“We like being part of the community,” Zachary says. “New York is different from other cities. People are in a hurry. If the line is too long, they just leave. Bien Cuit is different. It’s like bakeries are supposed to be. It’s a place where the community gathers. People decompress whenever they are in Bien Cuit. If there are 13 people in front of them in line, our customers will actually wait to get their croissant, their coffee, and their miche to take home. People will hang out with their kids in the shop a lot, which I love. I’ve got a daughter, and I just enjoy seeing kids enjoy good food.”
In a world of prepackaged goods filled with chemicals and artificial ingredients, Zachary’s dedication to the traditional, old world method of bread baking is what makes his product so unapologetically authentic. “What sets Zachary apart from every other baker is his intuition,” Kate says. “I think baking or any sort of craft or art is a really intuitive thing. Zachary spent a long time learning fermentation. He has this innate understanding of the way it happens, and that’s what makes his bread taste so great.”
The cold, slow fermentation allows the yeast enough time to do its job, giving the bread more nuanced flavors and texture. The enzymes have time to break down the starches, convert them into simple sugars, and allow the yeast and bacteria to consume them. “If you give the yeast and bacteria a complicated diet, they’ll give you complicated gases and acids, which to us, becomes complicated and more nuanced flavors,” Zachary says. “The longer you ferment, up to a certain stage, the more complicated types of starch you give the yeast and bacteria, and the more flavors you’re going to get. More importantly, you’ll get more digestible bread because the enzymes have already done most of the digesting for you. People who say they have sensitivity to wheat come to us and say, ‘Wow, I can eat your miche. I can’t eat other bread, but I can eat your miche.’ That is why.” The final result is a mouthwatering crumb, the perfect balance of moist and airy.
That miche is Bien Cuit’s signature and best-selling bread. It is also its darkest. A high-quality blend of rye and wheat flours with a 68-hour fermentation, the miche is an immense 3-pound round loaf with a dense, tender crumb, heightened flavor, and crispy crust. The miche is not only Zachary’s most delicious bread, but it epitomizes what Bien Cuit does, Kate says. Zachary bakes the bread until it is very dark to maximize the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food, and Zachary’s dark crust, its deliciously complex flavor. The Maillard reaction turns what was once a few simple flavors into dozens.
Growing up, Zachary always had an interest in food, but fell into bread baking at the start of his career while working on the 300-acre organic Lighthouse Farm in rural Oregon when he was 19. “I took the job on the organic farm because before I went too far into food, I really wanted to understand the source of it, where it comes from, and how it works,” Zachary says. “It turned out to be one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done, and allowed me to genuinely grasp how food is produced. Now, I have relationships with all these different farmers in the area, and to understand and have done what they do makes all the difference. I learn from them rather than just tell them what I need. I have an appreciation for them, and that gives them more of an appreciation for me.”
After 13 months on the farm, Zachary worked in various restaurants saving up money to travel abroad. He spent two years in Latin America. “While I was away, it turned out that one thing that I missed about North American and European culture was the bread,” Zachary says. “So I realized that I either needed to go to Western Europe, Canada, or the United States to work on making bread.” Zachary came back to America, and took a job working for Tim Healea at Pearl Bakery in Portland, Oregon. He later worked under William Leaman at Bakery Nouveau in Seattle, Washington, and Jean Claude Canestrier at the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. He also became head baker for Georges Perrier at Philadelphia’s renowned fine dining restaurant Le Bec-Fin—which had a rating from Mobil Travel Guide of five stars in dining for much of its forty-plus years, an honor.that no other restaurant in the United States held at the time. The main thing Zachary gained from nearly 15 years of studying and apprenticing, was his unwillingness to quit. “When we first opened Bien Cuit, it was 21-hour days for me for a very long time,” Zachary says. “People don’t really understand what that means. You’ve given up on every other thing except what you have to do to make that bakery function.”