Last Updated on March 15, 2023
It can be easy for the average person to conflate cooking and baking. Both involve a set of ingredients, heat, and time. And both have the potential to produce something delicious.
But in practice, this sense of similarity breaks down. These are actually very different disciplines. Notably, baking requires a greater degree of precision in the measuring of ingredients, the process itself, and the amount of time dedicated to each step of that process.
While cooking can often involve a certain element of improvisation– making small changes on the fly– baking has to be exact for everything to come out just right.
That’s hard enough to pull off at home, but professional bakers have to do it all on tight deadlines and in a stressful atmosphere.
It takes something special to rise to the challenge, and it takes real dedication to keep pace with the demands of fine dining.
Inspirationfeed is excited to share an exploration of high-level professional baking, guided by an expert baker who crafts delicious baked goods for some of the most well-regarded restaurants in New York City.
Melanie Legoupil, Chef Baker for the Dinex Group
As Chef Baker for the Dinex Group, Melanie Legoupil is responsible for creating all of the various breads and viennoiserie (a baked goods category nestled between bread and pastry) for Dinex’s restaurants, along with the help of a team of talented bakers.
When we asked Legoupil to share her feelings on this role, she had nothing but good things to say.
“It’s certainly the best position of my career. To be able to work with an organization like the Dinex Group is a great opportunity. I consider myself very lucky to be working with such great Chefs. And as we open more stores and restaurants, I have to adapt and change the production. It’s challenging and exciting at the same time.”
The Dinex Group, based in New York, is a group of fine dining stores and restaurants under the leadership of the renowned Chef Daniel Boulud with establishments mainly in New York but also in several other locations throughout North America and abroad.
Of course, given that Legoupil works in New York, her focus is baking for the group’s New York restaurants.
With great power comes great responsibility, and that’s actually what we’d like to focus on today: the time, consideration, and leadership needed to create a wide range of bread and viennoiserie for top restaurants every single day.
That’s a real challenge, even for an experienced baker. But Legoupil is more than up to the task, and you’re about to see why.
The whole process really starts with the people. Nobody could do all this work by themselves, and thankfully Legoupil has a team of highly-skilled bakers who help make it all happen.
Legoupil has a keen understanding of the importance of keeping things running smoothly in the bakery. The team has to create a variety of bread and viennoiserie products every shift, and of course, everything for every restaurant has to be done on time.
We’ll get to scheduling momentarily, but the human equation here is crucial. The team needs to stay efficient without wearing themselves down or creating an uncomfortable environment.
“Teamwork is essential to the operation of the bakery. If everybody is able to perform their duties in a respectful and professional environment, it creates a good work ethic.”
In other words, setting a precedent where everyone works well together not only delivers great results in the short-term but also fosters motivation and inspiration among the team. Seeing their own success proves that the system is working, letting each member of the team focus on their work rather than worrying about workplace dynamics.
Still, there’s a need for efficient communication between team members, and as a leader, Legoupil has to be not just a master baker but an effective communicator as well.
As any manager will tell you, dealing with each and every person on their own terms, based on their unique talents and shortcomings, can be a real challenge.
Strike the wrong tone with someone and it might lead to further problems. On the other hand, if you’re able to meet each person where they are and get the message across while also acknowledging their strengths, then it becomes much easier to foster loyalty.
And it seems that Legoupil has taken all this into account when it comes to communicating with her team, emphasizing the uniqueness of each person.
“Everybody is different, so when I’m addressing each team member, I have to take into account each personality and make myself understood. Then they hear what I’m saying and feel motivated to deliver.”
But there’s even more to manage, which brings us to the oversized puff pastry in the room: keeping everything running on schedule.
Yes yes, scheduling is important in just about every workplace, but in baking, it’s the unspoken core of every recipe.
As Legoupil put it, “Timing is everything! The fermentation process is based on two main factors: temperature and time. Bread making is mainly all about taking the time it needs to achieve high quality standards.”
Legoupil and her team aren’t just making bread for one high-end restaurant but for several, and keep in mind: because the menus at these restaurants are changing all the time, Legoupil also needs to adjust to match all the new dishes.
“For all of the restaurants, I consult with the Chefs of each restaurant and they express what they would like. I suggest different breads that would be appropriate, and then Chef Daniel [Boulud] has the final decision on every single product that’s on the menu.”
So not only is there a creative component here, but baking different kinds of bread also means adjusting the schedule to make sure that everything comes out in time for service and that it adheres to strict quality standards.
“An outsider might see our daily schedule as a routine, but in fact, it’s organization. We often repeat the same tasks at the same time of day because organizing the day means that we optimize our time as best as we can so everything goes smoothly and the products are not rushed. This lets us reach the level of quality that we’re aiming for.”
On top of that, Legoupil is also responsible for these restaurants’ viennoiserie as well. As a unique category within the wider world of baking, viennoiseries also have their own set of requirements, which adds yet another consideration for scheduling and time management.
“Viennoiserie takes quite some time during the day. Each step of the process needs a lot of care and attention. We usually make viennoiseries in the morning when we have most of the team. It’s better for croissants to stay in a rather cool environment so the butter doesn’t melt. The challenge with viennoiseries, and specifically croissants, is to create perfect layers. Controlling the temperature of the room, the dough, and the butter is the key.”
Ready for the table
There are so many details, so many tiny details that determine how the team’s time and effort should be spent over the course of any given day.
And this is exactly what we mean when we talk about Legoupil’s work going beyond baking. Baking, on its own, is complex enough, but baking at this level requires so much more.
We can say confidently that this would not be a job for a first-timer. Legoupil is backed up by years of baking experience. She knows what to expect, how to handle many different kinds of recipes, and she understands what teams of bakers need to be successful time and time again.
The end result is an offering of perfect products. When a guest tastes one of these creations, they shouldn’t be thinking about all the effort that went into making them. Rather, they should just enjoy the flavors, the textures, and the experience itself. That’s what all this hard work behind the scenes makes possible.
A big thanks to Ms. Legoupil for sharing her expertise with us, and thank you for joining us.