La Farm Bakery’s Master Baker, Lionel Vatinet, Talks Bread, Passion, and Expansion

Downtown Cary will soon get its own taste of this baker’s award-winning bread

La Farm Bakery produces 35 different breads in styles that include the seasonal Kalamata olive.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more passionate and talented Master Baker than North Carolina’s Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery. Having been one of the heavyweights in American artisanal bread baking for the past 25 years, the jovial, charismatic Vatinet is a two-time James Beard Foundation nominee for “Outstanding Baker,” and author of A Passion For Bread: Lessons From A Master Baker (Little, Brown & Co.).

Known for his signature five-pound “La Farm” sourdough bread, Vatinet prides himself on his ability to truly understand what separates remarkable bread from the rest. According to Vatinet, you can judge quality and taste even before taking a bite of bread by the sound of its crunch when slicing it, the texture when pinching a piece off, and the smell. At La Farm, 15 different styles of breads, and an additional 20 seasonal breads are hand-crafted and baked throughout the year using a European-style hearth oven.

He and his wife and partner, Missy, opened La Farm in 1999. Thanks to La Farm’s variety of high quality, innovative breads, this coming year the Vatinets will be expanding with a new production bakery in downtown Cary at 220 West Chatham Street.

Imaginative breads offered include the historic Carolina Gold Rice bread (made with Carolina Ground’s local, organic whole wheat flour and Anson Mills’ Carolina Gold “middlins” rice), asiago-Parmesan, white chocolate mini baguette, cinnamon-raisin-pecan, and walnut sage.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Vatient. Here’s what he and I discussed over brunch at the lovely La Farm Bakery.

The Daily Meal: What separates excellent quality bread from the rest?
Lionel Vatinet:
Having top quality local ingredients. As bakers we now have access to beautiful, regionally grown organic grains from our farmers and millers, like Carolina Ground were they stone cold grind flours… these healthy local grains are the ultimate foundation of our work. This combined with exceptional knowledge (Savoir Faire) of the fermentation process makes for excellent bread.

What is it about bread making that you love the most?
The Magic of the fermentation process. How such subtle changes in the process can change the outcome of the product.

Talk a bit about your relationship with Maison Kayser? Many New Yorkers love his baked goods!
Eric and I go back over 30 years where we met in our guild training in my native France. Eric was my godfather in the guild, and over the years our relationship has grown both personally and professionally. The commitment to our guild, and the centuries of bakers that came before us and their knowledge imparted to us, is to selflessly provide for our communities excellent quality

What was your initial motivation for becoming a bread master?
I am still on the journey to become a Bread Master, but the love of providing nourishment through simple ingredients handled with love is incredible.