Cincinnati native Lori Baker and Fullerton byproduct Jeff Banker met at Postrio, the San Francisco restaurant near Union Square that Wolfgang Puck previously ran. In late 2009, they opened Baker & Banker, and later added an adjacent bakery. The couple bills Baker & Banker as a neighborhood restaurant, but they’ve become known well beyond Pacific Heights. I met Baker and Banker at the restaurant before dinner service on July 5, and they shared valuable insights.
Did you always plan to become chefs?
Baker: That’s a yes for both of us.
At what point did it become important for you to open your own restaurant?
Banker: I always wanted a restaurant.
Baker: And I always wanted a bakery.
Banker: Pretty much since the beginning of our relationship.
What does a dish have to be to go on the menu at Baker & Banker?
Banker: Well thought out. Refined. Everything has its place. Seasonal. Market driven. Finesse.
Any cuisine from around the globe is fair game?
Banker: Yeah, but I would definitely say we focus more on French and Italian technique. We definitely pull from other areas of the country, and the world.
What about the bakery, and the desserts here? How different do you want those to be?
Baker: Both the bakery and the desserts have kind of an American comfort feel to them. With the desserts, though, they have a lot more things going on, and I just like to plate them so they fit in with what Jeff’s doing with the food.
Where was that very first night you worked in restaurants, and what do you remember about that night?
Banker: I was 15 and I was working for high school credit at a neighborhood restaurant. Do you know Coco’s? I worked in a Coco’s 24 years ago. That was my first step, and I liked the rush of it. I liked the reaction. Nothing is made there. Everything’s bought, but I like the rush of cooking on the line, and being organized, and learning how to cook efficiently. I always found that interesting. I like the rush of service.
That was in Fullerton?
How about you, Lori?
Baker: My first restaurant job was at Postrio. I thought I wanted to work in bakeries. I actually met Wolfgang Puck in Spago and I was just enthralled by the whole restaurant scene. I got the job at Postrio, and it was kind of a wonderland. We made everything from scratch there. We had every machine you could think of. We made our own ice creams. They had a whole bread program. I was just so happy to be there.
I noticed you have a pretty serious bread program here now.
Baker: Yeah, we do.
Was there anybody in particular who inspired you?
Baker: Yeah. I used to teach at the CCA right before we opened here. I didn’t know that much about bread. I wasn’t involved in the breads at Postrio at all. There’s a bread teacher at CCA named Mike Kalanty. He just came out with a bread book [“How To Bake Bread”]. He’s doing this bread tour, and he taught me how to teach this class. That’s how I got my passion for it, and where I learned pretty much everything I know about it.
Does the bread change here?
Baker: Our basic recipe doesn’t change, but we’ll change the ingredients we put in. Sometimes we’ll do Parmesan bread, or something with fennel and apple, but the basic recipe stays the same.
Do you have some signatures on the dessert menu?
Baker: The one signature dessert that never changes is the triple chocolate cake.
And next door, what would you say the signature items are?
Baker: Probably the cinnamon roll, the sticky buns, brown butter chocolate chip cookies. Those three things, I think are the three things people keep coming back for.
I’ve had the cinnamon roll a couple times now. Pretty awesome. What would you say the key to a successful cinnamon roll is?
Baker: Definitely giving your dough enough time to develop flavor. We make our dough 24 hours ahead of time. The reason I make them so big is so there’s plenty of soft area. People that make them too small or too flat, there’s too much hard, and not enough soft.
Do you feel like signature items are a good thing?
Baker: Yeah, definitely.
Banker: People definitely come back for them.
When you were developing the trout and the cod, did you think those might become breakout items? What were you thinking during the development process?
Banker: I didn’t really know what were going to be the most popular things here. Those dishes consistently sell the best.
What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in the kitchen?