Sign Me Up!


Sign Me Up For:


Our Sponsors

Our Partners

 



 

Search CT Bites
Eating Out

Get Lunching! Romanacci Cafe in Norwalk: 2 Italian brothers create artisan pizzas, salads, focaccia paninis, crepes & Italian pastries.


Ummmmm.....Tacos..... Run, don't walk to Casa Villa in Stamford if you haven't been. 

Our Sponsors

Twitter
We Wrote A Book!

« Save the Date: Dine with Design 2012 @ The Glass House | Main | Upcoming Workshops at Millstone Farm in Wilton »
Sunday
Apr222012

Behind the Scenes @ Isabelle et Vincent Bakery in Fairfield

 

It’s 8am on a Friday and we’re here to observe the inner workings at Isabelle et Vincent, aka The French Bakery in Fairfield. Eight a.m. is nowhere near the dark morning hours one would associate with a baker’s schedule, and yet there’s plenty going on even at this “late” hour. In one corner of the kitchen, a wide galley space behind the counter lined with ovens, a gigantic standing mixer, and speed racks of measured flour and finished pastries, strawberry tarts are being assembled. The scent of fresh berries, an enormous pile of ruby red, hit us before we even laid eyes on them. In fact, the entire space is a feast for the senses. Piles of baguettes, stacks of macarons in a rainbow of color, glistening apple tarts, fondant covered eclairs, and savory quiches...close your eyes and just imagine a symphony of freshly baked bread, butter, sugar, fruit, and chocolate. It’s incredible. 

But what’s even more incredible about this special place is the charming couple who run it: Isabelle and Vincent Koenig. The Koenigs resided in Strasbourg, a French town near the border of Alsace where they owned a bakery for 18 years (Vincent is a 7th generation baker). In January 2007, Vincent, who was approaching his 40th birthday declared to his wife: “At 40 you divorce or you change your life.” Because the Koenigs were (and remain) very much in love, they made a change. A big one. They flew to New York, telling their family it was a vacation, but they had other plans in mind. Their host took them on a day trip to Fairfield County, Connecticut, where they were enchanted by the New England landscape.

Returning with their children, then aged 8 and 10, a few weeks later and showing them the area, the family agreed to move. By May 2007 Isabelle and Vincent sold their business in France and moved to Westport. Speaking very little English, the road wasn’t easy, filled with trial and error as well as financial sacrifice. Yet the Koenigs persevered, sustained by the emotional support of their new neighbors, who welcomed them with open arms. Eventually, as luck would have it, they connected with a landlord, a francophile himself and the owner of a property in Fairfield off the Post Road where the bakery now stands. The deal was made over a glass of wine, a handshake, and a mutual love of France.

For the next 10 months Vincent tinkered with his recipes, adapting them as necessary while building out the new bakery space. It’s no stereotype that the French love their bread, and the Koenigs were dearly missing their daily baguette. Using the small oven in their house, Vincent perfected his baguette recipe first for his own family, and the end result can be tasted today at the store--a crisp, crunchy crust with a slightly chewy center.

By May 2008, the bakery officially opened and has been satisfying pastry cravings here ever since. Each week, it runs through nearly 200 lbs of butter along with 25 to 30 lb bags of flour for the baguettes alone. Vincent doesn’t believe in the superiority of European ingredients; but rather, great flour, eggs, butter, and fruit can all be found here. His recipes are a mixture of old tradition and new discoveries, and he never tires of tinkering. 

When we met with Vincent, he had been at work since 3 a.m., which apparently was a bit on the late side, and he was putting the finishing touches on some desserts. On the counter before him were rich, decadent looking chocolate bombes and alongside, large parchment lined baking sheets spread paper thin with glossy dark chocolate. Breaking the chocolate into shards, he decorated the bombes methodically and beautifully. Next were large apricot tarts, the fruit nestled in vanilla pastry cream. Vincent gave the tart a generous dusting of powdered sugar and cut it into slices before it made its way into the display case.

We snuck into the chocolate room, a glass enclosed space that is part kitchen, part laboratory. Intricate sugar lattices were draped over large cans to form them into concave shapes, chocolate molds in all sizes were piled on a work table, including ceramic bunny molds given to Vincent by his grandfather. Isabelle half joked that when he’s working with chocolate, you cannot utter a word to Vincent, as tempering the chocolate requires his intense and complete concentration. Vincent takes chocolate very seriously and it shows. After our visit, he was going to work on something special--a chocolate case to enclose a ring--a unique order requested by a customer as a gift to his wife.

Vincent and Isabelle work with a staff no larger than six, eight if you count their children, Caroline and Philippe, now in high school, who come in the early morning hours to help their parents before their school day begins. It’s a small staff that allows the Koenigs to have complete quality control. They have no interest in expanding, nor wish to sell their confections to local restaurants for their dessert menus. They want to see their customers face to face. While Vincent, in the words of his wife is the “artiste,” Isabelle can be found behind the counter greeting people with her sweet and open smile, and performs the hard work of running the business itself. 

On his one day off, Vincent generally stays out of the kitchen. He enjoys tinkering in his yard and being outdoors, but the bakery, in the Koenig’s own words is “the place we love.” For them, it is truly their home away from home. Their customers, their extended family. As we were leaving, we noticed by the door a chalkboard with this message, "Dear Wonderful Customers, We are closed from April 16 to April 23 -Isabelle et Vincent."

 

Isabelle et Vincent 1903 Post Road, Fairfield (203) 292-8022

Isabelle et Vincent on Urbanspoon

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (10)

Yes, their pastries and breads are lovely but dining in is another experience.

I took a friend for breakfast - they had neither honey for her tea nor soy milk for my latte. The soy milk I could live without, but honey, come on now. And the funny thing is, this friend took her California sister two weeks prior, and her sister complained how they were so behind the times not having soy milk available.

After that experience, I crossed it off my list and have complained to several people about this. One person being a gentleman who happened to live across the street from the proprietors - small world!

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaster of Light Chick

Good place but not worth the ''EXORBITANT'' prices..........I'd rather go to So No Bakery and in fact they now even have a satellite store right on the Post Road in the A&J Market in Westport

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPD Chef

Really? I just bought a box of macarons there last week and thought they were very reasonably priced. Plus, their baguettes are worth any amount of money...as are the brioche and chocolate croissant. You just can't get real French patisserie this good anywhere else.

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Just want to respond about the bakery's lack of soy milk, etc. This piece is about the owner's story. It's insight into why they do what they do, their philosophy and what makes them tick. It is not a review of a coffee shop.That said, the pastries and bread are excellent and authentic--and while I'm on that subject, local and quality are worthwhile commodities, though exorbitant isn't a word I'd associate with the French Bakery's prices. I've never found Sono to have the same warm, welcoming vibe, especially at their outpost in Westport, and last I checked, they sell $7 loaves of bread. There's just no comparison.The Koenigs run a bakery, which they've been doing for over 2 decades both here and in France. If soy milk is what you need, then there's a Starbuck's nearby that's perfect for you.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Thanks for sharing the story of these remarkable and talented bakers. Knowing their story is a privilege,and I thank you for sharing it with us. Our beautiful USA, and yes, Fairfield County, is composed of brave immigrants who transport their lives and talents to their new land. I am thankful that Isabelle e Vincent are close by, making our landscape that much more delicious.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Rueven

Isabelle e Vincent's brioche is par excellence and equal to any in the bakery world. Those who know the bakery on the hill in St. Barths will appreciate the comparison.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

The baguettes are the best around; the regular and semolina are my favorite. I have to get three or four of them when I have people over. That is usually all I get, but everything else I've had there is delicious, too: the pastries with eggs and ham or spinach, and the chocolate almond crisps, and something that resembles a pecan pie.

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersupermansid

To Melissa ..........just because you wrote the story you seem to have a biased opinion of the place which is fine, all these sites are, are nothing more than pro advertisements and plugs for all these different venues, which again is also fine in this difficult economy, but to write an article/review/plug or whatever without including anything that could need improvement is not only unrealistic but poor writing on your part.

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPD CHEF

I agree with PD CHEF. While I have been going to Isabelle et Vincent for quite some time, both dining in and out, I still have items on my pro and con list. She has highlighted many good points, which is equally as important as pointing out the areas that are lacking. "Reviews" of restaurants are composed of two parts, the positive and the negative. On occasion, the neutral might be added, to fluff up the content length a bit.

Regardless of the author, this establishment does deserve the praise. For an extra special treat, stop by on a Saturday for the beignets, a weekend only treat. The whole grain baguettes are also fantastic, their nutty flavor adding another dimension to the already perfect buttery taset of a traditional baguette. I also agree with Master of Light Chick, the dining experience leaves much to be desired. Uncomfortable stools, too-small tables, and what seems to be an overly awkward setup between the front door and the pastry displays. Let's be honest, once you fumble past the entrance and arrive at a plethora of freshly baked baguettes, the smell of strawberries from the recently prepared tarts hitting you, all else seems to melt away.

To Isabelle and Vincent, je vous remercie pour votre amour de la p√Ętisserie!

April 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I adore Isabelle & Vincent's, it's like stepping into a little piece of Europe, so authentic and there is no better baguette around. SoNo bakery doesn't even come close. Buy an almond croissant from each place, and do a blind test. Not even close. I also love how Isabelle greets you in French, always handing you your order with a 'Voila!' and a flourish. I have never eaten in, but then again if I were in a French cafe, I wouldn't expect to see soy milk on the menu. This is as close to the real deal as you're going to get.

April 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathy J

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>