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Apollonia Transcript

 “Good Bread, from Poilâne to Zingerman's Bakehouse” Transcript

Kerry Diamond: Hey everyone. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Today's show is all about bread. We're talking to two very different women who oversee big baking operations. One in Paris and one in Ann Arbor, Michigan. First up is Apollonia Poilâne, CEO of her family bakery, which is nothing less than a Parisian institution. Apollonia has written her first English language cookbook out now. It's called Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery. We sat down to talk about bread, legacy, and family. At the end of the show, we're airing a special conversation that we recorded on career day at the Food And Finance High School: New York city's only culinary focused public high school.

Kerry Diamond: Amy Emberling, who is a managing partner at Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor was very gracious and hung out with us and the students for a class we did on podcasting. Amy is also the coauthor of the Zingerman's Bakehouse Cookbook. If you'd like to support this free podcast, consider subscribing to Cherry Bombe Magazine. Our new issue, issue 14 is out right now and you can choose from one of five different covers from Alison Roman to Jorie Greenspan. We also have back issues available on our website. Get Cherry Bombe delivered direct to your door. Visit for more. Now here's my conversation with Apollonia Poilâne.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us about the history of your family's company. It's quite the storied history.

Apollonia Poilâne: So Poilâne started in 1932 in Paris when my grandfather Pierre decided to establish in St Germain des près. He started making big wheat sourdough loaves that were not so much in fashion at the time because Paris in the early 20th century was a place where people wanted white bread in smaller formats. But my grandfather wanted to do something that would set him apart and also respond to his perceived demand in the neighborhood for breads that kept and breads and that would feed you. The neighborhoods that back then was filled with artists and craftsmen, people who needed to have bread that would sustain their days worth of work, and that's where our breads found their initial success. My father followed my grandfather's footsteps and structured the family business and grew it to be both B2C, we have to date four shops in Paris.

Apollonia Poilâne: I opened two in the past 17 years. And also distribution, we have over 1500 retailers and restaurants using our breads across Paris and surroundings. And we've also been shipping around the world since the 70s. Yes, my mom definitely helped out. She was American and she definitely encouraged my father. FedEx being such a great shipper with overnights logistics made it just the perfect partner in this. But we also have been fortunate in St Germain des pres to be in a neighborhood where we've attracted since the end of world war II, tremendous following of internationals and Americans in particular. And that's how my grandfather started meeting also because of his personality because he was a pretty amazing-

Kerry Diamond: Did you know your grandfather?

Apollonia Poilâne: Yeah, I knew my grandfather until I was nine. And I have learned so many things with him. One of them is a sense of precision, a sense of pride in our craft, but also how to present our craft to our clients.

Kerry Diamond: Is the shop in St Germain the original?

Apollonia Poilâne: It is.

Kerry Diamond: Oh wow.

Apollonia Poilâne: So our original store is in St Germain des près on number eight rue du Cherche-Midi and we have a store in the 15th next to the Eiffel tower. One in the Marais and one in the 19th next to the Buttes Chaumont arc.

Kerry Diamond: I was trying to explain to someone the role Poilâne plays in France. And I don't really know that we have anything, we certainly don't have a food that's the equivalent of that or a brand that's the equivalent of that food wise. I mean, it's almost like how Americans feel about Chevy or a car brand or something is the way people feel about your family's bread brand. I mean, it represents more than bread to your country.

Apollonia Poilâne: Well, I think first-

Kerry Diamond: Am I overstating it?

Apollonia Poilâne: I think okay, so the lack of words comes more from thank you for your kind words and thoughts. The Poilâne bread baking tradition is very particular because it represents both an homage to the French bread baking tradition. For years and years the French ate these big cogs of bread as I describing them in my book. They're the breads that fed people because ... and just for a point of reference in the early 20th century, an average French person ate around two pounds of bread per day-

Kerry Diamond: Two pounds per day?

Apollonia Poilâne: So effectively that would have been half of my big loaves of wheat sourdough bread. And I think it's hard to compare this with the American bread baking tradition because it just stems and has developed in a different way. If not for anything else, just because the geography is different. What's interesting being both French and American, and we used to discuss this a bunch with my father and he always said to me, "You know, it's about having ... you're lucky enough that you have both cultures at within hands reach. Take the best of both." And for me, I've seen how both cultures have fed the Poilâne tradition, my father's openness into serving the world with our breads, biscuits, bakers' pastries, but also the way that it has ...

Apollonia Poilâne: I can draw comparisons and the generations of bread bakers that have risen in the decades, in the recent decades in the US whereas in France it's the same, at the core of it, I think it's the same drive to eat food that will nurture your body and soul. And it comes in different shapes and forms. But that's just because we're different. We're different countries, we have different geographies, they stem from different traditions.

Kerry Diamond: So I read in your book that your father was somewhat reluctant to take over the company.

Apollonia Poilâne: Absolutely. I mean, not only that, he was forced into the business by my grandfather. He was 14 years old when my grandfather pulled him out of school. And because he was young, didn't really know where he wanted to be except that he didn't want to be there. He got a lot of time to think. And especially when you work at night, because when you work at night as a baker, it's this time where like it's quite the sight. There's no movement going on upstairs in the bakehouse to create that conversation. And so what he came to realize over the next couple of years is that his family's bakery was actually a fantastic connecting point or corner, like a crossroads point for connecting with the world.

Apollonia Poilâne: And he realized that bread is a great, for lack of a better term, currency of exchange. And I think that it's so beautifully portrayed when you think about the word companion, which is someone with whom you share bread. That revelation was what he shared with me and my sister growing up. And it's certainly what has gotten the both of us interested in our craft. My sister is not interested in operations. She's an amazing artist, an amazing visual artist. But we work together on strategy and we love to see how some of our father's education has infused our outlook.

Kerry Diamond: So you said in the intro to your cookbook that there was sort of a turning point for your dad where he realized that, okay, he might be stuck in this subterranean baking layer, but that he would bring the world to him. If he couldn't be out in the world, he would bring it into the bakery.

Apollonia Poilâne: He could share his bread baking tradition. And I think he could also share his outlook on it. People often, you take bread for granted until it's missing. And I think the revolutions that were started because of bread, if not quasi all of them, are telling us to the importance of it. But I think that was the beauty of his revelation was like, I have this extraordinary, I have gold in my hands and I'm going to let people know. And actually the book project started with a similar sort of experience where I kept my bread for much longer than I advertise. I kept it for over a week and I was eating through the last slices of the bread and I was thinking, wow, if even I having grown in this business a little over 30, I think that this is amazing, I need people to know about this. Not only because I'm super proud, but also because I don't see or at least not enough just how many possibilities breads offer.

Apollonia Poilâne: Bread, and this is one of the running themes in my book is I want to suggest to my readers that bread is not only a great food, but it's also a fantastic ingredient. And it doesn't take all that much to look into history, for instance, to find different recipes that are building blocks for most of the recipes that I made. They were also my travels, my encounters with people from around the world who have fueled the tastes or the ways that I look at bread and the pairings that I do, or the uses of bread as an ingredient. But it stems from this, bread is that cool of a product.

Kerry Diamond: So similar to how your father was expected to take over the business, were there the same expectations for you?

Apollonia Poilâne: Not really. In fact, quite the contrary. My father had been so traumatized by having been forced into the family business that he put a point of honor to not force me or my sister into the family business. I have known that I wanted to take over this family business since I was a very young child. I have voiced it. And it happens certainly much sooner than planned. I was 18 when I took over and by all standards, it's young. When I was 16, my mom came up to me on a Mayday holiday time and she was like, "You're going to have to start learning your craft. Why don't you use the school holidays or the bank holidays to start learning your craft?" And so that's how I started working in the bake house with Felix and I finished off my apprenticeship after high school. So it really was the family-

Kerry Diamond: So what's what the apprenticeship involved?

Apollonia Poilâne: Apprenticeship at Poilâne is a nine month long process. And symbolically in effect what happens is that on day one, you as a young apprentice observe and on the last day it's your method d'apprentissage. So the person who's taught you, who looks at what you've done. And it's an amazing thing because you realize that there are some things you learn in books and some that you learn by practice. And the Poilâne baking methods is the latter. And what you do over the course of nine months has realized the impact of seasons, the impacts of grains that have just been out of the soil or those have been stored for almost a year before they're milled into flour. And all of how all of these things have an impact on your baking.

Apollonia Poilâne: And so while the recipe for baking may sound simple, what is complicated and what makes for Baker and Baker is your ability to adjust. And so in the book, what I try to do is get my readers to really open their five senses to that. Because ultimately the Poilâne baking experience is about using your five senses to adjust and perfect the loaf on a daily basis.

Kerry Diamond: I read that in your book. So obviously you can tell with your nose, with your eyes, how can you hear that the bread is done?

Apollonia Poilâne: Ooh, when you bring out some of the bread out of the oven, you store it on a rack and you put the loafs vertically, one behind the other. And after just a couple of minutes you start hearing the bread shimmer and that little concerto is assigned that the bread is going to start cooling off, is adequately cooked because it's the hard crust that creates that little symphony. It's really interesting. I tried to use my phone to capture the sound, doesn't quite reflect it. But I have a few ideas on how to share that because it's often a stage of baking that's overlooked. But cooling off is actually an important part of baking.

Kerry Diamond: So I want you to tell everyone the story of how you came to take over the company. So you were 16 when you knew you wanted to take over and you were apprenticed.

Apollonia Poilâne: And probably before that. I mean I remember when my father would say, "Oh, she's thinking maybe taking you over one day." I was barely tall enough to pull down his jacket and when later on elbow him to say, "I want to take over the family business." But it happened much sooner than planned. When I was 18 and had graduated high school, I took a year off before I went to college. I had been admitted at Harvard college and that fall working at the bake house one evening I received a phone call at home explaining that my parents had had an accident and my father being a passionate pilot, I knew that given the circumstances that were explained to me that it was likely that he wouldn't survive. So that is how I took over the family business on November 1st, 2002.

Apollonia Poilâne: And it's been 17 years since I followed his footsteps, first with the team that he had in place with friends, with my parents who helped me answer questions that I had a lack of experience. And while I didn't have professional experience running a business, I had all the education my father had given me on Poilâne and I had his teams to work with. And I still work with some of the incredible men and women that he hired.

Kerry Diamond: How did you summon the emotional reserves to even step into the role that you stepped into? I mean, you had your younger sister who you probably felt very responsible for, you were leaving the country a year from then.

Apollonia Poilâne: Well, first of all, if you, if you go back to just the time when my parents passed away, to me it was very clear that I was in charge of the family business and that I should be leading up. And then I was very fortunate that I had two incredible parents that gave me fantastic toolbox for me and my sister to lead our lives. And those include curiosity and interest in building, in not letting apparent limitations or apparent walls to not be knocked off. And that's what my sister and I to date still appreciates. And that feeds us in our projects for Poilâne. And working on this book project is in many ways been that kind of project. When I thought I want to share my experience of keeping bread for a long time I thought oh, but then I have to explain what's my family's business story.

Apollonia Poilâne: And then I was like, "Oh, and then I have to explain also what you do with that piece of bread." And then I was like, "Yeah, well, but it's not just about breads I'm doing now. It's also about all the work that I've been doing on grains and fermentation. All of that needs to fit into this book." And then ah, yes, I need to have people understand what's going on in a bakery on a daily basis. So all of these things I was like, "Okay, what's a good format?" And my inclination was writing a book and I'm not a writer. So I was like-

Kerry Diamond: And this is your first English language book, is it?

Apollonia Poilâne: It is.

Kerry Diamond: Because you've written several cook books.

Apollonia Poilâne: I've written several cookbooks and Poilâne has several books in French, but I've written more papers in English than I have in French.

Kerry Diamond: Well, tell from the rest of your story. So you actually did go to Harvard.

Apollonia Poilâne: So I did go to Harvard. So fall of 2002 I take over the family business. I have about 10 months ahead of me to decide what I'm going to do with Poilâne and what my admission at Harvard, and I decided that I would try and do both. And compared to French education, in America the beauty of liberal arts education is that schools encourage you to have other things than the classroom. So I went to Harvard, and I juggled between classes, homework. I think that the time zone differences were a great asset because I could wake up earlier. And then I also do want to point out that I had a lot of my classmates who were involved in varsity sports. Some of them were international competitors in senior. One of my friends was a squash player. He was an international squash player at the time. I mean Facebook was started in 2004. So I mean, anyone who's like who thinks that they have a project worth pursuing, why not try and do both? I mean, depends-

Kerry Diamond: I don't think you're giving yourself as much credit as you deserve for being in college and juggling that.

Apollonia Poilâne: I think I was very lucky that I had a great team, a solid business and a clear understanding that I was doing this college education to help me get some basis that I would learn better there and that at the same time this was also my family's business and that I want to lead it onto the fourth generation.

Kerry Diamond: So interesting just to think of this trajectory that you have been on. I mean, you had the rise of no carbs, gluten-free, and now we're back to a bread moment, which is so interesting.

Apollonia Poilâne: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: How have you written that roller coaster?

Apollonia Poilâne: Well, I will tell you over the couple of years that I've been in charge of the family business by now, one thing that I've noticed is that there always is a trend, a food trend, which in one shape, way, form or another points out bread as a problem. Put in my father's words, it's an ingrédient premiere. So it really is this quintessential food. And so I think that that makes for the common threats where every food diet taps into one issue with bread or another. But I look at my craft as this crossroads between cereal grains and fermentation. And so for me, I'm not interested so much in the trends as much as I'm interested in building the range of what we do in breads, biscuits and baker's pastries using the tastes and flavors of cereal grains.

Kerry Diamond: You must feel very heartened that there is such a big movement right now toward heritage grains, sourdough bread, people with their own starters at home. I'm sure you're very aware of this going on in the US.

Apollonia Poilâne: Yeah, I am. And I think that what I love is in the questions that are asked and in harboring different traditions, it's ultimately the question of what is the food we're going to put into our stomachs today? Because it's not only about how it's going to feed you now, it's also how it will feed the generations thereafter.

Kerry Diamond: Does it warm your heart that there are people across America today with starters on their countertops?

Apollonia Poilâne: Yes. But what I really like is when people have sourdough pets and-

Kerry Diamond: And they named them.

Apollonia Poilâne: They name them and it's so cool.

Kerry Diamond: We've learned a lot of them are named Beyonce.

Apollonia Poilâne: Oh really?

Kerry Diamond: I don't know why, but yes. A lot of them are named Beyonce.

Apollonia Poilâne: That's amazing. That's so cute.

Kerry Diamond: So the other journey you've been on is as a female CEO and you became a CEO at the age of 18, which is, as we discussed, not the usual trajectory. But how has that been for you? Did you ever stop to think about the fact that you were a woman in this role or did that not even factor into your thinking?

Apollonia Poilâne: It didn't really factor into my thinking, but I have two thoughts that come to mind. First of all, bread has become associated with men's business, but it is a women's craft. And I think that if you look at the vocabulary surrounding bread, a lot of it is very maternal and reflects that it was a woman's knowhow. For me, taking over the family business was pretty obvious since I was a kid, and I never really questioned. But that was also because generations of women before me fought for all the rights and the things that we take for granted today and that are part of the great world in which we live today, but the one that we also need to make sure we nurture the same way we nurture a sourdough for tomorrow.

Kerry Diamond: How did you learn how to become a CEO? How do you-

Apollonia Poilâne: Am I CEO?

Kerry Diamond: Are you? It's what it says on the back of your cookbook.

Apollonia Poilâne: I am a baker and I think that if I had to pick between Baker and CEO, I would choose the term baker because it feels that in leading my family's business, it really is the craft of working with a team of men and women with whom together we create these amazing things.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. So let's talk about the cookbook a little bit more. For those who pick up the book, where should they start? Is there one recipe that is sort of a good intro to you and your style and the other recipes?

Apollonia Poilâne: I think, so the book has three parts. The morning chapters are about the family's story, where we come from, why we do the things we do the way we do it. And we offer recipes of the bakery that are adapted for a home kitchen and that's because I don't expect you to have a hundred ton heavy oven at home and I don't expect you to bake a hundred loaves at a time. And the more skilled bakers will enjoy the recipes of bread or the recipes that I put in the third chapter about my explorations around grains and fermentation. But those who are a little more shy about baking bread can take all the central chapter, which is the daytime hours from midday to midnight on how to use bread from day one to day however long you keep your bread when it's ultra fresh to ultra dry, from crust to the very last crumb.

Apollonia Poilâne: I would go through the book and choose an image you like, go through the index and choose an ingredient you have in your kitchen. Every recipe was made so that if it's very seasonal, there is an adaptation for another season. That's because, and this is just personal preference, I loved going through cookbooks of my parents' library and always was frustrated that I liked or wanted to make a recipe that was out of season. And I also, every time that I have, I give different options from varieties so that there's always a meat, a fish, a vegetarian and a vegan option because this way everyone can be around the table.

Kerry Diamond: How do you store bread at home? I never feel like I am storing bread properly and respecting the bread.

Apollonia Poilâne: Yeah. So first of all, when you ask this question, it's whether it's your own breads or breads that you buy from my bakery or an artisanal bakery. Take into account that that loaf of bread reacts a little bit like you to a dry or a humid environment, whether it's hot or whether it's cold. And it really is how you perceive your kitchen and the place you're going to keep the bread in to adjust it. So say you're in a very dry environment and rather on the colder side of the spectrum, then I would recommend keeping your bread and its paper bag and then maybe surround it in some sort of a cloth. And I would go as far as adding a plastic bag over it to really try and seal it from air and try and avoid it drying up too fast. And conversely, looking for dryness, even if that involves putting your bread in your refrigerator if it's a super, super, super hot and humid day.

Apollonia Poilâne: So ultimately the answer is adapt, test and trial at keeping breads. My breads freeze really well and provided it's done in some sort of wrapping you will be absolutely fine to pull it out and let it to rest on your kitchen counter before inviting friends over or pluck it directly in a toaster and make for last minute toasts.

Kerry Diamond: Alright. Speed round.

Apollonia Poilâne: Speed round.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Favorite kitchen utensil.

Apollonia Poilâne: Ooh, tongs.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, tongs? You might be the first to say tongs. Song that makes you smile.

Apollonia Poilâne: Anything by Andrew Bird is just ... Roma Fad is one of my absolute favorites, but Andrew Bird's work.

Kerry Diamond: A treasured cookbook. It doesn't have to be your most treasured, but just one of your most treasured cookbooks.

Apollonia Poilâne: Dorie's book on cookies because I love going through them and by the time I've flipped through them, I don't have enough time to cook the recipe.

Kerry Diamond: Dorie Greenspan, who we love so much.

Apollonia Poilâne: Please do not hate me Dorie for this saying this.

Kerry Diamond: Have you ever bought Wonderbread?

Apollonia Poilâne: Nope. Never. Something to do.

Kerry Diamond: Food you would never eat.

Apollonia Poilâne: Ultra processed foods. I like ingredients when they're raw and it's something if you go and shop with me, I am the kind of person that turns around the packet and will check on every ingredient.

Kerry Diamond: Oldest food in your refrigerator.

Apollonia Poilâne: Sourdough and cheese.

Kerry Diamond: And last question, and I'm going to put some conditions on you for this one, which we never do with the other guests, but-

Apollonia Poilâne: That's not fair.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. The question is, if you had to be trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be? But before you answer, you can't say Dorie. You can't say Ina Garten and you can't say Alice Waters because I know you know all of them and they adore you. So it has to be somebody else.

Apollonia Poilâne: It has to be-

Kerry Diamond: And Alice wrote the intro to your cookbook, which is fabulous.

Apollonia Poilâne: She did. You know the first person that comes to mind is Marie, who is the chef at La Massaria because-

Kerry Diamond: Mary Ode Rose.

Apollonia Poilâne: Because I was very fortunate to meet her through Ina but I haven't ... I love to meet new people. So yes.

Kerry Diamond: So you would be trapped on a desert Island with a brand new person?

Apollonia Poilâne: Absolutely. Why not?

Kerry Diamond: Why not?

Apollonia Poilâne: I mean, if worst comes to worst, you go and you swim out.

Kerry Diamond: Who would do what on that island?

Apollonia Poilâne: Who would do what? Well, hopefully we do things together, get to learn to know about each other and if we're trapped that there is a sense that we need to get out of there. So we hopefully two brains would be better than one to get you out.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. So Apollonia it's been really an honor and a privilege getting to know you. You're such a thoughtful, extraordinary person. So thank you for your time and for everything you've contributed to the food world.

Apollonia Poilâne: Well, thank you for greeting me and thank you very much.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you to Apollonia Poilâne for spending time with us. Be sure to check out her new book. Poilâne: The Secrets Of The World-Famous Bread Bakery. Now here's my career day chat with Amy Emberling of Zingerman's Bakehouse.

Kerry Diamond: So Amy, when did you know you wanted to be a baker?

Amy Emberling: I think I knew I wanted to bake, spend a lot of time baking when I was really, really young. My childhood nickname for my older brother was actually baker woman and that's how I sort of test whether I'm making this up or whether it was true. So I love to bake from probably the time I was eight or nine years old.

Kerry Diamond: Did you have a big family?

Amy Emberling: No, there were four kids, so big enough. And my mother really didn't like to bake at all. And it's sort of fun to be here in New York. She was from New York. I think she liked to buy things at bakeries. So as soon as I was big enough to sort of take it over from her, she was very happy to let me do it.

Kerry Diamond: Did you have a specialty as a child?

Amy Emberling: Not necessarily. I think my specialty, what they would tell you is that my specialty was, I'm talking on the phone and baking at the same time, which they objected to because you really shouldn't do that. So if any of you are students here, being distracted like that does not always lead to success.

Kerry Diamond: A lot of baking is very precise. Cooking, you can maybe not have to pay as much attention. For baking-

Amy Emberling: And you can fix it sometimes.

Kerry Diamond: Exactly. So even though you loved baking, you decided not to follow a culinary career path immediately. You wound up going to Harvard.

Amy Emberling: Right. Well, that was in 1984. So I don't know what you were doing in 1984 Kerry. But going to culinary school was not nearly as popular as it is today. Just to give everybody a little frame of reference. The Food Network started in 1992 and chefs were becoming like super famous, maybe a little bit in the '80s, but more in the '90s. So I didn't even really imagine that I could do this. I did know about the restaurant management program at Cornell. So I had it in the back of my mind maybe sometime I would go there, but it didn't seem like it was truly an option. You needed to go to college to do sort of the straight and narrow thing.

Kerry Diamond: So since a lot of the students in the room will be heading onto college, you went to Harvard. It's notoriously difficult to get into an Ivy league school. How did you do it?

Amy Emberling: Well, I studied really hard. I wanted to be able to get in. Both of my brothers had gone there and my sister didn't get accepted, so I wanted to do it for the women in our family. So I focused and I studied and I got good grades and I did a lot of extracurricular activities. And then of course, getting into some of those schools is just a lot of luck. I have to say maybe living in a weird place like Nova Scotia helped. And so those of you who are in New York city, you have that against you because there are so many people here.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah, we should talk about Nova Scotia for a second because Nova Scotia and New York city couldn't be more different. So can you paint a picture for everyone of Nova Scotia?

Amy Emberling: Well, I mean, Nova Scotia is in far Eastern Canada. It's a long narrow, what's called an isthmus. It's not really an island. It's still kind of connected to the mainland. There is an island called Cape Breton, and that's actually where I grew up. There are about, I don't know, a million people who live there. It's not very populated, but it takes seven hours to drive from one end to another. So you can have an idea. There's a fair amount of geography, but not very many people. It's pretty isolated. I remember when I went, my husband came with me for the first time we drove there and he said, "When are we going to get there? I feel like I'm at the end of the world." But I grew up in a town that was a steel plant town and a coal mining town. And so that was sort of the culture, very working class.

Kerry Diamond: And then you decided to go to culinary school?

Amy Emberling: I did. I mean, what happened was I finished college, moved to Ann Arbor. I thought, you know I want to have some fun. I still love to cook and to bake. I want to work in a restaurant for a year and then maybe I'll do something, a real job, but that was the end. So I ended up going to cooking school and I've been in the field the rest of the time.

Kerry Diamond: So you went to culinary school in France?

Amy Emberling: I did. I did do that because my life, my early life is marked by a lot of courageous, bold things. And by the time I could go to cooking school, I was already married and I had a baby even though I think I was about 25. And I wanted to go to a cooking school that was a relatively short program. And so there were great programs and short ones in France.

Kerry Diamond: Did you pack up your whole family and go to France?

Amy Emberling: Yes. We all went together and-

Kerry Diamond: Did you speak french?

Amy Emberling: Enough. Yes.

Kerry Diamond: What did you learn going to culinary school?

Amy Emberling: I mean, I learned an incredible number of important techniques and I wanted to go to culinary school rather than just learn in a restaurant. When you work in a restaurant, you learn a ton and you learn how you have to make things when you're making them fast or in large quantities. But when you go to school, you get to learn the real precise ways of doing it. And then being in France, you know that French chefs, they are very particular and you really learned some things about precision and aesthetics. And so I think it was really valuable.

Kerry Diamond: All right. So then after France, where do you go?

Amy Emberling: After France while we were still in Ann Arbor. So we came back to Ann Arbor, continued to work in some restaurants, and then my husband finally finished graduate school and we left town. We went to Denmark for a year. I couldn't work because I didn't have proper papers. That was fine. I had two children. I loved that year there and then we moved to New York.

Kerry Diamond: And you went to Columbia Business School.

Amy Emberling: I did. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Did you have a specialty?

Amy Emberling: Yeah, I focused on marketing.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. So then you graduate with your MBA. What do you do next?

Amy Emberling: Then I got a job as a consultant here in New York city, in a company that focused on sort of what's called mid-level businesses in the 60 to $100 million range. And I did that for about 10 months. And then the partners at Zingerman's started calling me and saying, "Do you want to come back?"

Kerry Diamond: So I think a lot of you can see already Amy's life has had a lot of sort of turns. I mean a lot of, I know when you're your age, everyone's always asking you, "What do you want to do for a living? What do you want to do? What do you want to study at school?" Amy's life was definitely not a straight line. I think you definitely saw lots of turns already a few different countries. Okay. So at this part, Amy is headed back to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Amy Emberling: That's right.

Kerry Diamond: So Amy mentioned a company called Zingerman's where she works now. Amy is a managing partner at the Zingerman's Bakehouse, but Zingerman's is a much bigger organization. So tell us what Zingerman's is.

Amy Emberling: Sure. So now after 36 years or so, Zingerman's is actually 10 businesses. We refer to the whole organization as Zingerman's Community of Businesses. There are about 20 partners each who own at least some of one of the businesses. And there are two founders, Paul Saginaw, Ari Weinzweig, and they own part of each one of the businesses. All the businesses except for one are food related. And we buy and sell between one another and then of course to the public. And then some of us are what we call wholesalers. That means we sell to other businesses. So we might sell to other non Zingerman's businesses. So there's a coffee company and a cheese making company and a mail order company, couple of restaurants.

Kerry Diamond: So what does it mean to be a managing partner?

Amy Emberling: It means that you're the owner who's actually in the business every day doing the work of the business. And when Paul and Ari started to come up with their idea of what they wanted to do, they started Zingerman's Deli. It was the first business. And after about 10 years, I thought they wanted to grow some other way. And so they came up with what we refer to as the vision of 2009. And in that vision or like a plan for the future, they said they wanted a partner who was really passionate about a particular kind of food and who would be in the business, who actually owned part of it and would be there every day because that passion of the person who's doing it, they thought really needed to be there.

Kerry Diamond: So when you first came back to Ann Arbor, what was your first role when you came back?

Amy Emberling: After business school?

Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amy Emberling: It was as co managing partner of Zingerman's Bakehouse. So I had worked at the bake house from 1992 to 1996 when it opened in '92 and then I left. There was the founder, the partner there, Frank Carollo, who is my business partner, was still there and he wanted another partner. So I was running the business with him.

Kerry Diamond: All right. So let's talk about the Bakehouse today. What are the most popular products that you sell there?

Amy Emberling: It's sort of seasonal. We make something on a Hungarian kind of cinnamon rolled bread that's called Somodi Kalács. And we only sell it a certain number of weekends a year, but people go crazy. We sell hundreds of them. So that's an example of something that's super popular.

Kerry Diamond: Right. Say that one more time.

Amy Emberling: Somodi Kalács. It's a Hungarian word.

Kerry Diamond: What goes into that?

Amy Emberling: It's a very, and if there are any culinary students in the room, an enriched bread. So that means it has a lot of butter and eggs in it. And then it is rolled out into a long, a big sheet. And then it's got brown sugar and butter on it. Just sort of like our cinnamon bread or a cinnamon roll. And then you roll it back up. Traditionally it's baked in pans that have lard on the sides of the pans. We are not doing that for a number of reasons, but it's really quite luscious.

Kerry Diamond: And how many employees do you have at the bake house?

Amy Emberling: At the bakery, there are 140 employees. You know, we run seven days a week. There's someone there baking 24 hours a day. There's more people during the day and until about midnight. So not too many people between 12:00 and 4:00 in the morning. But the rest of the time there are a lot of people.

Kerry Diamond: So what do you look for in a good employee?

Amy Emberling: What do I look for in a good employee? I look for someone who really likes to learn. I look for someone who comes to work every day ready to engage and to work, who can be positive and happy and enthusiastic, but that's really, those are the most important things. People don't even need to know that much, but if people are coming and they're ready to learn and they're excited about what we're doing, that's what's really critical.

Kerry Diamond: So you also coauthored the Zingerman's Bake House cookbook?

Amy Emberling: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Was that your first cookbook?

Amy Emberling: That was my first cookbook.

Kerry Diamond: How long was that book in the works? 20 years?

Amy Emberling: No, exactly. So it was in the works for a long time. All those recipes have been developed and we have a baking school for home bakers at the bakery. And so a lot of the recipes that we make in the bakery had already been somewhat broken down. We wrote the book when we did, because we wanted to have a book for our 25th anniversary. The actual writing of the book only happened from the first draft that went to the publisher was from January to August. So that was a bit of a challenge because I was trying to do the rest of my work at the same time, but it got done.

Kerry Diamond: How many times did the recipes have to get tested?

Amy Emberling: We tested those recipes even though they had been taught many of them in the classes, we tested them five more times by different people with different levels of experience, in different people's ovens, just to make sure that they worked.

Kerry Diamond: But cookbook's a really long process and can sometimes take as long as two years, if not more from start to finish. It's quite the journey getting a book out from your brain to a bookstore. All right. What's the most popular recipe in the cookbook?

Amy Emberling: Well, I was shocked. The one that people made the most was this hot cocoa cake. It's a coffee cake made in a Bundt pan and it's chocolate and so it's really good, but I was surprised that it was the one that people really were drawn to.

Kerry Diamond: All right. Amy, since we again have some school students here, I would love for you to share the best piece of advice you've ever been given.

Amy Emberling: Do what you want to do, not what you think you should do. How about that?

Kerry Diamond: Except in class.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's episode. Thank you to Apollonia Poilâne and Amy Emberling for coming by the show. If you are in Ann Arbor, be sure to check out the Zingerman's Bakehouse or if you're in Paris, lucky you, be sure to visit one of the Poilâne locations. Not traveling anytime soon, no problem. Both Amy and Apollonia's wonderful baking books are available at your local bookstore. Thank you to the Food and Finance High School for hosting us on their career day. If you are in New York city and would love to support the high school, you can buy tickets to their upcoming gala on March 9th. Tickets are on sale online right now. I am a co-chair of the event, so I'd love to see you there. Sophia Bush is hosting and Questlove is the evening's honoree. Don't forget to subscribe to Radio Cherry Bombe wherever you get your podcasts. We would appreciate that very much. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited, engineered, and produced by the one and only Jess Zeidman. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening everybody. You are the bombe.

Catie Randazzo: I'll have what she's having. Hi, my name is Catie Randazzo and I'm the chef owner of Ambrose and Eve and Preston's: A Burger Joint. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Chef Marsha Ginsburg, the wine steward at Ambrose and Eve. Because when I was a young culinary student and she was my instructor, she saw something in me that I did not see in myself. Over the years, she has pushed me and motivated me and supported me to become the chef that I am today. And without her, I wouldn't be where I am. And now we get to work with each other every weekend and that's pretty awesome.