Maison Kayser in Baker Street: A chat with boulanger Éric Kayser
Mid-morning light gushes through broad front-facing windows by the counter, bathing diners in a soft glow. It hasn’t been open long but Maison Kayser is already busy, begging the question why Eric Kayser has waited so long to open a London branch. “You need to be ready, to have a good team, to find a good location,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It’s a dream to find a great location in the right place and show people good bread, a good sandwich, a good tartine.”
A master boulanger with over 80 bakeries throughout the world, Éric Kayser’s stunning loaves have earned him plaudits from critics and the public alike. His iconic sourdough is no trendy bandwagoner: its perfect crumb and exceptional taste have been delighting customers for over two decades. This month, he opened his first bakery and cafe in the UK, a flagship store on the aptly named Baker Street.
It has all the elegance and laid-back charm of an archetypical French boulangerie, but beneath the well-polished floors lies a bakery that’s far from traditional. Rows of impressive machinery hum gently with industry, mixing and kneading and proofing kilos of dough at a time; Kayser is understandably proud of this integration: “We are going back to the old recipes, to the old breads, but we have adapted to the new technology. This is how we go from the past to the future: we take a very old recipe but use new equipment. If not, we might as well starting to go back to horses and carts!”
It’s this fusion between the past and the present that forms the core of what he’s doing here, of what he considers artisan and exceptional bread. “We are going back, working with natural flours, with apples and cherries: the fruits of the season. Step by step, we are going back to the original story of the bakery and people like that, they like the stories of their food.” He grins at us, his passion for the craft overwhelmingly apparent. You can see it in the immaculately styled cappuccinos, row after row of stunning loaves, glazed pastries under glass, all made to the same exacting standards.
We talk about home baking too, an increasingly popular way of getting fresh bread in London’s households. “If you want to do bread at home, you need to be patient. When I am running a demo on how to make good bread, we start by making the dough one day before, covering and putting it in the fridge. The next day is when we start to work with it. This is the way; we need to have a long fermentation, if you don’t do that you need to put a lot of work into it and the bread still won’t be very good.”
It’s this enthusiasm that has seen Kayser crack markets from Japan to Mexico, locations where you might not expect to find much demand for bread. Surely, after those challenges, London should be a breeze. “It’s starting to change, but if you see in Paris there are 3,500 bakeries for six million people, whereas here you have 300-400 for all these people.” He stops, and frowns: “You don’t have a solution to find fresh bread, the people want it but they can’t find it.” The swell of customers bedecked in crumbs and pastry flakes suggest he’s onto something there, and more than one businessman leaves with a fresh loaf tucked under their well-dressed arm.
Video: Filippo L’Astorina