Eugenia Theodosopoulos Owner/chef Essence Bakery and Café www.essencebakery.com
It's been a busy few weeks for Essence Bakery owner and chef Eugenia Theodosopoulos as she's opened her bakery's second location, in Central Phoenix. Known for making delicate French-style pastries and light breakfast and lunch fare, Essence Bakery has been a Francophile's dream come true since opening back in 2007. We caught up with Theodosopoulos to find out more about the new location, the building and the history -- and to get the scoop on the gigantic stand mixer that graces the entryway. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, when we learn more about what she has planned for Essence Bakery's future.
For years you've been able to head to Tempe's Essence Bakery to taste a little piece of Paris.
And not just some amateur's version of French pastry -- a 100 percent authentic French croissant, baked fresh every morning just the way chef Eugenia Theodosopoulos learned from her mentor, master baker Jean-Louis Clément.
In addition to being known for those near-perfect pillows of dough, Essence has earned a reputation as a favorite spot for a light, healthy breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Serving dishes like individually sized quiche Lorraine along with Greek spanakopita and a delicious lemon basil and chicken salad, the ever-busy café has flourished.
So years ago, when Essence fans found out Theodosopoulos and her husband and partner, Gilles Combes, were looking at a second location in Central Phoenix, to say people were excited is putting it mildly. Back then the neighborhood around 40th Street and Indian School was just beginning to become a hot spot of the local food scene, but these days, it's easily one of the fastest-developing areas (at least, food-wise) in the Valley.
Alas, the wait would be a long one. The restaurant opened a few weeks ago and has been packed since the start.
"We already have regulars," Theodosopoulos says with a smile as she finishes greeting a pair of them.
Of course, some have followed her (and her food) from the Tempe location, but it's an impressive feat nonetheless.
When we sat down with the chef and her husband, she tells us the house the couple bought for the bakery's second location was built in 1959 and has previously been a doctor's and, later, a telemarketing office. After they were able to acquire the building it had to go through re-zoning, which is part of the reason it took so long for them to open.
But it's easy to see why it was worth the wait. With lots of natural light, vaulted ceilings and much more space than their Tempe location, it's like this place was destined to become what it is now.
When they were renovating the building, they discovered previous owners had covered up the original ceiling. So those exposed wooden beams are the real original ceilings. And the charm doesn't stop there. Hanging from the beams you'll find quirky-chic light fixtures Theodosopoulos had made out of the whisks from 30 quart stand mixers.
Speaking of stand mixers, you probably won't be able to walk in without noticing the giant one that graces the entryway of Essence Arcadia.
Be sure to say hello, his name is Arnault, French for Arnold.
Theodosopoulos tells us that she used the gigantic stand mixer for the past 16 years before it stopped working recently. Built in 1960, the piece of equipment (which is nearly as tall as a child, or you know, a really short journalist) came out of a school before being adopted by Essence. These days, he's lime green, an auto-paint upgrade done after the mixer was retired. And they painted the espresso machine the same color to match.
"To thank him for all his good years of service we retired him in a good place," Combes says.
Favorite food smell: Bread
Favorite childhood food memory: Making spanakopita with my dad
Something always found in your kitchen: Butter
Something never found in your kitchen: GMO corn.
Name one favorite local restaurant and dish you get there: FnB because any special that Charleen makes is great.
Your favorite place to get baked goods: Pierre Hermé in France
The key to baking a perfect croissant is: Temperature, temperature, temperature
Favorite cookbook or food-related book: All my recipes from Le Norte
One international/national restaurant that you've been impressed with in the last year: Kokkari, a Greek restaurant in San Francisco
Three favorite places to be in France: Paris is my favorite because that's where met my husband and then I really like the Loire Valley, where all the chateaus are because we have a lot of friends there. And I like Strasbourg. I have a lot of good memories there of going out with husband.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay