Zachary Golper both craved and understood the connection between community and food a young age. And at 18, inspired by his mother and watching Jeff Smith’s “The Frugal Gourmet,” Golper set out to join the ranks of artisans, making food and engaging the world around them.
Golper began his training in rural Oregon under a baker who used a hand-built, wood-fired oven. Mastering the ancient art of bread baking then took him to Austin’s Asti Trattoria; Toas, New Mexico; Portland’s Pearl Bakery, where he worked with Greg Mistel and fellow Rising Star Artisan Tim Healea; and Seattle to study under Coupe de Monde winner William Leaman at Bakery Nouveau. After a formative stage with a third-generation patissier in Provence, Golper returned to the States to help with a Las Vegas casino opening with Chef Jean Claude Canestrier, a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France and World Pastry Champion. And he then took on the East Coast, reinventing the bread program at George Perrier’s Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia.
In 2011, Golper transformed his bread baking knowledge into bakeshop, Bien Cuit with his wife and partner Kate Wheatcroft. Since then, the Boerum Hill bakery has earned “best of” nods from The New York Times, New York Magazine, Food and Wine, Saveur, and Bon Appetit, and Golper was named one of Dessert Professional’s “Top 10 Bakers in the United States.” Just in time for just in time for Christmas 2012, Golper opened a second Bien Cuit outpost to serve Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Why: Health should not be a first world privilege.
About: Doctors Without Borders provides independent medical and humanitarian assistance in more than 60 countries.
Artisan Zachary Golper of Bien CuitDan Catinella: What year did you start your culinary career? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Zachary Golper: I started making food for others in 1995. As a child, Jeff Smith of The Frugal Gourmet and my mother were my first cooking inspirations. But a desire to feed people and to be connected with the global community on a culinary and agricultural level was very strong even as a teenager.
DC: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
ZG: ASTI Trattoria with Lisa Fox; Pearl Bakery with Tim Healea and Greg Mistel; Bakery Nouveau with William Leaman (Gold Cup Coup de Monde); M Resort with Jean-Claude Canestrier (Meilleur Ouvrier de France); Le Bec-Fin with George Perrier.
DC: Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
ZG: I hire both. If someone gives what it takes to get the job done for years on end with only the intention to learn every day, that's a person I want on my team, school or no school.
DC: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
ZG: From K Clark I learned patience and maturity in the kitchen; from Jean-Claude Canestrier, leadership and control of craft; from William Leaman, multi-tasking at a 24-hour operation; from Christian La laison, humility and confectionary.
DC: In which kitchens have you staged? Which experiences were the most influential? Do you take stagiaires in your kitchen?
ZG: About a dozen that I guess I've staged in, ranging from 4½ months from Le Notre to one afternoon in a Guatemalan Garifuna Kitchen. I take stagiaires because it helps develop a sense of leadership and ownership of the craft in my team. Unfortunately, often you get what you pay for with stagiaires!!
DC: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you're interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
ZG: I ask, "do you hate sleep?" I want to hear them say, "I hate sleep, I only want to work."
DC: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
ZG: Learn how to operate the dish pit and how to sweep the floor. Then learn how to cook or bake.
DC: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or under utilized? Why?
ZG: Anchovies. For most, it's too intense. But if applied to flavors thoughtfully, it is haunting and quite nuanced.
DC: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
ZG: Bread and butter.
DC: What's your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
ZG: Apart from ingredients, the only thing a baker needs is an oven. Hands can do the rest.
DC: What are your favorite cookbooks?
ZG: The Taste of Bread by Raymond Calvel; Mes Tartes by Christine Ferber.
DC: Define "American Cuisine." What does it mean to you?
ZG: The contemporary interpretation of cooking techniques that were historically popular in this nation.
DC: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
ZG: Peru. The potatoes are life changing. But really everywhere has something to offer, if you're paying attention.
DC: What languages do you speak?
ZG: English, Spanish and broken French.
DC: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path –in your city? What is your favorite dish there?
ZG: Soul Spot – Chicken and Dumplings with Collard Greens.
DC: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
ZG: Sustainable food sourcing as well as smaller restaurants with lower priced build outs and low-key atmospheres. Because of this, a lot of chefs are able to be owners.
DC: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
ZG: Explore the possibilities, but never lose touch with tradition. Keep flavors clean and identifiable. Ferment slowly, but work quickly.
DC: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? What would you serve? Who would you most like to cook for you?
ZG: My grandmother. She passed away before I ever got into a kitchen. I would make tartines of smoked herring and brined shallots with caperberries and Leonora chèvre. My grandmother was the best. Her food was epic.
DC: Have you taken any steps to become a sustainable restaurant? What are those steps?
ZG: We source as much of our ingredients from local and sustainable farms as possible. Even before opening we had developed long lasting relationships with many farmers in upstate. We continually try to use dairy, produce and grains from within New York State. Our delivery operation is coordinated so we use as little gasoline as possible.
DC: How are you involved in your local culinary community? Nationally/Globally?
ZG: We support the baking community by offering stages and I talk to anyone who comes to me with technical questions. Nationally we support the BBGA [Bread Bakers Guild of America]. Globally, we hope to have an effect through supporting the philosophy of Slow Food and fair pay and trade.
DC: What are some of your favorite food-related charities?
ZG: Share Our Strength; Hope Foundation; City Harvest; Nourishing USA.
DC: If you weren't a chef what do you think you'd be doing?
ZG: I would probably be involved with agriculture and food and agriculture education.
DC: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
ZG: Short term, success is a team of people with a common goal, happy and excited to be there every day, and a line of customers happy and excited to eat the things my team can make. Long-term, to positively affect food making and agriculture.