The French Oven draws big crowds
This man personally runs the kitchen each day, hustling back and forth as he prepares the items.
“I’m there at 3 o’clock in the morning and I don’t go home before 10 o’clock,” he said.
The place has been packed since he opened his bakery just a few weeks ago.
Two very qualified assistants helped him in the back one day last week, yet it was a challenge for them to keep up with the demand. Watching them work in unison was similar to seeing a well-choreographed ballet. In spite of the pressure, Fournier remained calm and cool. He maintains a very pleasant demeanor, perhaps adding to his bakery’s popularity. The three workers staffing the counter were also very pleasant while keeping track of multiple orders in the front of the bustling shop.
“I feel very fortunate. … Everybody’s so excited,” Fournier said. “It’s good to put a smile on their face, but they come already with a big smile, so that makes it easy for me.”
Crowd favorites so far include the chocolate croissant, the ham and cheese croissant, the fruit tart and the quiches, Fournier said.
Fournier tries to stay true to the European style of baking, using the finest ingredients including the best flour and butter he can get his hands on.
“I try to be very traditional with very high quality,” he said. “It’s very important to do a good, quality job. I’m trying to do that every day.”
Opening a business in a static location is a definite risk in these days of online purchasing and delivery services, but Fournier has defied the odds so far as lines of customers have formed at his front counter since day 1 of opening. It’s a tribute to both his reputation as a chef and to the quality of his products.
“I’ve decided to take a leap of faith and try it, and it seems like it’s working out so far,” he said. “The response since we opened has been tremendous and very encouraging.”
Some have compared baking to chemistry, and it goes without saying that recipes and measuring should be followed precisely. But there is more to it than simply following a recipe.
“It’s a lot of feel. Everything changes every day. I mean, you have the weather. It might be a little more humid at one point,” Fournier explained. “So, the bread will be affected. It’s a lot of experience. The recipe definitely helps to be consistent, but sometimes you have to adjust.”
Fortunately, experience is something Fournier has by the tons. He is a fifth-generation baker with 30 years of experience as a chef. Although he worked in his family’s bakery as a youngster, he was attending school for another career. He said he wasn’t certain about what he wanted to do with his life when one day he was placed on a waiting list for school. He went back to help his family at the bakery and eventually began attending chef school where he was able to gain his certificates in half the time it took other students because of his knowledge gained through working at his family’s business.
Fournier served his country in the military and was assigned to a ship as a baker, and traveled the world. Afterward, he came to the United States and worked for Le Meridien Hotel in Coronado. He has since worked at the Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage, the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and the Hyatt in downtown San Diego. Most recently, Fournier was employed as the executive baking and pastry chef Instructor for the San Diego Culinary Institute.
Fournier admitted that he always wanted to open his own bakery. This particular venture began about a year ago when he began baking from his home and offering goods as a pop-up bakery. Word caught on with friends and neighbors, and the popularity of his products grew. Living nearby and having new-found popularity helped build the customer base that now visits his brick and mortar bakery.
“I think they know and appreciate a good, high quality product,” Fournier stated.
Fournier’s wife, Suzie, is a school nurse employed at The Bishops’ School. They have two children, Charlie and Ella, who attend Jerabek Elementary School across the street from the bakery.
In the future, Fournier wants to add a few more items to the menu. He wants to offer a breakfast sandwich, a few more lunch items including sandwiches and some soups. He might one day offer catering and perhaps a dinner-to-go for working customers who can order it earlier and pick it up at the end of the day on their way home.
For the holidays, Fournier was hoping to offer a few yule logs possibly with coffee-chocolate swirls in the center.
The French Oven Bakery will be open both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Visit thefrenchovenbakery.com.