By Sophia Jones
Master artisan baker Zachary Golper transformed his craft into an art form. He and the team at his bakery, Bien Cuit, are dedicated to baking bread the way people have been baking it for centuries.
From the first time he heard it, the phrase resonated with Zachary Golper. “When waiting in line at the boulangerie, I started to listen to the French who were asking for the same thing as me,” says Zachary, who spent several months studying under a third-generation pâtissier in Provence early in his career. “I thought, ‘Ah, bien cuit. Well done. That’s how you say it.’ I just loved the sound of it. It fits the way I bake.”
Today, when “artisan” is a term used frequently and sometimes loosely, Zachary is someone who truly epitomizes what it means to be a master of his trade, and you can taste it in the bread born from his neighborhood bakery, Bien Cuit. The Portland native put in the time and effort—15 years traveling across the United States, Latin America, and Europe studying under some of the most accomplished bakers in the world—to understand the science and art of baking bread from scratch, and in turn, to become one of America’s most celebrated bakers.
Zachary is known for his well-done bread with a slightly darker crust and the long, cool fermentation process he uses to make it. At the core of bread making is fermentation, the interaction of grain, yeast, and water. The dark bake and slow fermentation process at lower temperatures are what give the bread such incredible, complex flavors. This mastery of fermentation is where Zachary’s talent shines through. “When you get to a certain level of understanding with any craft, that craft can transcend into an art,” Zachary says. “Once you know how it works, you can then express yourself through that medium. Throughout history, bread has been both a craft and a staple of humanity.”
In 2011, Zachary and his wife, Kate Wheatcroft, transformed a former bookshop in a historic building on tree-lined Smith Street in the brick-and-brownstone neighborhood of northwest Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, and opened Bien Cuit. “We’ve been here five years now,” says Kate, who manages the bakery’s business side. “People in the neighborhood know us. We live in the neighborhood just four blocks away, and there is a draw in that.”
The aromas of toasted grains and yeast waft from the convection and stone hearth ovens out onto the sidewalks beyond the brick-walled storefront. Inside the bakery, locals and tourists stand in line, admiring the display case stacked high with various shapes of rustic, handmade loaves in warm, earthen hues of gold and brown—sourdoughs teaming with Sicilian olives, wild nettles fermented with goat’s milk, and of course, Zachary’s signature bread, the immense and dark-crusted miche. Zachary has both traditional breads, and unique varieties he infuses with whole grains, nuts, oats, fruits, port wine, bourbon, carrots, parsnips, and honey. And Bien Cuit’s culinary excellence extends beyond just bread. Breakfast pastries, like the twice-baked Almond Croissant with brandy, the Danish filled with pureed apple and cardamom streusel, and the Pain au Raisin Brioche with vanilla pastry cream and poached black currants, are popular at the bakery, too.