Bellegarde Bakery and Mill spreads the gospel of good bread
BY APRIL HAMILTON | Aprilskitchencounter@gmail.com
SEPTEMBER 21, 2018
Hundreds of loaves of beautiful bread are handcrafted each day inside Bellegarde Bakery on Toledano Street in New Orleans’ Broadmoor neighborhood. Drive past and you could miss it, unless the logo-emblazoned delivery van is parked out front, loading up flour-dusted crates packed with loaves still warm from the oven and ready to wind their way to restaurant kitchens and retail shops all over South Louisiana. But walk past, and the intoxicating scent of baking bread tells you exactly where you are. If by chance you enter in search of a fresh loaf, you’ll walk away empty-handed unless you’ve ordered ahead—but that will change when the bakery expands uptown to the corner of Apple and Dante Streets by New Year’s.
At Bellegarde, each hand-shaped loaf begins with carefully sourced whole grains: organic wheat, heirloom corn, buckwheat, durum, and rye, which are milled in-house on a custom-made granite mill from Vermont. A pound of grain goes in, a pound comes out, keeping the nutrient-rich outer layers industrial processors often strip within the food supply. The fresh flour becomes dough within forty-eight hours of milling. “Chefs want the freshest and the best, not just shrimp and produce, but flour. It’s better!” said Bellegarde baker Morgan Angelle, who’ll spearhead the bakery’s Uptown expansion.
With Bellegarde’s fresh flour, extraordinary cakes, crackers, pita, pasta, and roux are emerging from restaurant kitchens around New Orleans. (Bellegarde recently began supplying restaurants in Baton Rouge too, with Cocha as their first client.) Soon that fresh flour will be available to home cooks who also demand superior ingredients.
Bellegarde’s reputation for exceptional bread began in the home kitchen of bakery owner Graison Gill not quite ten years ago. Twenty years old then and new to New Orleans, he first baked for friends, and they asked for more. Gill answered, baking dozens of loaves through the night then hauling them from a rented kitchen to the farmer’s market, often selling every loaf. Here he met Morgan Angelle, at the time chef de cuisine to Alon Shaya at Pizza Domenica; by then, Gill had secured the production space where Bellegarde currently operates. “Once I met Graison, I started hanging out at the bakery to watch and learn. I wanted to get closer to bread. Alon was a great boss and encouraged me to travel and keep learning,” said Angelle. “I became obsessed! In the spring of 2016, I went to the Brooklyn Bread Lab twice to study, and I realized I had to make baking a full-time reality.”
“Graison had been doing it almost on his own and needed a break. I came in a year and a half ago, fresh and ready to do something amazing. I want to keep learning and help him grow the business. We came together at the right time for what we both needed. It was a good time for him to take a break. He has all the words, I have a lot of the actions. He trusted me; we make a good team.” Angelle was far from the only employee to be seduced by Bellegarde: “Baking makes people quit their jobs,” she said. The bakery currently employs a costumer in the film industry, a golf pro, a coworker of Angelle’s from Pizza Domenica, and a former hotel manager. While the bakery hums with a full-time staff, Gill can shift his focus to writing his forthcoming book, which will “explain the importance of bread and working with your hands,” said Gill. “There are already a lot of good bread baking books out there. This book will honor the craft and add to the experience.”
With growth on the horizon, even more help was needed. Glenn Angelle, an architect from Breaux Bridge, recalls receiving a text from his daughter Morgan: “We’re thinking about moving the bakery and we want to make sure the new space works before we sign the lease. Can you help?’ I said sure, I will work for a baguette or two,” said Glenn.
Angelle Architects has created the preliminary layout and is finalizing the details of Bellegarde Bakery’s new space. The rustic building, with its exposed brick and massive windows, is perfectly suited for its new tenants. “Bread is a very linear process, and this space has the right flow. We can bring the grain deliveries in through the garage door on the far end and do all the milling in that designated space,” said Angelle. “We move to the next area for mixing and then shape the loaves in the place we call the dance floor.” All of this choreographed action will be on display from the sidewalk on Apple Street. “We are excited about the new space. So excited! It’s a beautiful, old—100-year-old—building, and we instantly fell in love with it,” said Angelle. “Now we just have to make it into a bakery and also a mill, then we can take our milling to the next step. We want to be known as Bellegarde Bakery and Mill. We’ll have a learning space for home bakers and chefs, and community events. It’s endless!”
“It’s really great working with my dad on the design,” she added. “He’s made it really easy for us.”
Glenn Angelle echoes his daughter’s joy. “Food is really at the center of our culture, and bread is amazing to me,” he said. “I’m more of a rice and gravy guy. Baking is complicated. It is so gratifying to me as a dad to see my daughter in a space, in a place, she’s so passionate about. And she’s really good at it. To match it up with what I do, it’s pretty special. Plus I get to see her more often.”
While the celebrated flours and breads of Bellegarde Bakery have been crafted out of sight for a decade, the beautiful loaves and hands that make them are about to take center stage. “We’re going to keep the space true to its bones,” said Glenn. “The exposed antique brick matches the authenticity of what they’re doing with bread. It will be cool.”