Wilton bread maker moves business to Norwalk
WILTON — Growing up, the kitchen was the fun room at Rob VanKeuren’s home in Darien. They had a garden outside, from where his father got ingredients to cook French and Italian cuisine and his mother cooked everything in between.
So it’s no surprise VanKeuren eventually ended up working in the kitchen himself, although it took him some time to find his way there.
After being laid off from his job in Stamford in 2012, along with a third of the company, VanKeuren joined his friend on a trip to India for three weeks. It was then he realized he didn’t want to return to his 13-year career in finance.
“I worked in restaurants in high school and college, and I just liked the environment, the action, the team effort. You’re all kind of working toward a common goal,” VanKeuren said. “There’s egos here and there, but it’s really cool to be part of the team — something I didn’t feel as much in finance.”
His plan was to open a restaurant. But after a couple of months apprenticing at Lombardi’s Trattoria in Georgetown, VanKeuren discovered his true passion while working with a wood-fired oven: baking bread.
After several years of learning from books, YouTube, Instagram and watching others, VanKeuren has earned himself the name of “The Bread Man.” Locals know him for his hand-shaped, old-fashioned sourdough bread and cinnamon swirl brioche loaves, which are quick to sell out on the weekends.
“Everything I do is naturally leavened with sourdough culture. I use zero commercial yeast,” VanKeuren said, noting its rarity. “There’s probably 50 bakeries in the entire world that are doing everything sourdough. It’s usually some combination of sourdough and yeast. You get a much fuller flavor, a balanced sweetness.”
Having outgrown the space at Lombardi’s, VanKeuren recently moved his business to GrayBarns on the Silvermine River in Norwalk. He makes baguettes and loaves for dinner service at the Tavern and pastries for guests at the Inn, and also sells baked goods to the public on weekends at the Barn.
The Glazer family bought the property several years ago to rejuvenate the area and to revive a sense of community goods and provision, said Nikki Glazer, who owns and operates the GrayBarns project with her parents Andy and Marsha. The Tavern and Inn opened in September, around the same time the project started to grow its barn experience. A country store — with mixed retail space, a bakery and a cafe — is planned to open next year.
“We love the idea of providing fresh bread to the community, so Rob has been giving us our daily bread here at the Tavern,” Nikki Glazer said. “There’s nothing that makes me happier than to see village owners, property owners come down to the barn and get bread for 17 family members for Thanksgiving right next door. To me that is really the essence of community.”
Having joined in October, VanKeuren feels grateful to be a part of the GrayBarns team and to expand the operations of his own business, Flour Water Salt Bread, which is named after the only ingredients he uses in baking.
“I want to build a business that allows me to make a living and feed people,” VanKeuren said. “There’s so many people who make bread, but there’s so many people who make average bread. Very few people are doing full sourdough, dark, rustic, properly-made bakery products. It’s a tough thing to do.”
For VanKeuren, making such products seem to come with ease — although baking in general still presents itself as “a constantly evolving puzzle with lots of different variables that are always changing.”
“I still get giddy about it,” VanKeuren said, excited by the bread rising in the combination oven and the smell of his freshly baked baguettes. “I think about this stuff literally right before I go to bed.”
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