Checking in with Bouchon Bakery
In New York City, the city that never sleeps and where the 8½ million residents never stop eating, food trends come and go faster than you can count to 10. For a newcomer to the bakery business scene, it may make sense to concentrate on trendy new products to catch the immediate attention of the crowds. This is not the case for Bouchon Bakery, though, because chef/owner Thomas Keller spends tremendous energy on perfecting products that already taste great.
“The most important thing is staying tried and true to who we are,” says Alessandra Altieri Lopez, who oversees the brand’s operations as director of Bouchon Bakeries, in addition to leading the kitchen and retail teams nationwide.
When new or trendy pastries and breads hit the market, Lopez might ask herself: Maybe we need to create the next big thing? Then she will pause and remember valuable lessons learned from her five years at Bouchon, one of the elite retail bakery operations in the United States.
Nobody truly reinvents the classics. Nobody, for instance, reinvents jeans. For the exact same reason, she says, “you don’t reinvent the croissant.”
Altieri Lopez did travel to France where she picked up subtle techniques to make their croissants a little crispier and flakier with a bit more concentrated flavor. “We constantly want to grow,” she says, “but not reinvent.”
A History of Excellence
In July 2003, Keller opened the doors to his first Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California, next door to Bouchon Bistro and just down the road from The French Laundry. Bouchon Bakery was first conceived as a way to provide both of these restaurants with one-of-a-kind breads, but it quickly blossomed into a retail establishment among Napa Valley’s most popular destinations. Modeled after classic French boulangeries, Keller’s bakeries feature a wide selection of artisanal breads and traditional French desserts drawn from his memories of life in France.
Now with seven locations across the United States in Napa Valley, Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and New York City, Bouchon Bakery is known for offering sandwiches, quiche, soups and salads made daily, as well as a wide range of desserts including handmade viennoiserie, confections, pastries, tarts, cookies and more.
Each location offers specialty items, such as wedding cakes and favors, as well as various seasonal and holiday items, all available for special order. Select locations also specialize in catering and wholesale needs.
Altieri Lopez first joined the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group in 2009 as pastry sous chef at Per Se. During her time, she adapted quickly to the philosophy and standards of the group while effectively proving to be a leader in the kitchen. Her hard work and dedication earned her a promotion as the pastry chef for Bouchon Bakery at Time Warner Center, where she managed pastry production for both the café and retail operations.
“My job is to make people happy,” Altieri Lopez says. “We want to give our guests a full experience with all of the favorites that are American and French.”
Catering to Demand
When Bouchon evolved its business into catering, the biggest challenge involved having products “that are really great to offer that don’t compromise our quality and stay true to our brand. It’s about being really good at what we’re really good at,” Altieri Lopez says. “For catering, we are not a one-stop shop. But we can do a beautiful sandwich spread or mini scones for a bridal shower or office party. Our catering business is doing really, really well.”
Rockefeller Center handles a lot of catering business because of its close proximity to large business offices surrounding the area. Consumers are starting to change the perception of the food they expect, and demand, at an office event, Altieri Lopez says. Some clients are now specifying Bouchon Bakery by name for their events. “Where we are, the majority of people are super into food and that’s great for us. People are really looking for high quality product.”
Time Warner Center serves a lot of wholesale clients such as law firms and the Yale Club of New York City. In Yountville, California, a lot of catering business involves Napa Valley wine tours that serve gourmet bag lunches from Bouchon Bakery. “Chef Keller is a major influence in the Napa area.”
The bakery and pastry team gathers once a year, typically in late spring or summer, to plan out the 12-month holiday calendar for seasonal specials that will include flavor like pumpkin in the fall and berries in the spring and summer.
Each location is equipped with the right expertise and equipment to ensure excellent quality control. Bouchon Bakery’s Time Warner property has a chocolate machine to make peanut butter cups and other signature treats. The Rockefeller Center location features two Revent ovens, a Revent proofer and a special macaron machine that can make consistent batches of macarons by the hundreds every day.
Overall, including all locations, Bouchon Bakery sells more than 1 million macarons each year. “It’s really nice that one of our most popular items is also gluten free,” Altieri Lopez says. “I don’t see demand for macarons slowing down.”
Equipped with Bongard deck ovens, the bread department starts baking before 5 a.m. daily and bakes bread for all three New York City properties. It’s a 24-hour bakery. “You cannot stop when bread has to go in the oven. Everything is scheduled. If you’re not on time, you have to push.”
François Hiegel serves as executive head baker for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group in New York City, which includes Bouchon Bakery and per se. He has more than 10 years of experience in the field of artisan French bakery and pastry in France, London and New York. He was educated at Centre de Formation d'Apprentis (CFA) d'Eschau in France.
In the savory kitchen, you’ll find the latest innovative kitchen tools and equipment, including Hobart mixers, Robot Coupe processing equipment and CookTek induction burners. “At our New York properties, almost half of our sales are savory items,” Altieri Lopez says. “People are looking for a one-stop shop. They love their coffee, a muffin and also want a sandwich for lunch.”
Bouchon Bakery also offers a full range of house made juices, in addition to espresso drinks and coffee custom-blended by Chef Keller’s longtime partner Equator Coffee Roasters. Cold-pressed coffee drinks are also served year-round at Bouchon Bakery and created exclusively by Equator Coffees and Teas.
A Smooth Evolution
In May 2011, Keller opened Bouchon Bakery in New York City’s iconic Rockefeller Center, followed by another unveiling of Bouchon Bakery in Beverly Hills later that August. In December 2012, he simultaneously opened two additional locations of Bouchon Bakery at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
Keller is renowned for his culinary skills and his exceptionally high standards. He has established a collection of restaurants that set a new paradigm within the hospitality profession. He is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide, as well as the first American male chef to be designated a Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France. He has received countless accolades, including The Culinary Institute of America’s “Chef of the Year” Award and the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Chef” and “Outstanding Restaurateur” Awards.
Keller began his culinary career at a young age, working in the Palm Beach restaurant managed by his mother. He relocated to France in 1983, where he worked in several Michelin-starred houses including Guy Savoy and Taillevent. He opened his first restaurant, Rakel, in New York City in 1986, and then moved westward to California to work as the executive chef at the Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles. In 1994, Keller took ownership of The French Laundry in Yountville, quickly garnering nationwide acclaim. His French bistro Bouchon debuted in 1998, with Bouchon Bakery following five years later, both within walking distance of The French Laundry.
Altieri Lopez grew up in nearby Montclair, New Jersey, and attended culinary school right after high school. She was the first pastry chef for Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center when it opened 4½ years ago.
There are five pastry chefs and “probably” 60 bakers working at the New York City properties of Bouchon Bakery, according to Altieri Lopez. “We have printouts of everything, from recipes, all the ingredients and details of execution. We make it as systematic as possible.”
Nicholas Bonamico oversees the production of pastries for Bouchon Bakery and Café at Time Warner Center. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in 2001, Nicholas worked under renowned chef, Laurent Richard at La Caravelle, where he developed a lasting appreciation for French pastry and service. A brief hiatus from cooking afforded him the time to earn an undergraduate degree in history with a minor in classics from The City College of New York and a graduate degree in theology from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
Upon returning to New York in 2006, he applied for the chef de partie position at the newly opened Bouchon Bakery, Time Warner Center with the hope of fulfilling a lifelong dream of working with Chef Thomas Keller. He landed the job. And in just five years, under the guidance of Sebastien Rouxel and Richard Capizzi, Nicholas worked his way to becoming a pastry chef as well. He continues to be inspired by his family, particularly by his father, who gave him both a love for sweets and a respect for food, matched only by a commitment to cleanliness and honoring tradition.
In 2011, Altieri Lopez was the opening pastry chef for Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center. Two years later, she was promoted to also serve as general manager. Chef Keller entrusted her with a dual position because of her strong leadership for the entire team and dedicated oversight with daily operations.
Prior to joining the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, she worked at Park Avenue Café in New York City. In 2006, she earned a position at Relais Dessert Payard Patisserie & Bistro, where she later became pastry sous chef. She grew up in New Jersey in a traditional Italian family that loves to cook. Through her mother and grandmother bringing people together with food, she developed a love for cooking on her own. She attended culinary school at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she earned her an associate’s degree in Pastry Arts.