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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

La Victoria Bakery: Re-inventing the Concha and Other Mexican Breads

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 9:00 AM

  • Camila McHugh
Camila McHugh

When Chef Luis Villavelazquez joined La Victoria Bakery as head pastry chef almost a year and a half ago, he wanted to perfect pan dulce classic, the concha. As I take a bite of a fluffy white concha I've chosen out of the display case, I find the dough is soft and almost chewy. It is dense like the conchas I remember from Oaxaca, and the sugar topping is not an attempt to distract from dry bread but simply an elegant final touch. 

Now that Villavelazquez' has perfected the concha, he wants to reinvent it.

Villavelazquez has a vision for a dough infused with cacao nibs, little pieces of raw chocolate. He gets some nibs out for me to try, they are crunchy and bitter like espresso beans, but Villavelazquez is sure they'll work wonders in this redesigned concha. He jokes that he might be shooting himself in the arm because of the high demand he anticipates for this concha 2.0, which he plans to top with freeze dried strawberries in lieu of the traditional sugar.

Villavelazquez is certainly keeping himself busy running La Victoria's kitchen, which hosts nine rental kitchens where the likes of Hapa SF and Wholesome Bakery whip up their grub. As the head of the kitchen, he is working to foster a restaurant camaraderie despite the individualistic goals of a commissary kitchen. As warmer weather and food truck season approach, some competition and perhaps a little drama (like a squabble over Old World Food Truck's brand new truck) are inevitable, but Villavelazquez continues to work towards what he seems to consider a golden word: "kitchen etiquette." Though he describes the struggle of striking this balance, I watch as he jokes with other food truck chefs and admits "This is how it really is," he says, "we all just joke and tease each other all the time."

  • Camila McHugh
Villavelazquez also runs his own pastry line, Les Elements, and is the mastermind behind La Victoria, but he emphasizes how much La Victoria does as an institution, more than what most people realize. He estimates that La Victoria bread and pastries make their way to over 50 locations in the city before noon everyday. No one in San Francisco is mass producing pastries at a high level, and 

Villavelazquez  suggests that this is a void that perhaps only La Victoria is on the path to filling.

 La Victoria has left mediocre Mexican breads in the past with a fusion of careful technique, traditional methods, and high quality ingredients. For Villavelazquez, producing something that is both traditional and modern is not just a mission statement, but a goal that he is actively and constantly working towards. He describes his efforts to use traditional Mexican ingredients like raw goats milk, while replacing Latin American puff pastry substitutes with a buttery French recipe. 

Villavelazquez analyzes each recipe, considering each ingredient as an entity that can be altered or rearranged for a different or better product. He admits with what could have been frustration, but I think might have been fondness, that the traditional Mexican sprinkles and the red and green food dye that color cookies to recall the Mexican flag are here to stay.

With plans to travel to Mexico City to work in a traditional Mexican bakery, Villavelazquez suggests that what he wants to do for Mexican pastry is something that doesn't exist on either side of the border. "Mexican pastry chefs come up here for training and go home to open French pastry shops and make molten chocolate cake," he says. "I want to make a perfect tres leches cake with raw goats milk. I want to use Mexican ingredients. I'm not interested in macaroons." 

Villavelazquez's plans for the future are bold, but you certainly don't want to miss what is happening right now. The traditional Mexican display cases that line the windows of this landmark corner easily disguise the changes that are taking place everyday. Even these shelves may very soon be no longer as he has plans to replace the serve yourself display case that lets clients choose and opens up the possibility for so much to go wrong with an old school, soda can display case. 

Villavelazquez starts to smile as he describes the "cheesy Mexican stuff" he plans to decorate the case with to complete this kitschy remodel. His serious, deadpan tone almost breaks as he grows animated discussing the chorizo and jack cheese biscuit he is developing using flavored stocks brewed in a pressure cooker. 

As he describes this new addition to La Victoria's soon-to-be-serving Brunch menu, he notices that it's almost 6 p.m. and mentions that he has been on site at the kitchen since 11  the night before. Though he speaks somewhat nostalgically of his normal life and is hopeful that his team will soon be trained enough that he can afford himself some days off, Villavelazquez is only positive about this fast lane he is paving for himself -- and even more enthusiastic about where it might lead.

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Camila McHugh


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