Lionel Vatinet is the devil.
And a magician.
Up until very recently, La Farm had one location in a strip mall on Cary Parkway. In this small space, Chef Vatinet and staff turned out bread, pastries, candies, and other treats for their own retail sales and cafe. They also made items for five local Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and their own, delicious food truck.
How they pulled off this miraculous feat of legerdemain is well beyond my imaginings.
This week I spent some time at their new production facility for La Farm. It’s in the old Sorrel building in downtown Cary, built in 1958.
In this airy, roomy space both the bread bakers and the pastry folks have tons elbow room. But, in this building there is also space to play and experiment. To do things like making their own graham crackers for a s’mores tart.
But they didn’t just unlock the doors, move in equipment and get to work. Chef Lionel and team looked at things that very few of us would even think of.
Like the air. The retail space needs to be comfortable for customers 365 days a year. The bread area needs to a little warm and humid, to rise dough without drying it out. The pastry room needs to be cooler. The air can’t blast down because it can make dough form a skin which will inhibit the fermentation.
Chef had an innovative air conditioning and venting system from Europe installed.
I spent some time speaking with his head pastry chef, Jim. I asked Chef Jim about the bags of orange butter cookies at the register. When applying to cook at an establishment, a common practice is for the applicant to actually cook. Jim baked his delicious little orange confections and got the job.
I have a recipe that is an homage to pastry Chef Jim and his citrus treat with a nod to a blueberry cookie from Trader Joes. They’re a lemon-scented shortbread studded with dried blueberries.
Blueberry Lemon Shortbread Cookies1 & 1/3 cups butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dried blueberries, coarsely chopped
Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.
Put sugar and lemon zest into food processor and pulse until the sugar is very fine, and the zest has disappeared into the sugar.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and lemon juice. Beat to combine. Stir blueberries into flour and add mixture, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.Pour dough onto surface and knead just until it comes together. Divide dough in half, and roll each half into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.
To bake: Heat oven to 275. Slice logs into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Place on sheet pans and bake for 60-75 minutes or cookies are very light golden and barely browned around the edges.
When done, slide parchment and cookies onto cooking rack. Let them cool completely before removing from paper.
Makes approximately 36 cookies.La Farm can make a bread loving girl lose her head. I could spend a full paycheck on and eat my body weight in those gorgeous, aromatic, delicious wares.
In addition to bread, cookies, and treats, Chef Lionel Vatinet serves up fresh temptations daily.Thanks for your time.