Gluten Free Guest Chef September: Christophe Grilo
Owner of B.A.O. (Bakery Artisan Original) bakery and a good friend to The Whole Kitchen, our September Guest Chef Christophe Grilo is a French chef who amassed his extensive culinary experience working in restaurants around the world, from Japan to the States. Having started his career in the kitchen, enrolling in culinary school at the young age of 14, Christophe eventually found his calling in desserts. Trading his love of meat and fish for butter, sugar, and chocolate was a decision that would see him lead and open Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide for the likes of “culinary Godfather” Bernard Bach, as well as renowned French chef, Alain Ducasse.
Despite his impressive resume, Christophe did not grow up in the romance of his grandmother's kitchen as one might expect, instead he was raised in the rough suburbs of Paris with his extended family, struggling and surviving on meal tickets. In 2013, Christophe opened his own bakery, now known simply as B.A.O. (“bow”), to follow his passion for bread and his love for the intricate process of making the perfect sourdough. As part of his collaboration with The Whole Kitchen, Christophe has put his spin on the traditional scone and developed a delicious Gluten Free Wildflower Honey and Raisin Scone. We recommend topping with classic clotted cream and jam, or for a healthier version, coconut cream and fresh strawberries.
We sat down with Christophe to talk about his inspiration, his beginnings, and his philosophy when it comes to baking the perfect bread.
Order his Gluten Free Wildflower Honey and Raisin Scone here.
Hi Christophe, thank you so much for taking part in our Guest Chef Series, would you just quickly like to introduce yourself to our audience?
My name is Christophe Grilo, I’m a French baker and I am the owner and founder of B.A.O. Bakery. We make bread, croissants, macarons, all the typical things you would find in a French bakery.
Did you start as a baker?
You know, I’ve only been a baker since opening my bakery, before then I was a pastry chef and before even that I was a chef in French kitchens, it’s French food all the way for me.
When I started my career, after completing my culinary course I spent a year in the French army doing my National service. My very first job came after this when I was 16, I worked as a dishwasher in a Catholic school. After that I spent two years working in Corsica as a pastry chef and then I moved to the South of France to work in a few different restaurants, one of which was a three-Michelin-starred restaurant where I first started training as a baker, I finished there as a corporate pastry chef.
I went on to work for Jacques and Laurent Pourcel which is when I got the opportunity to travel the world. I was only 23 when they sent me to open a restaurant in Japan for them. I worked in China, the Middle East, restaurants all over Europe and at various festivals. After all of this, I decided to move to Los Angeles, despite not speaking any English which was really tough.
Was it as tough as opening your own business?
When I first opened B.A.O. 8 years ago I had two part-timers working for me, and a year later we moved to a factory. Now I have 10 people working for me and we produce well over a thousand units a day.
I made a lot of mistakes because I opened too fast, I didn’t take the time to have a good plan. I really wanted to make this bakery the French way, where you bake every night and in the morning there’s fresh bread, but the customer behaviour in Singapore is completely different, so I adjusted my way of doing things.
Sometimes I think, you know, why did I open this bakery? It's so much work, but I think the most important thing is doing what you want to do. You know, nowadays when I wake up, technically I can do whatever I want. If I want to go to work, if I don’t want to, it’s priceless. If you work under a manager, you need to show up at work when they tell you to be there. I would say I’m free.
Any advice for someone starting out?
Starting something, a lot of people want to do it. My advice would be to be ready. No matter what. Three months after opening my bakery I got dengue. At the time I was the only one at work so I had no choice but to go in and bake. I did the Sunday deliveries and by the time I came back to the bakery I was so weak that I decided I would lie down for 10 minutes. When my part-timer came in she found me passed out on the floor.
Now we’ve been running for 8 years, I’ve got no debts, money is coming in, and it has been worth it. But yeah, be ready to put in the work, because it’s a lot.
Has your business been affected by COVID-19 at all? Or even have you seen any changes in consumer behaviour as a result?
It’s definitely been affected but in general we were able to make it through, you know when things like this happen people go back to basics. It’s why at the beginning [of the pandemic] you saw people buying huge bags of rice and toilet paper, and it’s the same with bread, it’s a staple and people have been wanting more of it. During the height of COVID-19 our sourdough production went up by 25%.
What do you think about the future of food after the pandemic? Has your supply chain been affected?
I think now people will be more careful about the types of products they’re eating, especially all of the processed foods which are really bad for our bodies. In terms of our supply chain, that’s still fine, the only thing now though is that people are asking more questions and being more careful about the types of ingredients we use.
Talk to us a bit more about what you’ve created for our customers as part of this Gluten Free Guest Chef Series.
I decided to create a Gluten Free Scone, it’s iconic and great during tea time, people love it. I have to admit though it’s been a while since I last made one so it’s been a good experience.I considered making a bread, but if I had wanted to make a gluten free sourdough using my method it would have been very complicated, I would have needed months to really get it right. A scone is like a pastry and a bread mixed together, so it seemed like the perfect compromise.
Talking about your experience, how has it been baking Gluten Free?
The biggest challenge was to switch from a protein flour – which is normal bread flour that has around 12% - 15% of protein in it – to something with a lot less power. The first test we did we used a standard “gluten free” flour, just to start and see how that would work - it didn’t really work. So we had to do a lot of tests using a lot of different flours, because when you’re used to using quite a powerful flour, it’s very challenging to change.
From your experience working in restaurants, do you think allergies have changed the dining scene - do you think the market is becoming more open to accommodating these needs?
I’ve been in the business for 25 years and there’s definitely been a change, we’re seeing more and more people developing allergies.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I usually just drink unsweetened black coffee. I’m an “intermittent faster" so I usually only eat in the evening from 6pm - 8pm. I started doing this about two years ago by fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8. Eventually I worked up to fasting for 24 hours which I did for about a year (for our readers please bear in mind this isn't something that will work for everyone, please consult a medical professional before fasting for extended periods of time). Before fasting I used to count my calories with apps and everything but I started becoming a bit obsessed, so the fasting works for me.
How do you keep a work/life balance? And how do you find time for your family and children?
It’s hard as I need to be running my bakery almost 24/7, I don’t really sleep a lot personally because at 3am I need to be awake in case someone calls me to say they can’t come into work. I sleep with one eye open all the time.
Finding the balance has been hard because when it’s your own money you’re investing, it’s very different. I put 15 years of savings into this bakery. When I opened my bakery, my daughter was one-year-old and I rarely saw her for about two years because the first 14 months I was at work all the time, working overnight and sleeping in the day.
Now, I try to be home in the mornings so that I can prepare the lunch boxes for the kids, and I try to take at least one day off per week to enjoy my family.
What’s next for Christophe Grilo?
Well there is actually a new project on the way but it’s all very hush hush so I can’t say too much (trust us, we tried asking but his lips are sealed). For now what I really want to do is to take my wife to the beach, without our phones, and just eat and drink.
What are your thoughts on home cooking and the community embracing sourdough culture during the Circuit Breaker?
I said it before but people go back to basics in time like these, and during the Circuit Breaker they were trying to bake for themselves. It was a good start and also helped increase our business as our sourdough production went up by 40% during that time.
What would your “last supper” menu be?
It would have to be all of the French junk food, with litres and litres of beer and wine…!
Thank you so much, Christophe.
Order his Gluten Free Wildflower Honey and Raisin Scone here.