The Fresh Batch: Douglas Rae
Name: Douglas Rae
Current City: Chestertown, Md.
Current Job: Owner and Head Baker at Evergrain Bread Company
What is your background in baking and how did you get to where you are today?
I built an Alan Scott oven in my back yard when I was 14 and began learning everything I could on the subject. After working several baking jobs in New York and Maine, I went to Johnson and Wales University where I received an Associates in Baking and Pastry and a Bachelors in Food Service Entrepreneurship. After graduating, I made the move to open Evergrain Bread Company. We are on our 5th year of business.
What do you love about your job?
Creative freedom. Being able to dictate what products we focus on and deliver to our customers. I love creating an environment in which people can enjoy our products. To create a lasting memory for people when they come to Evergrain.
What are your favorite products to make?
Miche and Baguettes. They’re both so different, both in process, but also in the times they originated from. Miche was the integral naturally-leavened country loaf of France that almost everyone subsisted on. The baguette was born out of the “Pain Fantasie” movement where technology allowed for more refined flours, commercial yeast, mixers and deck ovens. These breads come from such unique periods and in my opinion represent each of their well. When I make them, I feel like I am tapping into different parts of bread history.
What do you consider to be the biggest food trends impacting your business, and how are you responding?
Gluten Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan, Low-Fat. We have customers coming in constantly looking for something compatible for diabetics, celiac, vegan, etc. We have simply held fast to what we do best. We are not trying to cater to everyone’s needs, and I feel that is a trap many business are falling into in this service oriented culture of America. Customers are being trained to show up expecting whatever amenity it is that they want when they come to an establishment. The reason why Evergrain exists is because we focus on doing a narrow spectrum of things very well. We could offer other things and do them on a similar level of quality, but there are limits to this before the quality of your original core offerings begin to break down. We focus on traditional products and we make our establishment known for that. That is what customers know to come to Evergrain for. If they want something else, they go elsewhere, and that’s ok!
What is the best advice you have received from other bakers or chefs?
Learn what it is you don't want. It is in so many ways more important to know what not to include in your shop as to what you do. The things you don’t want if allowed to exist will drag you down, sap your energy and soon leave you asking yourself why you are doing this in the first place.
Who would you would like to collaborate with in the kitchen?
Arthur Jacobs of Little Notch Bakery in Southwest Harbor, Maine. He understands and meets with the physical demands of baking in a way I identify with. If you have a 14 hour shift worth of bread to make, he’s the one that won’t miss a beat and dominate the bake.
What is the best thing you’ve eaten lately?
I am currently consulting in Mexico and the other night I had the best Fish Carpaccio of my life at Café Santa Fe in Todos Santos. Truly amazing, beautiful fish.
When you are not in the bakery, where can you be found?
Exploring, looking for innovations in both the coffee and baking worlds. They are very interconnected for me, and I love coffee almost as much as I love making bread. I will go to cities primarily to see what their coffee and café scene is like, as I feel those are the ideal environments to enjoy artisan bread.
In terms of innovation, what do you think your generation brings to the table?
Just taking things to the next level. This can be seen at the international competition level. The Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie consistently shows the newest innovations and ideas being executed on the expert level. I think with each generation come the ability to think out of the box a little bit more and correspondingly improve the craft as a whole beyond whatever innovation they might come up with.
What is something you would like to achieve that you have not done already?
I think that would be making high quality bread and pastry more accessible. I think that’s the goal of a lot of bakers. Economies of scale always interferes with bread quality at some point. The interesting challenge is how does one over come that. Chad Roberston has just teamed up with Blue Bottle Coffee and is aiming to do exactly that; scale up but maintain quality to reach a broader audience. I want to achieve that in my own way. Creating an accessible intimate experience, through the café and the products within it, is my biggest goal.