This is the first in our series of educators featured in our Bake Twentyfive issue. Each weekday, we will spotlight a new instructor or educator in the fields of baking, pastry, and chocolate.
Michel Suas, a native of France, started baking when he was 14. At the age of 21, he was named the head pastry chef at Restaurant Barrier, in Paris. Barrier was one of 12 French restaurants given the coveted three-star Michelin award. Suas later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and established the San Francisco Baking Institute, a renowned leader in artisan bread and pastry education, followed by TMB Baking Company and Thorough Bread Bakery shortly thereafter.
Suas is internationally recognized as an industry expert and thought leader and is a strong advocate of using education to advance the appreciation and craft of artisan baking. The Bread Bakers Guild of America awarded Suas its Golden Baguette in recognition of his enormous contribution to the Guild and the artisan baking industry. The Bread Project named him an honorary life member in recognition of his guidance and support.
SFBI provides the baking industry with the highest level of education and consulting. These services have helped many of the world’s best-known bakeries develop operational efficiency and quality production. In 2009 Suas wrote and published his critically acclaimed book, “Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach,” which has since guided many professionals in the industry.
“Healthy but sexy” are the words Suas uses to describe the future of artisan bread in the United States. The founder of the SFBI and co-founder of the award-winning San Francisco retailer b. patisserie (with co-owner Belinda Leong), Suas told a 2018 Europain Forum audience that healthy bread with whole grains “is moving up” and that “retail bakery is coming back to the big city and the small city” in America. The challenge to future growth for artisan bread depends on the ability of bakers to produce whole grain and “healthy” breads that look as “sexy” as they taste, Suas said. “When you look at it, it looks great. When you taste it, it tastes great,” he said. “If it doesn’t taste good, then don’t do it.”
Suas is excited by the fact that retail bakeries, at least in San Francisco, are enjoying a steady upswing in business, driven by a renaissance for fresh bakery products made with high quality ingredients. “The quality of bread and pastry is coming up,” says Suas, who is also proud to say that four San Francisco bakeries are now run by former teachers at the San Francisco Baking Institute, which he founded in 1996.
Partnering with Leong, a pastry chef, they opened b. patisserie in 2012. For Leong and Suas, winners of the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2018, the baker’s life is getting complicated. Upon meeting with them this summer at b. patisserie, Suas shared that they had just returned from Korea where they opened their first international b. patisserie in a four-story building in Seoul.
The menu? “They want the same products as here,” Suas says quite simply. The menu includes the classically French kouign amann and seasonal Bostock pastries that earn b. patisserie the reputation as one of the leading pastry shops in the United States. Suas says these are exciting times, with plans for new concepts ahead and young staff members who help challenge them to reach new heights. At b. patisserie, they will not rest on their laurels. “We think of the award as a gift to the staff,” he says. “They know why they are working so hard.”