Interview with Baker David Schnell of Brown’s Court Bakery - Charleston, SC

by Antoinette Bruno
November 2013

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.