Cafe Society

Steve Scott, owner-baker of Babettes: "Force your local bakeries to go above and beyond"

Steve Scott Babettes 3350 Brighton Boulevard 303-993-8602

This is part two of my interview with Steve Scott, owner of Babettes at the Source; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.

Are there any current trends or innovators in the bread world that you find particularly interesting? Chad Robertson of San Francisco's Tartine, Mike Zakowski in Sonoma, and Christophe Vasseur in Paris. I'm glad to see these bakers exploring a larger diversity of grains.

See also: Steve Scott, owner-baker of Babettes: "Our bread is not burnt; it's well caramelized"

Who would you most like to have walk into your store one day and buy bread from you? Anthony Bourdain. That man appreciates the care and quality that goes into a food product, almost to the point of mania. We need more like him.

If you could go anywhere for the perfect croissant, where would it be? Du Pain et Des Idées, Christophe Vasseur's boulangerie in Paris.

If you could have dinner, all expenses paid, at any restaurant in the world, where would you go? Le Comptoir in Paris. It's a new breed of bistro with a lower price, but there's an incredible devotion to the quality of the food. You drool over the menus because they sound so incredible. It's classic brasserie and bistro cooking done at a much higher level then possibly anywhere else in the world.

Which of your breads do you find the most comforting? What are you pulling from the case on a snowy, cold Denver morning? Ferme, a mix of spelt and whole-wheat flours.

Biggest bread fail: The Crown, made with olive oil, lemon zest and rosemary that's all chopped up into a slurry and incorporated into the dough. We top it with Maldon sea salt and then cut the bread to form a crown. Although it's full of good flavor, it has become a bit too gimmicky for customers. It distracts from what we're known for: our fermentation.

Weirdest customer request: "Do you do gluten-free bread?" That's just weird to me.

Best bread-baking tip for a home cook: Don't be afraid of wet dough, relax and enjoy yourself.

Most memorable meal you've ever had: Valentine's dinner at Fruition. The food, the wine, the service -- enough said.

If you could make one request of Denver diners, what would it be? Be open-minded to well-baked breads and pastries. Taste them and force your local bakeries to go above and beyond and to exceed expectations.

What's your fantasy splurge? A trip to Paris to witness the source of tradition. Baker Christophe Vasseur and Poilâne, in Paris, are both setting the bar so high in terms of tradition and respect for the old ways that being able to stand in their shops would be a defining moment in my life and career as a baker.

What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A breadboard with our Babettes logo that my wife gave to me.

What's always lurking in your pantry? Jam and honey, although it all disappears quite quickly.

What piece of advice would you give to a young baker? Do your homework, make sure baking is what you want to be doing, and express your passion for great bread.

What's the one thing that keeps you up at night? The excitement of being able to do it again the next day.

What's your biggest pet peeve? The word "perfection." As a baker, I don't want to reach perfection every day. Instead, we strive for the perfect loaf done in an imperfect way, loaves that look like they come from nature. I don't want people to tell me that they're eating a perfect loaf of bread; I want people to enjoy it for its imperfections.

Your best traits: My dedication to the craft, the fact that I'm a loving husband and really like to do the dishes, and that I care about each and every customer who walks through our door. I'm a good mentor, too.

Your worst traits: Striving for perfection. I want that Holy Grail loaf of bread every day, and it's the happiness and the frustration of striving for that perfect loaf that keeps me going. There's a damn good chance that out of 200 loaves, I'm only going to get one that looks the way it should. I'm my worst critic, and I critique my bread to death.

What's been your worst baking disaster? I once had to throw away 1,700 pounds of ciabatta dough. The bread baker where I was working -- I won't say the name of the place -- decided to dump the flour on top of the water and then go off to lunch, and when starches swell, they clump, and if you don't mix them, they'll turn into balls of dough that won't mix out.

Craziest moment in the kitchen: The opening day of Babettes. I was nervous as hell and waiting for disaster at every turn. But in the end, I found that Denver was waiting a long time for this kind of baking. Ah, relief.

If you could train under any bread baker in the world, who would it be? Paris baker Christophe Vasseur, because his dedication to doing things the hard way is generally the right way.

If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? An old-school French brasserie.

Do you ever skip the bread basket? Yes, every time except at Beast + Bottle and Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar. I don't skip the bread baskets there because they serve my bread. The bread has to taste as good as the meal that you're eating. I want the meal to start beautifully and end beautifully.

Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: The sale of our first loaf of bread at Babettes, which, coincidentally, I sold to Lori Midson.

Greatest accomplishment as a baker: When the bread comes out great every day.

What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? That I enjoy mentoring others and showing other bakers the way -- and that I am actually quite approachable.

Last meal before you die: My wife's goat-cheese-and-chicken enchiladas with red sauce and blue-corn tortillas. They're always awesome.

If you hadn't become a baker, what would you be doing right now? Riding or fixing bikes. I used to race bikes for a living, and I still love bikes in all forms.

What's in the pipeline? Better-quality whole wheat that will ferment well and create incredible-tasting bread. What's next for Denver's culinary scene? Artisans that are well trained, have passion for what they do, and are willing to push the boundaries to express themselves on a personal level.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson