Rising to the Occasion

Ventura baker Jarrett Chambers represents the U.S. at La Fête du Pain in Paris.

By Chris O'Neal

Café Ficelle Executive Chef Jarrett Chambers kept the loaves coming at the prestigious French baking festival and competition.


arrett Chambers is reimagining American food culture, one baguette at a time.

As the executive baker at Ventura’s Café Ficelle, Chambers brings a very French attitude to the kitchen, and brought home with him more aspects of French food culture when he represented the United States at the Parisian baking competition known as La Fête du Pain (Celebration of Bread) in May. Chambers was part of a 24-member team working over five days under the canopy of a 12,000-square-foot tent erected near the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Paris, rubbing elbows with icons of the industry.

Ventana: How did baking become a part of your life?
My father-in-law literally mailed me a bag of flour, salt, yeast and some directions out of a book. Being science-minded, it all made sense. So I made it and had a great loaf of bread. The next week, when I tried to make some more, I noticed that temperature change was affecting the dough. On a more humid day, the dough was wet and I couldn’t even handle it. On a hot day, it was proofing up real fast. Every day became like a science lab to me. It was fun to make bread and then, in the end, you have a great outcome.

Did it ignite something within you when [Café Ficelle Executive Chef and Owner] Bryan Scofield sent you the ingredients?
I was always interested. My grandmother was a baker. Over the summers, we would go stay at her home [in Texas]. She had a commercial kitchen in her home where she would do cakes and buttercreams. I never did bread, however, but you could say I was infatuated with it.

Tell us a little bit about La Fête du Pain event.
The way that I understood it was that it was an international competition, but that wasn’t so much the case at all. When we got there, we found out that there were 30 or 40 professional bakers who competed among themselves for the best baguette. We were pumping out 400-plus baguettes a day, plus sourdoughs and bagels and flax seed rye, tons and tons of breads, working among these guys that were competing.

Take us through a typical day at the competition.
The USA had three teams. Each [team of eight] would go five days each. I was on the final stretch. We did five 12-hour days, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. It was a big production. There were different groups of bakers baking, there were French bakers, old retired bakers.

What were your most memorable moments?
There were a couple. First, when you walk in at 6 a.m., there’s about 75 other bakers inside. Hardly any speak English, and I don’t speak French, but they all say, “Bonjour, comment ça va,” good morning, how are you? That’s just a common courtesy whether they know you or not. One thing that was really cool, their perception of the U.S. is that we make hamburger buns, we line-dance and we dress like cowboys.

As we all do.
They did this big dinner where they came out dressed as John Wayne line dancing, showing respect to us. They were thrilled with us. The president of Le Syndicat des Boulangers-Pâtissiers du Grand Paris, he said, “Hats off to you guys. The stuff you’re doing is amazing.” Also, there’s a guy named Jeffrey Hamelman, the corporate baker for King Arthur Flour, probably the most recognized baker in the U.S. At 6 a.m., we’re sitting at a table across from each other, shaping baguettes. Money can’t buy that type of experience.

Was the bread you made sold?
It was being sold, and it was crazy how much we were selling. We would think, OK, we’re stocked up for a few hours, and then you’d turn and look and they’d say, “We’ll need more in 30 minutes.”

Culturally, France and the U.S. seem so far apart when it comes to cuisine.
Everything they do looks like a million bucks. They really look at the details. They take the time to do things right. You might call it the hard way. They’re not going to open a can of something, they’ll make it fresh. In the U.S., with few exceptions in the bakery world, as they go to high production, you have breads coming out of the mixture and are in the oven within an hour. The dough doesn’t have time to develop, the gluten within the flour doesn’t have time to relax or have time to become more digestible. People eat this stuff and say it doesn’t sit well — it’s no wonder. They’re taking a process and, well, it’s like trying to microwave a chicken. It’s not going to come out pretty. Whether it’s pastry or baking, they do it all the way it’s supposed to be.

Would you say that locals have accepted Café Ficelle’s slow-food style?
We’re coming up on one year of being open and I think back to last June, there were people who would come in and say, “What do you mean by you’re sold out? Can’t you go to the freezer and grab more?” No, we’re making orders the day before. Our bread is a two-day, three-day process. Our pastries, we start the mix three days before the bake. People went from, “Go grab some from the freezer” to “Hey, we’re going to call and preorder,” so they’re adjusting.

We set up the café to be a theater-style bakery and coffee bar because we want people to watch. If you look back right now, three people are sitting at the bar, talking to our baker, Isaias. They’re learning and they’re seeing how the stuff is supposed to be made.

Café Ficelle
390 South Mills Road, Ventura



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