Words ADAM PURCELL
THERE was a time when decent bread in Bangkok was hard to find. Unless you ventured to the city’s five-star hotels, you’d simply have to make do with the mass-produced supermarket fare, which, with its overly sweet taste and lack of crust, was never going to produce a sandwich of any consequence.
Not so today. Over the last five years, and riding high on the back of the hipster-fuelled ‘let’s-eat-healthy-like-peasants-of-yore’ food trend which proliferates at farmers’ markets in major cities around the world (that is, a focus on ‘artisanal’ – read: handmade – produce made with natural ingredients free from chemicals), ‘real’ bread has finally risen in Bangkok, and wherever you are in the city, you’re now never too far away from a superior loaf.
“The time was ripe for a bread revolution,” says Gilles Sandre, owner of Ámantee The Bakery on Chan Kao Road (Chong Nonsi), which prides itself on breads and viennoiseries made using premium organic flours and cereals from France. “After all, if you put sh*t in your mouth, you’re going to feel like sh*t. And people don’t want to feel like that. It’s simple. But people in Bangkok didn’t always have that choice. So we’re now here to make sure they do. Our bread is as natural and healthy as it gets. Eat it, and you’ll feel great.”
Gilles, who has been running his bakery together with Master Baker Jonathan Valdman since 2013 (and who now also operates branches in The EmQuartier and on Soi Ruamrudee), is just one of a handful of entrepreneurs in Bangkok who have decided to try their hand at making dough from dough. And the impact these bakeries have had has been huge: hotels, restaurants, bars, selected supermarkets, international schools, embassies – all now place daily orders with at least one of these bakeries. It’s a bread revolution.
With artisan loaves sometimes costing more than double their supermarket brethren, surely this new generation of bakers must be rolling in it, then?
While these hands-on bakers are certainly not struggling financially, some have their fingers in other industries too (Gilles, a former vet, also deals in antiques), and they readily admit that hands-on baking is hard work, a cash drain, and by no means an easy way to make a fast buck.
“It’s labour-intensive, it’s time consuming, and it doesn’t always go to plan either – especially here in Bangkok, where humidity and heat render recipes from the west almost useless,” says Gilles. “You really need to speak the language of the dough. You need to know about mathematics, chemical reactions, physical reactions and so on, so it’s far from easy work.
“Ultimately, you have to be really passionate about what you are doing. And, to maintain quality, you can never sacrifice integrity in search of profit. This is not just about making money; it’s about giving people the choice to eat well again. This, in itself, is a rich reward.”
So the next time you bite into a crispy French baguette, or jam-lathered buttery croissant, or sublimely tangy sourdough roll here in Bangkok, spare a thought for those behind its creation. They’re the city’s unsung foodie heroes, toiling through the night so you can have a more wholesome breakfast, lunch, or dinner (and the odd cheeky pastry snack in-between).
Here, we salute them.
Ámantee The Bakery
ESTABLISHED two years ago by French expat Gilles Sandre in partnership with celebrated French baker Benoît Fradette and Master Baker Jonathan Valdman, Ámantee now has three outlets in Bangkok – including its flagship, on Chan Kao Road (Chong Nonsi); a shared space in EmQuartier alongside Issaya La Pâtisserie, Wine Garage and Bordier Selection; and a brand new venue on Soi Ruamrudee, which also stocks French butter and cheese from Jean Yves Bordier, pastry from Issaya La Pâtisserie, and even some cold cuts.
In charge of baking is Benoît’s protégé, Jonathan, who wakes each morning at 3am so that, come 7am, Ámantee is redolent with the welcoming aroma of freshly baked breads and pastries.
“A good baker must not just bake bread, he must also speak the language of the dough,” says Gilles. “He should listen to its needs and know instinctively when it’s ready for the next step. This requires a lot of knowledge, skill, and experience – and this is exactly what our Master Baker, Jonathan, brings to the table. He doesn’t need a timer, he doesn’t need recipes. He simply follows his intuition and listens to the dough. This leaves me free to take care of other matters, and to take care of our customers.
“Of course, producing bread and viennoiseries the way we do, with bare hands and no chemical improvers, takes a lot of time. But if it takes time, it takes time,” he says. “And that’s what sets bakers like us apart from the factories. Quality comes before money, and we’re not afraid to experiment in pursuit of perfection.”
Ámantee’s pure rye bread (B315/kg) is fermented for 20 months prior to baking to ensure it is full of flavour and aroma; and it’s a real thing of beauty – rich and dense and delightfully chewy. The butter croissants (B55pp) and brioches (B35pp) are a big draw, and we love the fruity and nutty Nectar D’Abricot (B650/kg), made with organic wheat flour, apricot pulp, apricots, and hazelnuts.
Amantee.com, 081 814 0920
AUSTRALIAN expat Michael Conkey’s eponymous bakery is well known by expats not just for its bounty of handmade breads and pastries, but also regular picnic events and collaborations with popular Bangkok food trucks such as Daniel Thaiger.
Located at the back of a lovely house and garden (with a huge car park) on Ekamai Soi 22, the bakery’s definitely off the beaten track, but it’s well worth seeking out even if it’s just to sit on the terrace with a coffee and croissant (although you’d be a fool not to take something home from the wide array of breads and pastries on offer).
Michael, who also owns a film production company in Bangkok, is the first to admit that he never planned to be a baker – instead he was pulled into this world by fate, serendipity, and a sheer disgust and disbelief at bread that simply just wouldn’t go mouldy.
“To cut a long story short, I basically became fed up of bread that was chemical, very plain and sweet,” he says. “I knew that whatever chemicals were in such bread could be no good for me, so I decided I’d start to bake my own bread using all natural ingredients.
“What started as a hobby then became a passion. I fell in love with the whole process of baking – the sense of anticipation, the rich aromas, the subtle tweaks in flavour and texture that can only be achieved by making bread by hand, such as the little bubbles that form from slow fermentation.
“So I went to study baking in the US, and then, with my newfound skills, around five years ago I decided to establish Conkey’s and bake good bread (that is, bread with amazing flavours, aromas and textures) for people to buy here in Bangkok.
“Today, Conkey’s supplies around 20 restaurants in Bangkok and the client list continues to grow. However, we can’t scale too quickly because we want to retain what makes us special – honest, simple ingredients, and a real respect for the craft. Good bread is part science, part art and a good dash of patience. Try to rush the process, and you’ll soon lose the art.”
Helping Conkey’s maintain its culinary art here are head baker Sebastien Lanterne, who brings with him over 28 years’ baking experience – and a proclivity for producing pastries so moreish you’ll want to buy a whole tray – and Joe Kasin, a Thai baker with boundless energy who’s been with Conkey’s since it opened. Together they’re like a family, and as such Conkey’s feels like a proper village bakery – right down to the customers who turn up on bicycles each morning to grab their daily loaf.
Top sellers at the bakery include the sourdough (fermented for at least 24 hours), French baguettes, croissants, multigrain loaves, brioche, and wholewheat loaves. Sourdough starts at B300, baguettes at B120, and loaves at B200.
72 Ekamai 22. Open Tues-Sun 8.30am-5pm. 083 040 5911. facebook.com/ConkeysBakery.
AS we’ve noted, real baking – that is, baking that’s not done automatically by machines loaded with bleached flours and so-called ‘improvers’ designed to boost production – is hard work. But we shouldn’t forget that it’s a whole lot of fun too, especially as it allows you to experiment creating all kinds of creative and wonderful breads and sweet treats – and then take credit when someone finds them scrumptious.
Venture to Baked in Bangkok on Soi 23 and you get a real sense of the fun side of baking.
This relative newcomer on the scene – at two years old – is run by Thai brothers Pat and Pittinun Visetbhakdi alongside Canadian expat (and well-known jazz musican) Andy Poole. They conduct their baking in a well-equipped, air-conditioned portacabin at the back of a parking lot on Sukhumvit 23, and it’s a den of good bread making, cake baking, and hearty experimentation, with all kinds of fruit-infused starter cultures bubbling away on a large central table.
All three are graduates of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, where they trained in French techniques, and they’ve channeled the knowledge gained there (plus the brothers’ experience gained from working at top hotels and restaurants such as Anantara and Sirocco) into a bustling little bakery which now supplies upmarket restaurants like Meatlicious, Sühring and Water Library, as well as hotels and embassies throughout Bangkok.
The trio also recently employed one experienced pastry chef and one experienced baker to help them create an even bigger range of cakes and bread.
"We don’t think we have the best bread in town, but we definitely think we have some of the best. And our philosophy is to always keep getting better and better, adding to our product line but always maintaining high standards and by using high quality flour from Japan, which is unbleached and natural, and the same specs as the best flour from France.”
Baked in Bangkok tested over 100 different croissant recipes before settling on the one they’re happy with now. “And this is another side of our business,” says Pat. “We’re constantly experimenting in the pursuit of perfection, which may sound futile, but it does result in better breads and pastries.
“We’re one of the youngest bakers in the industry, but we have a lot of heart and a lot of passion and we’re determined to do things right. And that’s what makes it exciting; for us, bread is the heart and soul.”
At time of this writing Baked in Bangkok’s roadside shop on Soi 23 was undergoing renovations, but it should be open by the time you read this. Home delivery is available for a B100 flat fee to most areas.
Highlights include Traditional French baguette (B100), Sourdough batard (B125), Bagels (B300 per dozen), and Regular boule (B125). Also check out the scones (B250 for half a dozen) and choc chip cookies topped with sea salt (B150 for half a dozen).
64 Sukhumvit Soi 23, Gate 2 of Srinakarin Viroj University (retail unit under renovation) at De Colony Co., Ltd. bakedinbangkok.com
Le Blanc Boulangerie
AFTER 11 years of wowing crowds with its flaky, delicate pastries and handcrafted breads on Sukhumvit 39, this homely-little bakery closed up shop last month to move to a new location in Silom (which should be open by the middle of May).
The Japanese couple behind the business, baker Shinichi Ikemoto and his wife, Suzuyo, who runs front of house, tell us that we can expect to find the same array of products as before, now served up in an even cozier atmosphere.
“To maintain quality we don’t supply other restaurants or coffee shops,” says Shinichi, who trained as a baker in Osaka after falling in love with European pastries some 18 years ago. “We simply focus on our ourselves and always try to get better and better.”
It’s an admirable aim, and one that translates into scrumptious offerings such as chocolate croissant (B50), almond Danish (B65), Pain au chocolat (B65), Mixed fruit pie (B65), lovely baguettes (B60); croissants (B80), Cornish-style scones (B65), and much more.
While the couple’s bread selection is not as extensive as the other bakeries featured in this round-up, you can still expect to find a choice of white, whole wheat, cereal, and even Japanese favourites like butter bread, milk bread, and chocolate bread. The price for a small loaf ranges between B65-B80.
53/17 Soi Thanon Pan, Silom Rd. 089 502 7417.
Maison Jean Philippe
STARTING out four years ago with a team of two and selling its wares at Bangkok farmers’ markets, Maison Jean Philippe has been a runaway success. Today, baker Jean Philippe Arnaud Landry and his business partner Tom Kirk oversee a team of 40 at a 700sqm factory out in Bangna, and they supply over 40 bars, restaurants and hotels throughout the city.
They also operate their own small shop at new trendy hangout The Commons on Thonglor 17, where Jean Philippe’s famous fresh-baked baguettes (B80), sourdough rolls (B80), pure butter croissants (B60), Provencal herb bread (B80) and a tempting selection of classic French desserts are available to buy daily from 8am-9.30pm on weekdays, and till 10.30pm on weekends.
Despite the growth, Jean Philippe, whose baking knowledge stems from working alongside a fifth generation Maître Artisan Boulanger – basically a Master Craftsmen Baker, the highest official position in France – still does almost everything by hand, the traditional way, using the highest quality ingredients, such as dark rye, spelt flour and pure butter imported from France.
“We are, and always will be an artisan-style bakery,” says Tom. “From the start we’ve always wanted to be that ‘neighbourhood’ bakery that everyone can trust – and that means maintaining high quality and continuing to bake bread the way it should be baked – that is, by someone who is truly passionate about their craft and who does it by feel, rather than by using instruments. This is what makes our bread and pastries unique, and it’s what keeps people coming back for more.”
THIS longstanding German restaurant, delicatessen and coffee shop on Sukhumvit Soi 20 will celebrate its 32nd anniversary this year, a remarkable achievement that’s testament to the quality of its offerings.
While most people rave about the beer, pork knuckle, sauerkraut, and extraordinary atmosphere of the restaurant proper, there’s still a hearty contingent who extol the virtues of the delicatessen – particularly its breads and pastries made using traditional Bavarian recipes and high quality flours and ingredients imported from Germany.
Overseeing the baking operations at Bei Otto is General Manager and Executive Chef Alexander von Wnuk-Lipinski, a German national with some 21 years’ experience as a chef; and Head Baker, Khun Wichit Chittama (Nui), who has worked at Bei Otto for 21 years. Together they produce a fabulous range of German rye breads, cakes and pastries which are available to buy on site or at selected Villa Supermarkets.
“We also supply many other bars, restaurants and hotels which are impressed by the quality of our offerings,” says Alex. “All our breads are prepared and freshly baked to German standards without cutting corners or sacrificing on taste – and we offer everything from hearty, rustic breads to various rolls, Bavarian pretzels, and pretzel rolls. So there’s something for everyone.”
Highlights of the selection include the Rye Sourdough (B68); Bretzel (B35); Vollkorn bread (B72); Kraftkorn bread (B150); French country bread (B90); and Rustical bread (B90).
If you have a sweet tooth, the Apple strudel (B95) is a must – delightfully decadent, it’s the perfect marriage of apple, raisins and cinnamon, and it tastes just like the magic of Christmas. The glazed doughnut and cherry Danish are also real treats.
Sukhumvit Soi 20. Delicatessen opens Mon-Sun 8am-11pm.
02 600 869, beiotto.com
ESTABLISHED in 1991 by French baker and chef Eric J D Cornille, a former executive chef of the Oriental Hotel and Dusit Thani Group in charge of pastry, Folies provides hard-baked evidence that artisan-style bakeries can grow their business into large companies without sacrificing quality.
Twenty-five years ago, Eric made his deliveries around Bangkok by using a modified Tuk Tuk. Today, his company transports bread and pastries to all areas of the kingdom in a fleet of trucks, and even ships products to Singapore, Australia and Maldives. Folies' client list in Bangkok alone is over 250 clients-strong, and includes hotels such as Conrad, Plaza Athénée, and The Sukhothai. Folies also creates and bakes products on behalf of other companies, such as Black Canyon Coffee.
The company is divided into two – retail and wholesale – and, while there is still much love poured into the former (including Folies' original location on Nanglinchee Road; as well as an outlet at both the Royal Orchid Sheraton and Siam Paragon’s Gourmet Market), the bakery’s growth is very much in the latter, with Folies eyeing up China and more emerging markets.
“Even though we have a factory, all of our products are still finished by hand,” says Eric’s son, Louis, Folies’ operation manager. “This was started as an artisanal business and we’re passionate about maintaining that authenticity.
“Building the factory simply allowed us to offer our products on a larger scale and buy ingredients in bulk; so it’s cost effective wholesale.”
As for the retail stores, Folies continues to offer similar fare to the day it first opened – think French croissants (B50), butter wind (B45), Spinach quiche (B68), and Cinnamon rolls (B45), as well as a variety of pastry items inspired by local flavours, and an extensive selection of bread, all at reasonable prices.
Nanglichee Rd (between Soi Amon 3 and 5). Open Mon-Sat 6am-8pm; Sun from 6.30am). Folies Paragon (Gourmet Market). Open daily 10am-10pm; Folies Sheraton (in front of Si Phraya pier). Open daily 7am-8pm. www.folies.net