Tag Archives: French Culinary Institute

Tellico Grains Bakery, Tellico Plains, TN

Why does Tellico Plains, a very small town in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, have such a terrific artisan bakeshop—Tellico Grains Bakery?

story & photos by Bakery Boy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Small town Tellico Plains harbors a big time bakery

Tellico Plains, Tennessee is one of those tiny towns (population around 900) you half expect to just blow away someday. Located 60 miles southwest of Knoxville and 75 miles northeast of Chattanooga in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounded by farms and forests, it amounts to a few homes and a couple of blocks of one- or two-story stores. A trickle of recreational travelers passes through while driving the area’s scenic highways or going biking, hiking and white-water rafting.

A wood-fired brick oven is Tellico Grains' glowing centerpiece

So how does Tellico Plains—which earns only the briefest of mentions in accounts of 1500s explorer Hernando Desoto passing through, 1700s Cherokee trading paths, 1800s Civil War skirmishes, and the heyday of logging—come to have a world-class artisan bakery? Complete with a handcrafted wood-fired brick oven and a devotion to classic Old World baking techniques? Cranking out all manner of pastries, pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, crusty breads and even pizzas?

"We love it here," say bakers Stuart and Anissa Shull

The simple answer: “Because we love it here!” says baker Stuart Shull, co-owner of Tellico Grains Bakery along with wife and fellow baker Anissa Shull.

“We looked at places all over the country and then decided to come here in 2002,” Stuart says while stirring starter for bread dough and eyeing the temperature in their prized wood-burning oven.

Simone, age 3, is growing up in her family's bakery

“The cost of living is low. We found the perfect building where we can live right upstairs from work. Our neighbors have been very receptive to all the things we’re baking,” he says.

“We both like to hike and ride bikes, two things this area is perfect for,” Anissa adds. “And it’s a great area to raise a family. We had our two daughters—Anja, who’s 6, and Simone, who’s 3—since moving here.”

LONG ROUTE

Big, crusty, aromatic loaves fill rustic shelves

Herb Flatbread bears a strong salty flavor

The couple zigzagged their way to Tellico Plains. Stuart, originally from Kansas, discovered an interest in foods during high school when he signed up for a cooking class because it sounded easy. Baking pies and breads and cooking steaks and lobsters turned out to be more fun than he expected. At Kansas State University, he studied baking sciences and restaurant management before slipping off to ski-resort-intensive Crested Butte, Colorado, to work as a line cook in a restaurant, where he met pastry chef Anissa.

Anissa folds apple turnovers

Anissa, an Iowa native, came to pastry through, of all things, artificial insemination of hogs. “I was a lab rat with a degree in animal sciences, and I worked with hogs at the University of Missouri for three years before becoming a baker,” she says with a slight smile, knowing how odd this must sound, as she rolls dough for turnovers. “I also worked in a veterinary molecular biology lab at Montana State University, making vaccines used on bison in Yellowstone National Park,” she adds, checking on the progress of a browning quiche.

Fruit-laced scones

“I discovered the comfort of baking at home while I was still in college, but I never thought I’d do this for a living,” Anissa says. “In Bozeman I worked part time at two bakeries—a coffee-and-scones place called The Daily Coffee Bar and later On the Rise, where they bake in a traditional wood-fired oven. I was fascinated by that oven.”

Honey Wheat Bread

Inspired in part by the seminal bread-baking book Bread Alone by Daniel Leader of Bread Alone Bakery in Boiceville, New York, Anissa made the jump from critters to the culinary world, heading to New York City to complete the Art of International Bread Baking course of study at the French Culinary Institute.

Stuart and Anissa relocated together from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado, to work in another ski-town restaurant. One day Anissa brought home The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens, a book by wood-fired-brick-oven-building guru Alan Scott. “That started us thinking about having our own bakery,” Stuart says. “We later met Alan Scott and took his oven-building class at Scratch Bakery [Scratch Brick Oven Food Works] in Johnson City, Tennessee.”

Croissants

MORE DETOURS

But first, more detours. “To get some accreditation beyond a lot of on-the-job training, I was going to go to culinary school in New York,” Stuart explains. “Classes were to start on September 15, 2001—four days after 9/11, which changed everything. We’d barely settled in before chaos broke out, so we packed everything into our Chevy Blazer and headed to Charleston, South Carolina, one of the best foodie towns on the East Coast.”

There, Anissa worked at Normandy Farm Artisan Bakery on Society Street downtown (it has since moved to the West Ashley area). “That’s where I learned to make croissants by the hundreds for the Charleston Place Hotel, one of Normandy Farm’s biggest customers,” she says.

The bakery occupies a former bank

They began searching for a place to  launch their own bakery. After passing up nearly a dozen possibilities, they found tiny Tellico Plains and a squat little brick building available just off the town square.

A 1908 bank vault now stores baking ingredients

HOME AT LAST

“This building began as a bank in 1908,” Stuart says, ducking into a steel vault now used to store ingredients. “Over the years it also held a doctor’s office, vinyl and carpet store, post office, VCR repair shop and other businesses. We have the building next door too. It was a movie theater, pawnshop, grocery and who knows what else.” They gutted both to make Tellico Grains downstairs and the family’s living space upstairs.

Fruit Tarts

With friends helping, they constructed a wood-burning brick oven with a 6-foot by 4-foot hearth, an arched ceiling, and a cave-like arched door. “We burn about $60 worth of wood a week, mostly 3-foot lengths of old pallet boards made of poplar, maple and red oak that all burn great,” Stuart says. “It might cost about the same as if we used gas, but we prefer baking with wood.”

“We take turns baking,” Anissa says. “I bake in the daytime and Stuart bakes at night, so we don’t get in each other’s way and one of us is always available to be with the kids.”

Simone on her bike--part of growing up in a bakery

As if on cue, Simone makes an entrance, riding a pink bike with training wheels through the bakery, dodging hot pans of scones, avoiding whirling mixers, and asking what’s for lunch? She and her sister Anja, a first-grader due home from school any minute, are growing up in a bakery, just like I did, with work, play, home, jobs, customers, friends, parents and bosses all rolled together. What an adventure they’re having!

FRESH-BAKED AROMAS

Brownies: Cheesecake, Chocolate, and Walnut

Working their separate shifts, with overlaps that let them talk while staying busy, the two bakers produce a miraculous variety. Hefty scones teem with blueberries or cranberries. Brownies feature walnuts, cheesecake and other variations. Croissants come plain, filled with chocolate, or topped with strawberries and whipped cream cheese. Muffins, cookies, cupcakes, turnovers, fruit tarts, Danish pastries and more gradually fill showcases and then quickly disappear in the hands of satisfied customers.

Anissa prepares a quiche...

I watch as Anissa fills a quiche with eggs, bacon, tomatoes and spinach, bakes it, slices it, and serves it to people who wait around after catching a whiff. The whole aromatic pie is gone in minutes.

...and within minutes it gets eaten

Meanwhile Stuart plans out his night’s bread schedule. The oven holds at most 35 loaves at once. He must time each batch of dough to be ready in tight sequence, making efficient use of the space and accounting for the gradually falling temperature inside. The results—big, brown, crusty loaves of herbed black olive, honey wheat, cranberry pecan, multi-grain, pumpernickel rye, raisin walnut, sourdough, herb flatbread smeared with a salty brine on top, and other variations—take center stage on rustic wooden display shelves. Some loaves get sliced for piled-high deli sandwiches, which fly out the door with hungry hikers, bicyclists, whitewater paddlers, motorcycle clubs and other fans.

Stuart's pride-and-joy brick oven and some of the breads that come out of it

Saturday is Pizza Day at Tellico Grains. Instead of making his usual humped, round, crusty loaves, Stuart rolls out flatbread dough and tops it with fresh local ingredients, including prosciutto and bacon from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in nearby Madisonville, Tennessee, and portabellas from Monterey Mushrooms in Loudon, Tennessee, as well as feta, spinach, artichoke hearts, onions and more. “During the growing season around here, people bring us extra tomatoes and zucchini and other produce from their gardens just to see what we’ll do with it,” Anissa says.

EXPANDING THEIR AUDIENCE

Everyone can see the bakers work and chat with them

“To survive as a bakery in this small of a community, we cater to three different audiences,” Stuart says. “First there are the locals. Many had never tasted some of the more exotic things we bake, but they’ve been great about trying new things. Second are visitors who come to the area for the Smoky Mountains and hear about us or stumble upon us. Third are what I call the ‘foodies,’ people who really know and love great food, who seek out good food wherever they go, and who are willing to drive from Knoxville or Chattanooga or Atlanta or other cities just to try whatever we’re making at the time.”

Carrot Cake Muffins

The bakery also delivers baked goods regularly to several fresh markets: Three Rivers Market, a natural-foods cooperative at 937 North Broadway in Knoxville (moving to a bigger site at 1100 North Central Street in late August), 865-525-2069; The Market in Maryville at 606 High Street in Maryville, 865-541-5150; The Market at Union  and Gay at 504 South Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, 865-541-5150; The Public House organic restaurant at 212 West Magnolia Avenue in Knoxville’s Old City district, 865-247-4344; and the Just Ripe food co-op at 513 Union Avenue in downtown Knoxville, 865-851-9327.

To reach an even wider audience, including people who’ve been to Tellico Grains but don’t live close enough to stop by often, the bakery offers mail-order service. Gift boxes include cinnamon rolls slathered with gooey vanilla butter cream, scones loaded with cranberry and orange or raspberry and white chocolate, variety packs of brownies, or whole loaves of hearth-baked breads.

Old bakery tools form an artistic vignette

One Monday each month Stuart and Anissa drive to Knoxville for a live television spot on WBIR-10’s “Channel 10 News at Noon” show. “It’s a 4-minute segment, so we come up with recipes or techniques we can demonstrate in that short a time,” Anissa says. The TV gig helps attract more day-trippers to Tellico Plains to check out Tellico Grains.

LABOR OF LOVE

“Tellico Grains is our labor of love,” Anissa says. “Considering that I used to be a lab rat who hardly ever had people around to talk to, and now I talk to customers constantly, it’s been a complete turnaround for me. We’ve made so many friends here! I think some people come in as much to see each other and chat with us as they do for the baked goods. But they like the baked goods too, so it’s all working out fine.”

______________________________

The original store sign, now retired, sits faded and flaking on the back porch

Tellico Grains Bakery

105 Depot Street

Tellico Plains, TN 37385

423-253-6911

web: http://tellico-grains-bakery.com

email: tellicograins@hotmail.com

______________________________

Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Puff Dough from Tellico Grains Bakery


Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about Stuart Shull enjoying cookies and milk at Tellico Grains Bakery
______________________________

For more about traveling in Tennessee: www.tnvacation.com

For more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park: www.nps.gov/grsm

______________________________

Filo, Asheville, NC

Greek treats rule at this combination bakery, café, art gallery and cozy hangout.

story and photos by Bakery Boy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Filo could hardly be more Greek. Aromas of fresh-baked spanakopita and baklava waft through the Asheville, North Carolina bakery. The name itself—a variant of phyllo, the multilayered dough stretched into paper-thin sheets for famously flaky Greek pastries—adds a suitable cultural reference. And when the owner introduces herself there’s no doubt, because you won’t find many names more Greek than Maria Papanastasiou.

Filo owner Maria Papanastasiou with spanakopita

“I grew up immersed in Greek culture in an extended family of Greek immigrants,” the North Carolina native says. “Our house was always full of people cooking and baking. Everything we ate was Greek. It was only natural to see a whole lamb roasting or deep pans of orzo baking or big trays of baklava coming out of the oven. My mother, Helen, is an excellent cook and baker. My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other relatives are good cooks. Some were even in the restaurant business.”

Baklava

That tasty upbringing and a lot of world traveling to improve upon her inherited culinary talents are Asheville’s gain now that Maria owns and operates Filo as a bakery and café where artwork lines the walls and people linger coffeehouse style.

Spanakopita

MARIA’S PATH “I went off to college with no interest in the food business,” Maria says, a little embarrassed now by the diversion from what has become her passion. “I studied anthropology and biology and thought about going into rehabilitation therapy. Then I remembered how much fun it is to be in a kitchen full of people who love cooking and baking.”

Cranberry Orange Scones

Memories of extended trips at age 8 and 18 to Greece, spending a month on the Greek mainland (her mom’s roots) and a month on the isle of Cyprus (her dad’s homeland) helped solidify Maria’s interest in all things Greek. “Later as an adult I traveled four more times to Greece, four times to France, and once each to Spain, Italy, and Germany to learn about the cuisine,” she says.

Chocolate-filled Croissants

She completed the pastry program at the prestigious French Culinary Institute in New York and worked for five years in Manhattan restaurants such as Orso Restaurant (Italian), Tabla (Indian-American fusion), and the trendy Lipstick Café. She also arranged a six-week stint in a bakery in Beziers in southeastern France.

Greek Wedding Cookies

“I came home to Asheville ready to have my own place,” she says. “I opened Filo five years ago in a sturdy stone building that used to be an American Legion Post, right across the street from the Veterans Administration Hospital. My brother Nick owns the East Village Grille, a restaurant and sports bar beside Filo. I live in the same house I grew up in, along with my mother, and Nick lives in the house next door, so you can see we’re a very close-knit family.”

People like to linger and mingle at Filo

DIGGING IN People settle in and linger at Filo like they would at a friend’s living room or a good coffeehouse (Maria brews fresh-ground beans supplied by Counter Culture Coffee in Durham). Conversations drift from couples and small groups gathered at café tables. “I try to create a sense of community, like what I saw in small bakeries and cafes in Greece and France,” Maria says. “I love it when any kind of local organization decides to hold meetings here, especially if they like what I’ve made for them to eat.”

"I have a lot more cookbooks at home too," Maria says

Showcases teem with goodies, Greek and otherwise. The spanakopita features spinach, feta, and eggs, of course, but also leeks (Maria’s secret ingredient) and Swiss chard when she can pick it fresh from her own vegetable garden or find it at the nearby Black Mountain Farmers Market.

Flourless Mocha Torte (with coffee bean accents)

She makes Greek wedding cookies loaded with butter and rolled in powdered sugar. There’s kourabeides (a sweet shortbread); galaktoboureko (baked phyllo layered with custard and baked again); kataifi (shredded phyllo soaked in syrup), and baklava (the classic Greek pastry with layers of phyllo, chopped nuts, honey she buys locally from Haw Creek Honey, and clove dots on top for accent). On Tuesdays she makes whole-wheat pita bread to go with her mother’s always-in-demand hummus.

Rose Geis prepares veggie calzones for Filo's lunchtime

Beyond her signature Greek specialties, Maria also makes excellent flourless mocha tortes, chocolate mousse cakes, blueberry almond cheesecakes, cranberry walnut pies, key lime tarts, a variety of brownies and biscotti, crusty baguettes and more. At lunchtime oven-fresh calzones made with basil-and-rosemary-laced dough folded over roasted red peppers, red onions, mushrooms, artichokes, collard greens, ricotta, and other fresh ingredients create an irresistible aroma. By special order, she even mounts amazing wedding cake projects.

Cranberry and Pumpkin Seed Sticky Buns

WHAT’S THAT? When I visited, Maria’s changes-daily sticky buns came piled high with cranberries and pumpkin seeds or with raisins and walnuts, the bottoms oozing baked butter and sugar.

The beignets, denser and chewier than most and with swirling layers inside, took me by surprise. What’s her secret? “They’re made from leftover croissant dough, balled up and deep fried and tossed in powdered sugar,” Maria explains.

Another innovation, based on something she discovered during a trip to Barcelona, Spain, involves candied spaghetti squash wrapped in croissant dough, deep fried, and rolled in granulated sugar.

“Clearly I like dealing with sugar more than with protein,” she says, flashing a mischievous smile. For that, the sweet-toothed say thanks.

______________________________

FILO

1155 Tunnel Road, Asheville, NC 28805

828-298-9777

www.filopastries.com

Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

From I-40 in East Asheville take Exit 55, go briefly north on Porter Cove Road to a “T” intersection, turn left on Tunnel Road, go west about 1.5 miles (passing the Blue Ridge Parkway) and look for Filo on the left in a stout stone building.

Filo fills a sturdy stone former American Legion Post building

______________________________

For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com

For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com

Maria with Flourless Mocha Torte