Iconic traditions remain with ownership change
"That's a good question." Ben said reflecting on his past that brought him to business owner and head chef of the popular Uppercrust Bakery.
"I was home alone as a Vassar college undergraduate student on break in Rochester, New York, and there was literally nothing in the refrigerator," he said contemplating his past.
"I do remember my mom being frustrated at how messy I left the kitchen that month," Ben chuckled.
At school, the established lover of medieval literature and the American transcendentalist movement and member of the Vassar Men's Tennis Team for food discoveries was your typical undergraduate student.
"I was like most students, grabbing lunch here, eating on the run there," Ben said. "When the family moved to Gainesville, I started working at Uppercrust well after graduating," Ben said. "Meeting the previous owner Jacqueline Duffy and seeing her cooking processes and philosophy was eye opening for me."
"After working with her for three and-a-half years, I could sometimes see the grind of 4:00 am mornings and 12 hour days getting the best of her," Ben said. "Conversely I was becoming enthralled with all of the processes that made Uppercrust special."
An agreement was quickly forged between the two parties much to the relief of everyone involved. Ben assumed leadership of the bakery in May with nary a customer-friendly hiccup.
"We might tinker with a recipe here, maybe change a process or routine," Ben said. "The Uppercrust Bakery is completely indebted to Jacqueline's experience and knowledge in making the UCB great," Ben added.
So begins the baking journey of an English classics major completely veering off the collegial path of immersion in the arts, in university halls, and eager students.
Now small business owner and Head Chef are two positions Ben juggles every day in the operation of one of the more unique bakeries in North Florida.
"I'm not comfortable with the term chef," Ben said. "The idea of being labeled as the Head Chef I think is a title that should be bestowed upon me by some significant organization or cooking authority," he added.
"I think it would be presumptuous for me to claim I am a head chef of anything," Ben said, trying to imagine the idea. "I think I am much more comfortable with the stature of Uppercrust Bakery owner.
That last statement typifies where the new bakery owner sees his mission: Directing an iconic French village-style bakery with an emphasis on local goods, products ans services.
"I'm not sure the local idea is as unique as you might think GLOB Master," Ben said, but then added: "We take a lot of pride in our products. Across the board, they are made from stellar ingredients and with integrity. We also pride ourselves on service; when we're on our game, we make genuine, high-quality connections with people we feel very lucky to serve. If, in the process, guests find a little escape from the everyday to the village bakery of their dreams, that's icing on the cake.
SWEET & SAVORY
Perceptions are realities in the baking world and I was curious about Ben's perception of the UCB's service and prize taste treats.
"My mom and dad come to lunch often and always choose the same lunch items," Ben said with a smile. "Mom is a soup lover and chooses between our Curried Cauliflower and the Sweet Corn soup. Dad always chooses between the Ratatouille Quiche and the Quiche Lorraine."
"So what would you serve the President of the United States or other dignitarya?" was my next question.
"Of course I would present our plain butter croissant," Ben said in an assured tone of voice. "And a white baguette! We do the classics very well," Ben added in a knowing manner.
Ben and I covered a lot of foodie territory in our conversation and we haven't even discussed the UCB menu and the fabulous lunchtime choices. To close out this IN THE HOUSE story I would like to present these Uppercrust Bakery lunch suggestions:
"Our Rosemary Bitard is very popular, our white loaf is equally popular," The UCB pastry expert said. " We have many popular breads, and the bread slicing machine is busy all day."
The UCB website says, "Our croissants are our raison d'etre. We offer them in many forms, but each is born from the same special dough." According to the UCB head baker, "Sweet or savory we take a lot of pride in our croissants. It is one of the first assignment new UCB Staffers learn."
UCB SWEET & SAVORY ROSES
"Our roses are a really special treat for our guests. You can thank Jacqueline for them." Ben said, being careful with the rose secret. "We take the leftovers from the croissant process to make our roses. Our roses are those leftovers, re-laminated (for even more layers!), coiled into a rose shape, baked, and topped with savory or sweet toppings."
"We have four standard cakes, and the James Beard Cake and Carrot Cake are very popular. Don't be surprised, and be sure to check our pastry cabinet to see what king of cake surprises are available in 4", 6", and 8" sizes," Ben said.
The GLOB Master has spent a lot of time in this flaky crust, sugary sweet carbohydrate wonderland and more than once someone has suggested the Key Lime Tarte. It is on my list next time I entertain a significant other.
Sometimes I think our pastries drive the Uppercrust Bakery bus," Ben chuckled. "From macarons to tarts, scones, and eclairs, it's fun seeing guests leave the bakery gleefully with their little bag of sugar delights." I was introduced to the Pistachio Pinwheel recently, and it seems like one finds its way into my lunch bag every UCB lunch time occasion.
SAVORY SANDWICHES, SOUPS, SPREADS, PATES
This category is what makes the Uppercrust Bakery my favorite lunch stop. Counters of savory, yummy lunch time items, including amazing multi-topping items, fresh made sandwiches, salads, soups . . . plus an incredible wine selection, and the coolest gift card ideas around. Add to that guest-friendly, engaging staff and the coolest shopping bags around. I'm going back to the Uppercrust Bakery, most likely tomorro