Since the first La Boulange opened on Pine Street in 1999, the café and bakery, now 20 strong, has nourished San Franciscans with traditional French pastries and breads, as well as fresh and affordable bistro style food. Now, chef owner Pascal Rigo is inviting his café cuisine into your kitchen with the release of his new book Café Cooking at Home.
The book is a step-by-step, photo-filled guide with 100 easy-to-prepare recipes culled from the La Boulange vault of customer favorites. This is his second book. His first, The American Boulangerie, was released in 2003.
“We’ve spent 5 years pulling together this incredible collection of our favorite recipes,” says Rigo. “We are thrilled to share them with our customers.”
I chatted with the effervescent Chef Rigo and we dished about bread, the book, and our favorite pastime---eating out in San Francisco.
KL: I read that you started your ‘training’ at a local bakery in a village near Bordeaux when you were just seven. What intrigued you about baking that inspired you to make a career choice out of it?
PR: The smell. It didn’t matter if we were baking anything or not. The smell of the flour, salt, yeast; maybe it was the fermentation. I also recall that specific moment when you score the bread dough before it goes in the oven. It was a real sensory experience and I just loved it.
KL: Do you come from a family of cooks or chefs?
PR: Not at all. I did have a grandfather who was a wine maker. Maybe he transferred that love of fermentation on to me (laughs).
KL: I know food and dining is social glue in France. Many big decisions and celebrations happen around a table. Was hat the inspiration for opening La Boulange?
PR: Yes. France and California are very similar, you know, especially when it comes to wine and food. Coming from Bordeaux, the wine country reminds me especially of France and the availability of fresh produce is also similar. There might be more competition here, but people are always willing to try new things.
KL: Why do you think La Boulange has been so successful in San Francisco?
PR: La Boulange is true to the product, and customers in San Francisco are very food smart. There is no compromise when it comes to authenticity and we offer it at a great value. Where else are you going to find a baguette for $1.50? It is really important to us to make good quality food accessible to everyone, not just rich food snobs.
KL: So you had a book, The American Boulangerie. Why the second book now?
PR: Our first book was all about the bakery but we have more to offer now than just baked goods. People come to La Boulange for a meal as well as their daily bread.
KL: I love the step-by-step instruction with accompanying photos in your book. What made you decide on this approach?
PR: Personally, I hate cookbooks with no photos. The step-by-step photos make the book easy and unintimidating. Mostly, we want people grab the book and cook.
KL: So, someone has just bought your book but isn’t a cook. Which recipe do you recommend they start with?
PR: Try a tartine sandwich for sure. It’s very easy to make, full of flavor. Serve it with a green salad or soup and it’s a quick and delicious lunch with few ingredients.
KL: When you are not eating at La Boulange, do you like to go out in San Franisco?
PR: Oh yes, I go out a lot. San Francisco has such good restaurants. I like so many places, it’s hard to think of them all. Piperade is great and the chef, Gerald (Hirigoyen) is a really nice guy. And in my neighborhood (Noe Valley) I love Contigo.
(a version of this interview also appeared at startle.com)