By Sharon Armstrong
Photography by Marks Moore Photography
On an early September morning in San Antonio, the rain comes down in sheets. It streams down gutters and bounces off the line of umbrellas stretching down the sidewalk as pastry fans wait patiently to celebrate the grand opening of Bakery Lorraine’s new permanent location. When the door finally opens, customers are instantly surrounded by a whirl of conversation and throngs of color, the inviting fragrances of rich chocolate, lavender, sugar and coffee and that rarest and most beautiful buzz of all: imminent satisfaction.
Chefs Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell stand in their spanking-new kitchen looking a little tired, a little bemused and a lot happy. “We are just blown away by this,” says Ng, as she peeks out at the crowd. “It’s unbelievable.”
Partners in every sense of the word, the couple met and fell in love while working as overnight bakers at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley. “We both consider Bouchon our real education,” Mandrell says with a smile. “Seriously, you worked ten hours straight, no break, and you still didn’t get done with what you were supposed to do. I had a total meltdown. I was like, ‘I wasted all this money on culinary school and what will I do?’”
The intense, long hours finally took their toll on the duo, and finding themselves “pretty much burned out on baking,” they decided to try something else when a job opening with the Internet company Rackspace drew them eastward to San Antonio. Working in a field other than the culinary one was not new ground for Ng, who had, prior to Bouchon, worked as a biochemist for Fresh & Easy, a national grocery chain, using natural additives like oregano to preserve food. “That was what I went to college for,” she says. “I thought that I would be able to satisfy my love of food and science by taking a job like that, but it wasn’t my niche. There was no soul in a job like that; it’s not a craft.”
Prior to college, Ng’s upbringing included a lot of travel through Asia with her Chinese parents. “That exposure definitely opens your eyes to new things,” she says. “Pastries that you wouldn’t find in the West—a lot are made with savory elements like salted duck eggs or salty cheese, and ginger and lemongrass.”
Mandrell grew up in a military family, which meant that he moved around a lot, but that army-brat upbringing also exposed him to a wide array of different culinary customs. “One of my morning duties in Germany was to go and get bread for breakfast every day,” he says.
The couple’s formal culinary training took place in different countries, as well. Ng attended The International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management in the Philippines, while Mandrell studied at the Art Institute of California–San Diego. It was during these years that both say their eclectic tastes collided with, and benefitted from, education in classical French cuisine, particularly pastry making.
Newly settled in San Antonio, the baking bug bit them anew. Over the past year, they’ve become a weekly fixture at the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market, where their goods have garnered a deluge of praise and loyal customers. After flirting with the idea of a pop-up bakery as an affordable expansion, they teamed up with friend and current business partner Charlie Beidenharn to look for a suitable permanent location to host their art. They eventually found one in a derelict residential building. “The last owner passed away, and [the building] was really rough when we first saw it,” remembers Mandrell. “We actually turned it down a couple of times, it was so bad. It was just a sad little home, but not anymore.”
The line of smiling faces going in and out of the door seems to agree. “I think that there is more of a consciousness now,” explains Ng. “People are starting to realize that…I don’t just have to take what you give me…you know? I want something better than this, and I can get something better than this. And this just helps elevate the awareness all around; it’s a domino effect. People are more demanding now; they want to know where their food comes from and who is making it for them.” “Our eggs come from Parker Creek Ranch,” Mandrell notes as an example. “I made a coconut cream pie when we first started using their eggs, and it was yellow…and the richness! People are so used to this pale yellow that you get from store-bought eggs.”
The selection of goods at Bakery Lorraine changes depending on seasonal availability and what Ng describes as a certain whimsy. Currently, customers are clamoring for pain au chocolate, sweet and savory tarts, a variety of rich cookies and astonishingly ethereal macarons, among other things. Future plans include bread and to-go sandwiches.
“To bring out the flavor and the beauty of the ingredients…I think of our jobs as that,” says Ng. “We have to stay engaged and mentally stimulated; otherwise you fall into that daily grind and that is how you get stale. Isn’t that just what a baker would say?”
511 E. Grayson St., San Antonio
Tues.–Fri. 6:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
Sat. 8 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m.