City Bakery's Caitlin Mandigo on what keeps her up at night
This is part two of my interview with Caitlin Mandigo, bread baker at City Bakery; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
There are all sorts of romantic notions about what it's like to bake bread. What's it really like?
Baking bread is hard work, but definitely very rewarding. I'm at the bakery at 2 a.m. five days a week, and for the first hour, I'm by myself, which means that if anything goes wrong it's up to me -- and only me -- to figure it out. There's also quite a bit of stress in getting the deliveries out on time, especially when there are chaotic situations, like if the cooler breaks and we have to redo all of our bread, or if it's so cold outside that the bread won't rise, even if it's in the proofer. It's a job that's hard on your body, too. I'm always lifting heavy stuff, mainly fifty-pound bags of flour, which, when added up, is about 1,000 pounds a day. I've watched many people come and go. It's physically and mentally demanding, so you have to come in every day well rested and ready to face the grind.
What's the best part about being in the bakery business?
The passion you share for baking with the other team members. Whoever can wake up this early to go to work isn't doing it because it's a job; they're doing it because they love it. We have a great team, and it's so great working with people who share a passion for baking and want to expand their culinary horizons.
Which bakers have had the most influence on you?
I've been with City Bakery for about a year and a half now, and I've seen many people come and go, which is understandable because of the intense physical demand. But we have such a great team here, where everyone helps each other and really, truly cares about the bread and each other. Having such an amazing team is a great foundation for making our bread so extraordinary.
Best bakeries in Denver/Boulder other than your own:
I haven't been to many bakeries, mainly because I tend to be attracted to the savory side of food, but I recently had a couple of pastries -- a dulce de leche napoleon and an apricot linzer tart -- at Azucar Bakery on South Broadway, and I was satisfied with both. The napoleon was very flaky, with a delicious dulce de leche cream filling, and the linzer tarts were little cutout cookies filled with an apricot jelly and dusted with powdered sugar. They had a buttery and nutty flavor -- really delicious. It's definitely a bakery to check out when you need something sweet to eat.
Most memorable meal you've ever had:
I got engaged last year at the end of June, and after the engagement, my boss set us up at Ocean Prime, one of the nicest restaurants I've been to in Denver. It was a beautiful evening, with champagne and an over-the-top meal, but the best part of the night for me was when we sat down at our table and they presented us with City Bakery's sour bread. I never thought I would consider bread beautiful, but I can definitely say that about our sour bread. It not only tastes wonderful, but it's covered with these beautifully dark, glossy blisters.
Who would you most like to walk into your store and buy bread from you?
My biggest fans are my parents, and it would make me so happy to have them come to Denver and taste all the great bread I bake. We're opening a new cafe soon, so hopefully they can come and check out all the new, exciting things we're expanding on.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a baker?
It's hard to name just one. The impact it's had on my personal life has made it difficult to have a normal, healthy relationship because of the lack of sleep and bizarre hours, and I've had to give up a lot of time with my fiancé to make sure that I can get enough sleep. Finding someone who supports my career choice and understands the sacrifices that come with the territory is amazing. It's also impossible to have any sort of life at night, which was really hard for me to get used to at first, but I love what I do, so it's worth it.