Interview with New Orleans Rising Star Artisan Graison Gill of Bellegarde Bakery

by Caroline Hatchett
February 2016

CH: What distinguishes Bellegarde from other New Orleans bakeries?
We shape everything here. We bake every day except Mondays. Someone is here every day, and we’ve never closed for an extensive period of time. At the end of the day, it’s a commitment. I think I did Thanksgiving last year, someone else did Christmas. We keep things succinct and organized—everything is portioned out. We do three orders and don’t do graveyard so everything is ready at 7, because some people don’t use bread until the evening. We make three doughs, but fold different things in. I’ve worked into many places where they bite off more they can chew in terms of varieties. That’s the issue. There’s also a myth of sourdough, that it has an inception and genesis, but no bearing on flavor. We do our sourdough starter twice a day with a 75% whole wheat starter. 

Caroline Hatchett: How did you ultimately launch the bakery? What were the finances?
Graison Gill:
 Accessibility to money gives you the ability to open a bakery. What you put in is what you’re going to receive, the more you can share. This place isn’t inspiring physically, but I’m comfortable. It cost me $50,000 to get going. Other people pay $250,000. Historically, this was a Gambino’s bakery, famous for Doberge. They moved out to near airport in the ‘80s. The whole place has paradoxical precedent of having bakery. 

CH: How have you adapted your craft to a new climate?
We’ve made a few permutations since it’s a subtropical climate and not always perfect. We know quantity and volume, and on busy days we break into 15 minute increments. We have this water chiller in the corner that spits out water at a desired temperature and volume, and that facilitates consistency. It’s knowing craft and knowing formulas, as well as being comfortable and engaging in verbal discussion amongst everyone regarding the dough. It’s a familiarity thing, about exposure to this bakery, confidence, composure, and consistency in ingredients. There’s no secret.

CH: Milling grains is central to your philosophy. Have you tried to use local wheat? 
GG: Five years ago, I called Louisiana State University. I met a wheat breeder and tried to grow wheat a mile from here. In Louisiana, we harvest wheat at the end of April, but it’s also the rainy season. I was going harvest wheat but lost the entire crop to rain. I use 10,000 pounds of flour a month. What do you do with a bad crop? 

CH: What oven are you using?
A Bakers Best deck oven. Not top of the line, but we make incredible bread working with the bare minimum. We have a few different mixers, an Italian spiral, 35 to 40 years old, and a fork mixer. We’re getting our new mill, one of the biggest in the country, that’s coming at the end of the month. It’s made by Bar Vermont Granite. They own a bakery and make their own mills. Runs slow, but it’s built by people who use it. 

CH: So what’s next?
I met someone a few weeks ago who’s a real estate developer, like to buy a building. Even if that happens, it’s two years out. Five years is enough. I’m comfortable with myself, the city, and what I’m doing to own a building. I applied for a Federal Loan and that was that. The goal is identity preserved whether it’s coffee, malt from Cascades, painting, or music.

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