SOUTH NORWALK, Conn. — The day before Valentine’s Day, in the intimate setting of the newly renovated kitchen in Jonathan Edwards College, John Barricelli revealed the tricks behind creating the perfect flourless chocolate cake. But instead of addressing the usual television audience of his own national PBS show, “Everyday Food,” Barricelli taught roughly 10 Yale undergraduates who registered for the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s “Don’t Go Baking My Heart.”
With the goal to be as sustainable and natural as possible in his baking practices, Barricelli has gained national attention through his guest appearances on Martha Stewart’s television show. Now, even with his own cooking show under the Martha Stewart Living Production, Baricelli still finds time to teach workshops through the Yale Sustainable Food Project while running his own bakery, SoNo Baking Company & Café.
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“He taught us when the eggs are perfect for the cake,” Yayone Rivaud ’09, a workshop participant said. “It’s a process called rose petaling. The eggs are fluffy enough when they resemble rose petals when you blow on them.”
Rivaud said Barricelli was clearly able to connect with students and was a “vibrant and charismatic” chef at ease in front of a crowd.
And the cake? “It was the best cake I’ve ever had,” she said.
Barricelli, after all, has been in the baking business for 33 years. Although he is pushing 50-years-old, Barricelli hardly looks a day over 30, bopping around like a young baker still eager to cultivate the skills of the trade in his small bakery.
Barricelli began his career at the Culinary Institute of America before going on to work at restaurants in New York City, such as the Four Seasons Restaurant and the River Café. For 10 years afterward, he tried his hand at retail baking as the owner of two bakeries in New York.
Following a subsequent 8-year stint at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Barricelli decided to jump back into retail baking and open SoNo Baking Company in the manufacturing district of South Norwalk, situated just a little over 30 miles from Yale’s campus.
In the early cracks of morning, Barricelli and his team busily prep their breads — whole wheat sourdoughs, demi-baguettes, cranberry pecan, pain au levain and many more — for their awakening in 400-degree ovens. By 4 a.m., trucks are loaded with fresh bread loaves and are sent on their way to prominent restaurants, specialty shops and caterers in the southern Connecticut area.
Behind the register at SoNo hangs a portrait of Barricelli’s great-grandfather’s bakery. Barricelli said his commitment to natural goods partly spawns from his long exposure to the occupation.
“Everything is done the old-fashioned way,” Barricelli said of his wholesale business. His team of chefs runs a clean, simplistic operation, Barricelli said. The only technical items in the kitchen are a bread divider and mixer; everything is made by hand.
Quality was what initially attracted Jennifer McTiernan, executive director of CitySeed — a farmer’s market coordinator — to Barricelli’s bakery. After being a patron of the SoNo Bakery and hearing of Barricelli’s involvement in other area farmer’s markets, McTiernan said, she sought to recruit Barricelli to CitySeed, seeing as he embodied the organization’s “model of local economy, urban community, regional agriculture, environmental stewardship and well-being through food.”
“John makes a really high-quality product,” McTiernan said. “He uses seasonal, local ingredients when he can, so it was a good fit for us.”
Barricelli said he welcomed the new relationship with New Haven, where he now participates in weekly farmer’s markets. Barricelli said the purpose of the SoNo Baking Company & Café is to be a Connecticut-based company, producing all-natural, quality goods. SoNo Bakery uses eggs from Branford, maple syrup from Connecticut, and fruits from local farmers, when they are in season, Barricelli explained.
From his participation in the Farmers’ Market on Wooster Square, Barricelli garnered the attention of the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s project coordinator, Hannah Burnett, early this fall. Burnett said the YSFP, which holds occasional workshops for students throughout the semester, was looking to find an outsider who could bring a fresh perspective to the sessions. “We decided to have someone come from the outside,” Burnett said. “And he’s such a great teacher.”
Burnett said she is also interested in Barricelli leading a pizza-dough training session for the student pizza-making educators who lead pizza production on Friday nights at the Yale Farm.
“They are really looking to us for our expertise,” Barricelli said. Already, Barricelli has led two workshops in conjunction with the Yale Sustainable Food Project; one at the Yale Farm baking apple galettes in the wood-burning brick oven, the other in the JE kitchen baking chocolate cakes. Barricelli said he hopes to teach a roasted corn hen workshop towards the end of the semester.
As for getting a taste of the chef’s specialty everyday, things are not that easy.
“They asked us to do breads for all the colleges,” he said, in reference to the Yale Sustainable Food Project. “But we just can’t produce that much on a daily basis.”