Bien Cuit, which started with just seven employees, now has a team of 55 people making sure the retail bakery and the wholesale space function smoothly. Almost two years after launching the retail bakery, Zachary and Kate opened a 5,000-square-foot wholesale space in Sunset Park, a neighborhood south of Boerum Hill that has been an industrial center for Brooklyn for over a century. In this wholesale space, the Bien Cuit team makes bread and pastries for more than 150 accounts, including cafés, restaurants, and boutique grocery stores throughout New York City. Bien Cuit’s wholesale profits account for 50 percent of their business, and they are now expanding into Philadelphia, as well, Zachary says. Bien Cuit has grown 10 percent to 15 percent each year.
As Bien Cuit expands, Zachary stays focused on his main and overarching goal: supporting sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Since the beginning, Zachary has sourced all of his ingredients from local millers and regional farmers, seeking out heritage strains of grains cultivated in the Northeast and Quebec for centuries. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to be supporting the people who are examples of how to farm responsibly,” Zachary says. “What is the next phase of sustainable food sourcing in the world, and what are the changes we can make? What are the things we can do to preserve one of our most valuable resources, which is soil? I’m regularly putting myself in situations where I can learn more and more about what will work regarding agriculture from our end, and what can I ferment and make taste good that is sustainable. It is a lifelong effort. The bakery is a huge part of it.”
In 2015, Zachary released Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread (Regan Arts, 2015) sharing the technique and recipes to make artisanal bread accessible for the home baker. “I felt like there was something that I could share that would be a little different from what’s out there,” Zachary says. “I wasn’t going to do 50 decent recipes. They had to be 50 great recipes, and recipes that represented what I believe in.” Each bread in the book requires slow fermentation for maximum flavor and digestibility. “On a gastronomic level, I wanted to make sure that all the bread was very haute cuisine that could be applied to a rustic setting or fine dining.” Beyond sharing the classic recipes of his bakery, Zachary invented a dozen new breads for the book combining ingredients and fermentation in ways that no one has tried before.
By baking from the book, readers can support sustainable agriculture by using the type of grains that support crop rotation, an alternating cycle of planting that keeps the soil healthy and helps replenish nutrients depleted by the previous crop. “The underlying part of the book that makes the biggest difference is that I use so many grains, like buckwheat, oats, and corn, that are used in crop rotation,” Zachary says. “If you follow all of the recipes in the book, you end up supporting all the right types of the farmers.”
Bien Cuit may be a neighborhood bakery, but Zachary’s bread has made the bakery more than just a Brooklyn staple. His approach to baking and commitment to sourcing locally to promote sustainable agriculture has reached beyond New York and into the national baking and agricultural industries. He causes us to reconsider the way we source, bake, and buy our bread.
Bien Cuit’s larger team allows Zachary to spend more time with Kate and their 4-year-old daughter, Alexandra, and to keep building relationships with local farmers and millers. He still visits the bakery every day, and each time he enters, he takes a deep breath. “If the smell of the food still makes me hungry after all these years, then I know we’re doing a good job,” Zachary says.
Patrons order food from Bien Cuit knowing it will not only be delicious, but made from scratch with local, organic ingredients. Zachary says his customers trust him, and he considers that the greatest accomplishment of his career.