A year ago, Alex Bois, 26 at the time, was launching his bread program at the new High Street on Market, the kid sister of Fork, baking the squid-ink bialys and moist kaiser rolls and rustic, local-buckwheat-cherry breads that found a cult following. But since this month's Bon Appetit rated High Street its No. 2 new restaurant in the country, citing Bois' phenomenal breads, he can hardly keep a levain on the shelf.
Q: A friend of mine said he heard you were such a purist that you wouldn't eat someone else's bread unless you knew the yeast structure. Are you that uptight?
A: Whaaaat? No! I wish I could build up that mystique. I'd love to foster that. . . .
Q: Did you grow up like most of us, eating white supermarket bread?
A: Both my parents are French. So my mother was a fantastic cook. She basically went on a mission everywhere she was at to hunt down good bread, good baguettes.
Q: So you were no stranger to fresh-baked bread?
A: Pretty much my every-day afternoon snack before soccer practice was a baguette slathered with butter, usually with dark chocolate on it, pain au chocolat.
Q: Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef from Bucks County, also had a French mother and writes about the embarrassment of being sent to school with ratatouille sandwiches. Sound familiar?
A: That's exactly it! I'd try to trade my ratatouille for someone's Lunchable, which never happened. Now, like that evil critic in the movie Ratatouille, I can tear up when I eat it.
Q: Is it that childhood French bread that you try to re-create at Fork and High Street?
A: No, I wanted to make bread that was uniquely American rather than ape the classic French breads. My father was always arguing that Americans didn't have good food. I'd tell him he was blind. America had amazing producers of beer and cheese, even bread.
Q: Were any American breads a model?
A: While I was a college student living in Northampton, Mass., I lived down the street from a bakery called the Hungry Ghost. I'd buy a sourdough loaf there, and it'd be half gone by the time I got home. So I started buying two at a time.
Q: What do you say to folks who've cut out bread because of the carbs and concerns about gluten?
A: People want to take control back over what they put into their bodies. When you change from cooking for yourself to eating out, there has to be some way to do it. Flour can be unhealthy, say, in a sugary muffin. But as part of a whole-wheat [loaf] or when starches are broken down, with the fiber in, and with a meal of greens and protein, it's another story.
Q: You say your baking staff is getting pushed to the limit. What's next?
A: We've got to upgrade or replace our single-deck Wachtel oven. The steam injection is broken. And I want to add another employee.
Q: And then?