When it comes to the kitchen, the cliché is that there are two kinds of people: home cooks and chefs on the one hand, bakers and patisseries on the other. You’re either sweet or you’re savory — and, either way, you probably have a few things to say about the folks on the other side of the oven.
“Savory is free-flowing, like jazz; you can do whatever,” says Bryan Foehl, who runs the months-old bakery program at the French Press. “But approaching pastry, you’re like, whoa, I really have to measure that.”
Equal parts improvisational and willing to follow the rules, Foehl is the rare breed who’s comfortable with both: When studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Foehl says, “A chef said, ‘No good chef knows both; it’s one or the other,’ and that was a defining moment; I was like, ‘You watch me!’ I like both, but some chefs are like, ‘I don’t do that!’ As if it’s a drug, like, ‘No I don’t touch the stuff.’”
After returning to his native S.B. after culinary school, Foehl began working as a private chef. Then, around three years ago, he launched Rebellion Pies & Pastries, a word-of-mouth pie-delivery service that wrapped its goodies in rubber-stamped brown paper à la UPS and did well … during the holidays. The rest of the year, however, Foehl had some free time on his hands, so he’d hang out a lot at the French Press’s flagship State Street location.
He and Todd Stewart, husband-half of the duo that has Santa Barbara hopped up on its meticulously tended joe (and ruined for the likes of anything else forever), got to talking about pie and coffee. “The whole diner thing,” Foehl says. “Twin Peaks kept coming up. You know, ‘This is a damn good cup of coffee’ — and piece of pie!” While the conversations and David Lynch–memorializing ensued, Stewart and his wife, Julia Mayer, were busily building out the space for the French Press’s second spot on the corner of Anacapa and Cota, complete with a commercial kitchen. That’s where Foehl now cranks out delicious baked goods that might well have that long-ago naysayer eating his words. Or a second piece of pie.
Foehl’s roster of treats is built around the basics — scones, cookies, pies, buckles, “pop-tarts” (hand pies filled with his homemade preserves that cannot officially be called Pop-Tarts) — often served with an intriguingly mouthwatering twist. For instance, the day I interviewed him, he’d introduced a brand-new creation: the salted-caramel apple pie. His tinkerings might skew classic (see: chocolate chip cookies, blueberry scones), winkingly lowbrow (see: Funfetti cookies, pop-tarts), or sophisticated and current (see: pink peppercorn, salt, and strawberry pie).
“We’re not doing anything crazy, but we’re spending a lot of time developing the recipes, playing with the flavor profiles, making sure it’s up to a specific standard, like what goes on with their coffee,” he says, indicating Stewart and Mayer, whose contribution to the way Santa Barbarans now caffeinate cannot be overstated.
Foehl intends to soon implement what he dubs “Phase Two” of this glorious experiment — Paleo and vegan goodies — and is taking orders for holiday pies now. Pickings include French Apple, Cran-Apple, Salted-Caramel Apple (tell him I sent you), Pumpkin, Pecan, and Blackbird (blackberry pie with dark chocolate). For best effect, present to your family with a practiced poker face as you say, “Why yes, I do bake.” And try not to chuckle when they declare, “This is a damn good piece of pie.”
The French Press has two locations: 528 Anacapa Street, 962-7733, and 1101 State Street, 963-2721.