I am in India I want to eat Indian food. For me it’s important to eat food the local way.
What in this journey of building your Empire has been the easiest and what has been the hardest?
The hardest thing is that I receive a lot of emails from all around the world and for me it takes a lot of time to answer all those emails. I find it difficult to give answers to peoples questions all the time and to find a good answer for them.
What do you want the brand Maison Kayser to represent?
Simple products of the highest quality! Bread is something very special but very simple. I want to offer beautiful food around the world – in Asia, in Africa – all over the world. I want people around the world to understand the knowhow of the bakery and to be able to make this simple food easily.
Can Eric Kayser ever take a day off? And if so what would you do on that day?
I have many friends that I love to be with. I love to go running, visit art galleries, go out for dinner and museums. I have so many things I want to do – I have so much energy – its crazy – so I always want to do things, see things, experience things.
How do you keep it real? How do you stay humble?
This is a very difficult job. Everyday there are so many problems with the bread and other things that it pushes you to be humble. I started working when I was 16 years old and I had to work long long hours and work very hard as its not an easy job. I think its important to remember where you came from and I do remember.
What are you most grateful for?
I am grateful to god for giving me these beautiful hands. People in France say I have “golden hands”. I say its not enough to just have the hands – you need the brain too. I also have been gifted with an incredible body – I can run a lot, I can resist a lot and this is a present from god and I say thank you for that.