Yahoo Food is proud to present a new weeklong series called “Master Class.” Throughout the year, we’ll visit with some of America’s top culinary talents and share a behind-the-scenes look at the worlds they’ve created. First up, the country’s most revered chef, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Per Se, and Bouchon Bakery. Here, Yahoo Food talks with Pastry Chef Janine Weismann of the Bouchon Bakery flagship location in Yountville about how she got her start, and how she keeps that bakery running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Pastry Chef Weismann works in the kitchen of Bouchon Bakery. (Photo: Scott Whittle)
Meeting Bouchon Bakery Pastry Chef Janine Weismann on a sunny morning, her calm demeanor gives no indication of what’s going on inside the famed, bustling bakery behind her. A line has already formed out the door of people eager to get their hands on buttery, flakey croissants; pastel-colored macarons; and TKOs, Chef Thomas Keller’s version of the Oreo cookie.
“The lights are always on,” Weismann said with a laugh. And she’s not kidding: during one November the oven was never turned off, and the bakery is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
But 32-year-old Weismann, who grew up in Sarasota, Fla., takes it all in stride. After attending a few cooking classes for extra credit in high school, she enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. Her path to pastry chef at one of the country’s top bakeries began with a tray of Linzer cookies. “I walked into a room and one class was going to make sushi and one was going to make Linzer cookies,” she said. “I knew I wanted to make cookies.” This wasn’t entirely a surprise, as sweets were part of her upbringing; Weismann said her mother, while not a cook, did love to bake. “If you were sent to bed without dessert you knew you were in trouble,” she recalled.
After earning her degree, Weismann worked in the pastry departments at Nemacolin Woodland Resort in Pennsylvania and Vidalia restaurant in Washington, D.C. She was hired at Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville in 2006 and worked on the pastry team as a commis and was promoted to chef de partie. She then moved to the flagship Bouchon Bakery as pastry sous chef, and she was promoted to pastry chef in 2010. This was no random achievement: “I said by the time I’m 30 I want to be head pastry chef wherever I am, and at 28, I made it,” Weismann said. “I was always a leader and wanting to be in charge. It’s who you are.”
The Bouchon Bakery’s macarons are one of the most popular items. (Photo: Deborah Jones.)
Weismann’s typical day isn’t necessarily filled with flour; it ranges from calling someone to clean the air ducts to sending emails, checking invoices, and conducting interviews while physically being in the kitchen to make herself available to the staff for any questions. She also liaises on a regular basis with the pastry chefs of the other Bouchon locations in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and New York City.
Her team prepares everything from modern American classics such as Oh Ohs and Fughedaboutits (elevated versions of Ho-Hos and puffed-rice treats, respectively) and coffee cake to French classics such as delicate macarons, perfectly light éclairs, seasonal tarts, croissants, pain au raisin, and pain au chocolat. Weismann and her crew also oversee all the bread production for the Keller establishments in the neighborhood (The French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Ad Hoc, and Ad Lib) plus other retail accounts in Napa Valley. Over the course of the day, they’re producing various types of baguettes, specialty items such as walnut-studded dinner rolls, a range of seasonal breads, and more.
Bouchon Bakery Pastry Chef Janine Weismann said a plate of Linzer cookies helped set her on the path to Thomas Keller’s kitchens. (Photos: Thor Swift)
It’s organized chaos; Weismann works with a sous chef and 14 others to create the hundreds of items coming out of the bakery every week. There is organizing the mise en place (a French term for the kitchen’s daily set-up), plus an endless list of tasks that includes things like separating egg yolks from the whites, making jams with seasonal fruit to fill pastries, and shaping baguettes. Weismann’s favorite? Piping macarons, chocolate work, and shaping croissants. Above all the action is a clock that hangs in every building in the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, with a blue sign below it that reads “Sense of Urgency.”
To execute all of this requires 1,000 pounds of butter, 5,400 eggs, 300 to 400 pounds of chocolate, 5,500 pounds of flour, and 1,500 pounds of sugar every single week.
The ingredients, like everything else at the bakery, are far from ordinary. Part of the mission is reaching out to local purveyors for key supplies. The butter and eggs are all sourced locally, as is the chocolate, which comes from San Francisco-based Guittard, a fifth-generation, family-run chocolate company.
Bouchon Bakery’s blueberry muffins. The bakery works with a small organic blueberry farm in Stockton, Calif., called Delta Blue to source the fruit. (Photo: Deborah Jones)
So what is it like working with a world-renowned chef? Weismann said she very much respects Chef Keller’s management style. “Chef Keller is not shy, but he’s not a pastry chef and he doesn’t pretend to be,” Weismann said. “He trusts me with a lot of ideas. He trusts what we do.”
Weismann’s guilty pleasure? Ice cream. And no, she doesn’t make her own birthday cake (favorite flavor: carrot). “I have too many pastry chef friends to make my own cake! We make them for each other,” she said.
Home bakers, take note: Chef Weismann has two pieces of advice. First, she said, use a scale. “I always tell my mom this,” she said. Volume by weight is more precise than volume in cups and also makes scaling the recipe — adjusting it up or down — much easier. “You can easily make 18 muffins instead of a dozen,” she notes. Second, don’t change the recipe or add personal touches until you have mastered it. “Follow the directions until you can make it forwards and backwards,” Weismann said.
How does Weismann not just survive, but lead? By taking a break in the middle of the day for lunch on the courtyard patio. She brings her lunch from home and makes a point to step back in the middle of her long work day, which starts at 7 a.m. and wraps up around 6 p.m. “I always say you can’t run on empty.”
Check out these delicious creations from Thomas Keller’s kitchens