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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Sniffing out a good loaf of bread

Shu Kimura, who runs Maison Kayser bakeries in Japan, says Singaporeans know good bread
The Straits Times - December 10, 2011
By: Kwan Weng Kin
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Sniffing out a good loaf of bread Shu Kimura at Maison Kayser's first Japanese store in Tokyo's Takanawa district. -- ST PHOTO: KWAN WENG KIN

Tokyo - When Singaporeans know a good thing, they home in on it, says Japanese baker Shu Kimura.

That is one of the main reasons why he decided to bring renowned Paris-based French boulangerie Maison Kayser to Singapore.

Kimura, who runs Maison Kayser's Japanese outlets, is confident Singaporeans will know what good French bread is when they taste it.

After all, Maison Kayser was once voted by French newspaper Le Figaro as having the best croissant in Paris, where there is said to be a good bakery at every street corner and also in between.

Kimura believes Singapore also has a potentially large customer base for Maison Kayser's artisanal bread.

'There are many Europeans and Japanese living in Singapore who appreciate such bread and have the buying power,' he told The Straits Times here in an interview before leaving for Singapore for the store's formal opening at Scotts Square on Monday. The bakery will feature between 50 and 60 breads, like its Japan outlets.

'I also discovered that Singaporeans really appreciate good food. When I visited Singapore 1 1/2 years ago, I was really impressed by the long queues outside a popular Chinese hotpot restaurant,' he said.

Many Singaporeans have travelled or lived abroad in Europe and Japan and are familiar with authentic French bread.

Unlike most bakeries, Maison Kayser uses the traditional method of natural fermentation, which depends on the action of up to 3,000 varieties of friendly lactic-acid bacteria and wild yeast to make the dough rise.

Such dough takes about 20 hours to rise fully, the long proofing time allowing for enzyme activity, which creates sugar by splitting starches, producing a sweetness without the need to add sugar.

Bread dough using quick-action commercial yeast, which is what most bakeries use, requires only one to two hours to rise.

'The taste is very different,' he said. 'Bread made with commercial yeast is like a sonata played on just the piano. Bread produced by natural fermentation is like a symphony played by 3,000 musical instruments.'

For the Singapore store's opening, he flew in five veteran, Paris-trained Japanese bakers and one from Paris.

Two or three of the Japanese bakers will remain in Singapore to maintain the quality of the bread produced at the store. Kimura plans to spend up to 10 days in Singapore every month to personally supervise the staff. In addition, all flour used at the Singapore store will be of the same quality as what is used in Japan, he said.

Singapore's high humidity remains a problem. 'To ensure that customers will be able to take home bread in the best possible condition, we will have freshly baked baguettes every two hours and remove any unsold baguettes from the shelves,' he said.

The increasing competition in Singapore does not faze him. 'I think it is good to have rivals like Paul and other French bakeries in Singapore. We cannot build up a strong market for French breads if there is only one good store in town,' he said, referring to the famed French Paul Bakery, which is also opening in Singapore this month.

He plans to open another one or two outlets in Singapore within the next few years.

Kimura comes from a well-known family of bakers. The family owns Kimuraya, an established Japanese bakery with a flagship store in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza shopping district and which is justifiably famous for its 'an-pan' (bread with red bean jam filling).

But he almost did not become a baker. After graduating in law from the prestigious Keio University, he joined a life insurance firm.

'But conversations with my father always revolved around the bakery business and, by the time I was 27, I decided it was only natural that I joined him,' he said.

Determined to bring the latest ideas to the business, he headed to the United States to study the science of fermentation and later apprenticed himself to well-known bakeries in New York, Israel and Paris.

In the French capital, he worked for Eric Kayser, boss of Maison Kayser, and managed to persuade him to jointly bring the French bakery to Japan. 'It is natural for me to be in the bakery business. But I don't think it matters whether it is in French or Japanese bread,' he said. Incidentally, a cousin now heads Kimuraya.

Kimura is 42 and single but feels he will not be lonely in Singapore. He counts among his friends celebrated chefs such as Hide Yamamoto, Guy Savoy and Daniel Boulud, all of whom have restaurants at Marina Bay Sands.

He said: 'I knew Hide when he was head chef at Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. Guy was a customer at Maison Kayser in Paris, while I used to make bread for Daniel in New York.

'If I am ever in need of anything, I know I can count on them.'

For bread-loving readers, these bakeries provide bread and confectioneries for consumption and gift-giving.



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