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Interview with Eric Kayser – Maison Kayser

Image credit: Joe Woodhouse

We speak to the mastermind behind the bakery Maison Kayser about his hopes for the new store in London and France’s love affair with bread.

Baking isn’t just for the Bake Off, and bread isn’t just about sliced white. Opening in London this month is Maison Kayser, one of the planet’s most popular bakeries. The internationally acclaimed restaurant-delicatessen has over a hundred stores worldwide stretching from Japan to Mexico. This new Baker Street site is their first in the UK, however. We talk to chain’s founder and first baker Eric Kayser about his hopes for the new store and France’s love affair with bread.

London Calling: Hello Eric, thank you for answering our questions today and welcome to London! How have you found your visit here and opening up your new bakery in (fittingly) Baker Street?

Eric Kayser: I love London. This city is one of my favourite places in the world. I am happy to see the people enjoying our breads and our food in London already.
LC: You’ve opened hundreds of bakeries and restaurants across the world. Do you still get nerves or excitement opening a new location?

EK: When you open in a new country, the excitement level is always so high. We need to train the people, find good suppliers and finally help customers learn about what we do and why we do it!

Photo credit: Joe Woodhouse

LC: One of the unique qualities that has really been a staple of the Maison Kayser brand has been the use of ‘liquid leavening agents’ in your bread-making. Could you explain for someone who maybe doesn’t know very much about bread-making or baking, what this is, how it works, and how it makes your bread unique?

EK: This fermentation agent is inextricably linked with the history of bread. It is a mixture of water, flour and sugars (honey, in the case of Maison Kayser) which is then chilled and allowed to rest. It was the earliest agent to be used in bread production, and contains only natural ingredients.  It fell largely out of favor in the 20th century and was replaced by yeast, which is easier to manage and produces fast-rising, high-volume bread. However, the use of yeast results in bread that has a shorter shelf-life and a less distinctive flavor than bread made with a leavening agent. This is the main reason why we set about reviving this time-honored process, and why a leavening agent is now used in all our breads, croissants, brioches and other products. The fermentation technique is particularly beneficial at a time of increasing health-consciousness, delivering products that the human body is better able to digest and tolerate. And they taste great, too!

LC: We in Britain have quite a dull attitude towards bread in comparison to France. Your family goes back four generations of bakers. You yourself have dedicated your life to bread-making. What is it that you find so fascinating about bread? And what is it that the UK has been missing out on?

EK: I cannot talk about the links between people and bread in UK – well not quite yet! However I can tell you that when you first work with the dough, this alive substance, then you have no choice but to fall in love with it!

Photo credit: Joe Woodhouse

LC: Bakeries in France have a real place within the local community – almost like a public service. It’s a tradition Maison Kayser really taps into. Yet at the same time, Maison Kayser really looks to innovate and has a very international presence. How do you balance those two sides in your business – the modern and the traditional, the local and the international?

EK: You’re right, the bakery is like a “public service” in France. I think all the bakers there do try to innovate in order to offer something new to their customer during special times of the year. The balance between traditional and modern / local and international is always an issue that is true for each business. I believe research and development is very important in order to be successful.

LC: Maison Kayser now has stores across the world – Japan, Hong Kong, Morocco, Chile. So it seems odd that it has taken you so long to hop across the channel to the UK. What was the impetus behind finally setting up a bakery in London?

EK: I have been looking for a nice place for our first bakery here for years. As I said before, I love coming to London – this is one of my favourite cities. Opportunities to find a good site that was big enough took some time. When we heard about this space of 600m² on Baker Street, we absolutely wanted to rent it!

Photo credit: Joe Woodhouse

LC: Maison Kaiser really promotes this idea that it is more than just a ‘chain’, that each store adapts to the local culture or neighbourhood where it is based. How have you tried to do this for the Baker Street bakery?

EK: This bakery restaurant is going to be a whole summary of our knowledge and our passions. It is a place where our customer can be at ease all day long. We offer nice coffee from Copéraco in the morning with a croissant or a brioche for those who are in a hurry; a full breakfast at the restaurant for those with more time - for example  “oat là là” a porridge with a French twist or perhaps classic French toast; there are quick grab and go sandwiches, or you can have hamburger for a sit-down lunch; nice pastries at tea–time or Bourguignon beef in a casserole or green curry and avocado cod cocotte for dinner

LC: If you had to pick out a dishes from your restaurant’s menu that you personally love what would that be?

EK: I love “egg cocotte” in the morning. It gives me lots of energy all day long!