It’s a lucky traveler who comes home not only with fantastic photos and riveting tales of foreign adventure, but also delicious food memories that are so epic one’s taste buds respond on queue to fond recollections of a savory treat found in a special Parisian bakery or the perfect Pilsner sipped in the off-the-beaten-track cafe in Berlin. Worldly experiences of the culinary variety can be so remarkable that when we return home from our trip, we want to recreate not just those flavors, but also the long ago feelings. Such was the starting point for Michelle and Garrett Furuichi, the much beloved owners of Deux Chats Bakery, in Ashland, Oregon.
The Furuichi’s share memories of traveling in Europe, specifically in Freiburg, Germany, where they would find themselves at the open market beckoned by an outdoor vendor peddling hot savory dishes of spaetzle. The sausages and sauerkraut had been tenderly grilling in spiced juices for hours, remembers Garrett. “Our memories of that spaetzle and other foods we ate in Europe are part of what inspired us. We wanted to provide really good food that creates a fond memory of a place and time.” Michelle agrees, “That’s what food should be about, not going to a grocery store and hoping you’re going to find just some ‘thing’… food wants to be special; it wants a unique experience.”
And with that she is excitedly talking about her passion: bread. “Food wants a gathering. You know, the whole history of bread before people had ovens in their homes was you went to the one big oven in the community square. There someone would bake off your bread for you. It would be a huge loaf to feed a family for a week, and it was a community-based venture!”
Not quite a decade ago Michelle found herself looking for new challenges as her full-time mom duties began to shift. One day on a bookstore adventure with their son Miles, she discovered a cookbook that had percentages in it (versus traditional measurements), and it handled bread making in a whole different way. She brought it home and “finished” the whole book in a month, trying every single recipe in the book. She was positively inspired to take it to the next level.
“I said to Garrett, wouldn’t it be fun if we had a bakery? And Garrett being the business mind said, ‘How do you see yourself doing that? How do you think that would unfold? How does this translate into a real business? You do the research and figure it out.”
The Furuichi’s were living in Reno, Nevada at the time with their young son, Miles, who now can occasionally be found behind the counter helping out on busy days, and Garrett was working as the Economic Development Director for the Wascho Indian Tribe. “I’d come home and our neighbors would be eating this great bread”, he recalls.
Eventually, with her husband’s challenge and her own “force of nature” spirit she discovered the leading bread and pastry school…SFBI, The San Francisco Baking Institute, just a few blocks from where she had worked for years before their Reno days. And a challenge it was! Michelle spent two weeks each month in San Francisco, far from home. “I spent long hours at the school baking, washing dishes, mopping floors…you did it all. Boy, my eyes were opened up to bread being more than just a couple of ingredients in the bowl. It was science now, and it was really exciting.”
Her class instructors eventually recognized her hard work and skill with an invitation to “Camp Bread”, the United State Baking Team selection process, the winners of which go on to represent the United States at Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie, the international baking event in Paris.
Michelle won a spot on Craig Ponsford’s team, which won the very first US team event and went on to winning the gold). “When I was involved with Camp Bread or any of those events that they would allow me to help and be a part of a team, I learned this is hard work. I also learned that not everybody has this kind of work ethic. People kept coming up and asking, “Who are you? Where are you from?” Little did I know, they were thinking “come live in my town and work for me.” This was six years ago, and the Furuichi’s were on the verge of big changes.
“So, I still had this idea about opening a bakery. I was sitting with Michel Suis, the owner of SFBI, and I said, ‘I just want to make bread.’ I did not want to get involved with sugar. To me bread was nutritional, and it’s been given such a bad rap; I wanted it to be something really really good. And he said, ‘No, Michelle, you can’t make a living off just selling bread. That’s not what people want. They want sugar; they want the pastries; they want cookies.’ “ Michelle laughs and gestures around the bakery, “Sure enough, it’s true.
Michelle: “For me I look at it as where can I take this bakery so I don’t feel like I’m killing off my customers? We like to jokingly say that’s why we’re only open two days a week – because our customers are healthier.” Michelle uses cane juice sugars at Deux Chats, and tries to eliminate as much sugar from her pastries and breads as possible. She is continually experimenting without hurting the integrity of a recipe. While Deux Chats Bakery products have been turned down by larger local merchants for not being sweet enough, Michelle and Garrett stand firmly by their artisan baking ethics.
The Furuichi’s also teach baking classes. Michelle doesn’t just want people to buy from the pastry cases. She wants people to appreciate why the bread that she makes is different than the sugary loaf that can be crushed in the palm of your hand, and she wants to teach people how to make the ‘good stuff.’ Here’s a few examples of that “good stuff”!
When Michelle describes the nutritional art of a good crust, you truly know you are in the presence of a creative. In bread there is a little lip of crust that pulls away during baking from the body of the loaf right along the score-marks slashed in the surface during the proofing process. In French, this literally means “the grin,” or la grigne (pronounced la-green-yeh). It is said that la grigne is good for children and old people because it’s healthy for the gums and teeth. It’s chewier. In fact, it has all the natural sugars that occur in flour as the starches break down. When bread is baked those sugars leave the crumb area and start to rise to the surface, which causes all the beautiful caramelization, and it chemically changes. That caramelization becomes a healthier form of a type of sugar that our body can digest. Michelle states emphatically that it’s more nutritious, and “it doesn’t exist in any white pan bread!”
And good nutritional bread is certainly available at this unique Ashland bakery, along with occasional classes, delectable memory-making pastries, and a couple of passionate folks who truly care about their business and community. Deux Chats is only open on Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM or, as they say on their web site and their front door, “until we sell out” – which they often do. “We advertise on the door, but that’s it. People ask us why we don’t advertise, but we’re afraid to create the expectation. Given our current production level, it would be unfair to advertise and then sell out really really early. We’d disappoint a lot of people. We keep it going until 2:30, but advertising would have us sell out at 12. We’re not trying to intentionally disappoint people.”
The other five days are not “days off” as rumored. Rather, Michelle is developing recipes and carefully preparing for their regular customers as well as the lucky passersby who stroll in early Friday or Saturday morning. Perhaps this aspect of Deux Chats is also founded in memories that want to be carried forward. Michelle recalls, “My dad loved food. We would travel to new places, and when I was a child he and I would go out first thing, and he would make a beeline to the nearest bakery. He wanted to be there when it opened. He wanted the first baguette out of the oven. Memories are what “start” a passion. The only difference between you and I is that I do it everyday.”
Get the goods here:
Deux Chats Bakery
222 A Street