Esteemed baker Manu Piret and Dr. Wine proprietor Vincent Landais team up to bring Paris to the Philippines through French artisanal bread
Mr. Piret awakens bright and early, ready to tackle the long day of work ahead. He lives in Vosges, a countryside region in France, where he works as a plumber. Accompanying him to a nearby bakery in need of servicing is his son, Emmanuel. Young and impressionable, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air ignites a fire in the child. His obsession with the art of bread making is only beginning. At 13, the family relocates to the City of Lights. Instead of becoming a juvenile delinquent running amuck about town, Emmanuel (or Manu) decides to get his first job in a real Parisian bakery. From there, he puts in the hours, working himself up to the very top. With 53 different establishments on his résumé, along with 35 years of experience in the kitchen, Manu finally opens his own bakery in 1999. Boulangerie St. Joseph was a smash, and for the next 10 years, would continue to be so, under his watchful eye. Manu was finally a success story, and it seemed like the right time for the credits to roll on his happy ending.
The paragraph above may seem like a film plot, but it is actually a true story. In fact, François Truffaut had nothing to do with the story of Chef Manu Piret, whose life story continues today in Manila. After selling the Boulangerie St. Joseph, the Frenchman and his Filipina wife Armi were ready for early retirement in the Philippines. Who could blame him? The work of a baker is no easy feat. It requires long hours, late nights, early mornings, and a lot of physical work. Chef Manu, who had been working since he 13-years-old, was ready to enjoy the fruits of his labor—or so he thought. It wasn’t long until the heat of the bakery came calling his soul once again. Like any passionate artist, there was something missing in him when he wasn’t doing what he loved. And so, he started again.
Little Paris in Large Manila
Philippine-based Frenchman Vincent Landais was on a mission to open his dream bakery. As the proprietor and mastermind of Dr. Wine, he had already ticked off owning a popular nightspot off of his bucket list. With the Poblacion establishment, Vincent was able to stretch his imagination as a businessman and sommelier, but it was time to expand the dream further. “I was inspired by my mentor in Shanghai,” he explained. “He is a guy who opened a very nice wine bar there, and after that, he opened the best bakery in the city. It was an example I wanted to follow.” In the search for the perfect baker to partner with, little did Vincent know that he would find Chef Manu right at his doorstep.
One evening, Dr. Wine was bustling with its regular crowd of thirsty yuppies looking for premium wines to pair with quality food (and not the other way around). Chef Manu happened to be there, and his chance meeting with Vincent would eventually blossom into a productive partnership. They hit it off quickly, and plans for a new food concept began immediately. Their goal: an authentic French bakery that would provide delicious bread and other assorted pastries to the best hotels and restaurants in Metro Manila. Plans moved forward, and construction began on a small bakery next to the bar. Vincent was already Dr. Wine, so it seemed fitting that Chef Manu be Dr. Bread. They went with it. Sadly, plans went on an immediate halt when the current pandemic hit.
“We were supposed to open Dr. Bread in November,” said Vincent of their physical store. Unfortunately, the building in which the bakery would reside stopped construction when Manila went on lockdown. “We’ve been hit hard because our target was to work with professionals and to sell to restaurants and hotels. But when COVID arrived, all of these establishments shut down.” Scrambling to get their bread out there, the team decided to open the store online instead, selling directly to consumers rather than becoming a supplier to already-established outlets.
Eventually, Vincent and Manu plan to open the flagship store as initially intended. Construction is currently on the way again. Nothing excites them more than the idea of re-creating the European artisan bakery experience for Filipino consumers. “You will be able to see Chef Manu baking in front of you every day and every night,” shares Vincent about the future plans of Dr. Bread’s bakery. “Customers will be able to get their bread straight from the oven. That’s where you’ll see the quality. It’ll be like getting bread from Paris, where people can see the bakers working. It’ll be completely open for everyone to see and smell everything. We want people to dream of French artisan bakeries, and maybe inspire them to open more franchises all over Manila.”
Let Them Eat Cronuts
This might be a wild statement to make, but I must say that the pastries and baked goods from Dr. Bread are some of the very best I’ve had in Manila. My old friend Monica Modomo, who does PR work for Dr. Bread, invited me to try a sampling of their products. I told her at the get-go that I probably wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t think the food was very good. However, it was no surprise that Chef Manu’s decades of experience reflected on every piece of bread I tried. His work is flawless and rich—exactly everything you could imagine from authentic French artisan bread. The bread I tasted that day was even better than any I had on my last visit to Paris in November 2019. During my Zoom interview with Chef Manu and Vincent, I could not give them enough congratulations on a job well done. I gushed and gushed about how great Dr. Bread was.
When I asked the Chef what his favorite item on the menu was, he explained that it was difficult to choose. Vincent, who translated for Chef Manu during the interview, explained with an interesting analogy: “If you come to Dr. Wine, there is a lot on the wine list. Everyone would choose differently. If you ask me as a sommelier, I would recommend something based on YOU. It’s our job to give you the right wine with the right food. It’s the same with a baker. A baker should give you the right bread. If you want to eat cheese, he would recommend a certain type of bread. For oysters or seafood, it would be different, too. The bread pairings for any dinner at a high-end restaurant is quite [extensive]. They would come to your table and offer you 45 different types of bread, and you chose the one suited for you or [recommend to you by the Chef]. With Dr. Bread, we hope to recreate that, where customers can discover many different types of bread.”
They generously sent me a large sampling of their products. Some of my favorites included: the Pain Au Chocolat (which was perfectly layered, buttery, and sweet), the Baguette (which was perfectly complemented by a large dollop of butter), and the Torsade (the traditional twisted-bread with vanilla custard and chocolate chips). However, nothing topped the croissant-donut hybrid called the Cronut, which isn’t even typically French (its origins come from New York). But I will say this: the French baker has used his gifts to perfect it! The layers are buttery and delicate, while the decadent frosting (my favorite of the three flavors was the strawberry varietal) generously dripped on top to the delight of this foodie. Each bite was a gift from the culinary heavens. Trust me, even Marie-Antoinette would not complain. My family and I immediately ordered another round of products to consume the following day.
Quality As Top Priority
You may be asking, what makes Chef Manu and Dr. Bread so special? Well, the answer is very simple: his decades of experience in the kitchen truly reflects on every one of his gastronomic offerings. Each pastry is made with love and unmatched expertise. It’s also a job that requires a lot of time, exhaustive work, and precision. “It’s a job you really begin to do at night,” says Vincent. “When I wake up at 6AM, I see [Manu] working alone at the bakery. There’s always something to do every 5 minutes. He’s connected to everything in the kitchen. We don’t talk to him much when he’s in there, because he’s very particular. That’s when you know that not everyone can be a baker. When you [decide] to be a baker, your life changes completely. You sleep during the day, and you begin working at night. Sometimes it sounds boring, but you have to learn how to be alone at your bakery. It’s really something you have to like. You also need to find the perfect type of woman to love this kind of life. For Chef Manu, it’s his wife,” he says with a chuckle.
The ingredients used at Dr. Bread are also very important to the success of their products. Chef Manu has decided to stray away from the typical American ingredients that most bakers prefer, using mostly ones imported from France. “A lot of people use oil, and they add sugar and make their bread a little bit sweeter,” he mentions. “We don’t do that. Instead of using this kind of technique, we use many ingredients from France. In fact, we’re the official importer of many of them. The secret ingredients make all the difference.” Along with using only the most premium of materials, the men behind Dr. Bread are also eager to make sure that their bread is delivered in tip-top quality. All orders must be done before 8PM, so planning on the next day’s goods can be properly done and plotted out. The bread is then baked early in the morning and sent out to customer’s homes when day breaks.
Despite the very strong start to their business, Chef Manu and Vincent are looking at ways to improve and innovate. They cite some things that they look forward to in the future. For instance, they are very excited about one day getting a very premium oven (one that costs as much as a Porsche!) from Italy or France, which they say will elevate their products to a whole new level. They are also searching for the highest quality of flour, which is sadly still unavailable in the Philippines. However, they are actively looking for an international supplier, so that they can import it here themselves. These guys are serious about their bread. They mean business.
The Quiet General Always Wins
When I asked the chef what he learned from working in so many different bakeries over the years, he proudly replied in French: “rigueur” (or rigor in English, which means to be strict or completely thorough). This answer did not surprise me, as the art of baking is a very precise one that requires the absolute attention of the chef. “I learned to be strict and always on time,” he continued to say. Vincent then interrupted with a joke: “He’s not really the type of person I would want to work with. He’s super strict, and he never makes a mistake!”
More than anything, Chef Manu reminds me of the quiet general in the army—strategic and quiet, and ready to attack when the time has come. And he makes that passionate attack every morning, but instead of guns and bullets, he uses butter and dough, producing delicious creations that can have anybody on their knees, pleading and begging for more. The enemy: everybody’s diets. Still, the tactical general always wins, and Dr. Bread will win too, within the hearts and stomachs of anybody who decides to try it. Fascinated with the idea of kitchens being like a warzone, Vincent compares Chef Manu’s bakery to the army. “Everybody has to follow the rules,” he says. And why not? When you’re creating great things, sometimes you have to have it your way. And I can’t say this enough, but Dr. Bread falls under that category of “great”. Simply put, it’s just really damn good.
To order from Dr. Bread Manila, message them on Instagram @dr.breadmanila
Chino Hernandez is a former editor at Lifestyle Asia, who left publishing to start his dream of owning a food business. His brand Delicachino serves Spanish-Filipino favorites inspired by Pinoy family meals. He is a foodie who enjoys sinful, decadent eats. Chino’s other hobbies include collecting physical home media, and recently, working out and staying healthy.
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