In France, most towns, even the smallest ones, have their own boulangerie and a local eatery, a buvette. I started working on Le Marais Bakery six years ago, shortly after my daughter was born, as a lifelong dream to recreate the small boulangerie of Arpajon, in the town I grew up in north of Paris. As a child, I was the one to wake up early in the morning and run down the road for the baguettes and croissants that I would bring home to my family. As I grew older, I visited bakeries around the world and found fewer and fewer, even in France, were using the traditional methods of natural levain and long fermentation in making their croissants. I was inspired by a new generation of bakers like Paris’ Christophe Vasseur of Du Pain et Des Idées and wanted to bring those same techniques to San Francisco.
Le Marais Bakery is very much a family business. On weekend mornings, you will often see my wife and daughter behind the counter, and the very talented chefs and bakers, baristas and servers, many of whom have worked together for years, share a passion and excitement for the produce we bring in from the local farmer’s every day. As the bakery grew into a bistro, the entrées have been inspired by my mother and father, both excellent cooks who take a lot of joy in creating the traditional recipes. Though they met in a small French town, my father’s father, Joaquín Ascaso, was a leader of the Spanish anarchists, while part of my mother’s family left Poland during the Second World War and assimilated in Belgium. Because of their love of travel and food, I grew up tasting some of the best cuisine in Europe, both at small cafes and grand restaurants. Those meals very much inform how I use California ingredients in our dishes.
As much as possible, we work with organic ingredients from Bay Area farmers we’ve worked with since we’ve opened. I take a lot of care in sourcing flour from Central Milling, our dairy from Straus, butter from France, an old mustard I loved as a child, berries or apples from the best growers, and though we serve many vegetarian meals, we source sustainably raised and organic meats. We do not use a lot of salt in our food, our pastries have less sugar than most, and we do not use artificial flavorings. We start with whole ingredients, because the best meals are about letting those flavors come through. I always want to hold onto the traditions of the local bistrots that you find in every town in France, where the food comes from that region and celebrates all that is great in the community. That is very much at the heart of everything we do.
We are looking forward to the year ahead, as for the past five years, we have been creating hundreds of pastries every day out of 300 square feet, and finally we will be able to move into a commissary kitchen in the Tenderloin neighborhood. We will open the commissary to customers in early 2018, so you can come in and see how we make our croissants and pastries by hand every day.