2013 Carolinas Rising Star David Schnell of Brown's Court Bakery
Brown's Court Bakery
199 Saint Philip Street
Charleston, SC 29403
This is the era of the artisan—the coffee roaster, craft beer brewer, chocolatier, charcutier, and, yes, the baker. Indeed, among his craftsman counterparts, the baker may well be the most long-awaited of the artisan renaissance, with in-house bread programs and stand-alone bakeries breathing much deserved personality into the high standards of professional bread making. And into that paradigm, at just the right time and seemingly in just the right place, stepped David Schnell.
Well, almost. Schnell got his introduction to hot air (ahem) in the world of politics, where he worked for several years after returning from an extended trip abroad. Fortunately for carb-lovers everywhere, not to mention Charleston restaurants, Schnell’s now-wife convinced him to follow a deeper passion and attend culinary school.
A Georgia native, Schnell attended Johnson & Wales in Charlotte. After graduating, he found he wasn’t powerfully drawn to the savory or pastry kitchens. Instead, his path and passions took him to one of cuisine’s oldest professions: baking. Schnell’s original plan was to open somewhere in Savannah, but the tight-knit, local-obsessed food community of Charleston proved a better fit all around, so in late 2012, Schnell opened Brown’s Court Bakery. Despite being tucked away in a slightly hidden spot in Charleston, Brown’s Court is already incredibly popular among retail and wholesale customers, who can count on Schnell for anything from traditional brioche and baguettes to sriracha croissants and the mottled crust of a classic Dutch Tijgerbrod.
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Interview with Baker David Schnell of Brown’s Court Bakery - Charleston, SC
Antoinette Bruno: What year did you start your culinary career? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
David Schnell: I baked at home for a while, but really got into it while at college. I studied history, but in 2009 decided to go to culinary school. While at culinary school, I worked at a bakery and realized that baking was more for me than cooking.
AB: Where have you worked professionally?
DS: I staged at Bouchon and ended up falling in to a fortuitous situation, because the overnight head baker had recently left. I learned all my shaping techniques over here. It was a very important time for me.
AB: Do you hire bakers with and without a culinary school background?
DS: We hire both. When we first started in Charleston, there was no interest in bread. Everyone wanted to be a pastry chef. We worked three months straight without any help. And so we started hiring anyone who was interested and a hard worker. And they have all learned a lot! Now we hire people from various backgrounds. It helps if they have a background, but it’s not at all necessary.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
DS: I trained directly under Katie Gaffney at Bouchon, who was the head baker for the night shift. She taught me a lot about shaping techniques and the patience it requires to be a baker. I learned a lot from her.
AB: Do you take stagiaires in your kitchen?
DS: Yes we take stagiaires at our bakery. But it’s a rough job. Not many people are able to last very long.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a baker when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
DS: There are different shifts at the bakery, and so there are different criteria, depending on what role we are interviewing for. But the early morning hours are the true test. I need to be up at 2am, getting things started. It’s a 4am to noon shift, and I see if they can handle that. That’s the most important tell. I also look out for someone who has an “eye” for bread. At the end of the day, you are working with a living organism and you need to pay attention to all details.
AB: What advice would you offer young people just getting started?
DS: The most important part of the industry is being able to take criticism. You have to have a good work ethic, pay attention, work hard and be open to feedback. That’s the way you learn.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
DS: I love working with Asian flavors. I love pairing together sweet and spicy notes. At our bakery, we do a sriracha croissant, which is very popular.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
DS: The Taste of Bread by Raymond Calvel, Ronald Wirtz, and James MacGuire is my bible. I also follow joepastry.com. It provides a really great historical context for things.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
DS: I would love to go to Sri Lanka. I lived there for a while and learned a lot about different kinds of breads like rotis and naans over there. Down the line, I would love to have a South Asian flatbread-related place. But that’s way down the line.
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