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Spring was in full bloom in historic Mystic in 2016 when Pastry Chef Adam Young opened the windowed world of his first bakery venture, Sift Bake Shop, on Water Street. Young's fondest wish was that his passion, precision, and polish would draw a loyal local fan base to his unique, European-style bakery. Not two years later, fans from across the country are now beating a path to his door.
The national attention is due in no small part to Young's incredible talent and the fact that, in June 2018, following a heated live competition among nine of the nation's top bakers, Young was named Best Baker in America by the Food Network. Now, in addition to ensuring Sift's made-fresh, inventory of croissants, artisanal breads, hand-piped French macarons, and much more sells out every day, Young has a few new items on his daily to-do list: selfies and signatures.
"Sift cuts a wider wake now because of the exposure," Young says of the Food Network win. "Now, we have a tremendous amount of people from New York, Boston, and all over New England coming to see this little bakery; which is baffling to me. It's very humbling. You take a lot of pictures; and ridiculous as it sounds, sign a lot of autographs. I would never stand in line for 45 minutes to get a cookie; but thankfully for me, these people seem to have no issue with it. It's been incredible."
Young welcomes the recognition but wants to ensure he's also providing the signature customer experience that he and his wife, Ebbie, designed for the business. The two met while working at the Ocean House Hotel & Resort in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, where Young was named Executive Pastry Chef in 2010. In addition to opening Sift in 2016, the couple welcomed their daughter, Stella. This April, they opened a second, seasonal Sift Bake Shop in Watch Hill.
With the new interest his baking crown has brought to Sift, "...the only thing that we're at all concerned about is just compromising the integrity of the guest experience," says Young. "Because now, it's gone from a busy bake shop to an extremely busy bakery. If you're going to wait in line for 30 or 40 minutes, you're going to want to make sure you make an impact with that person and deliver on their expectations."
Young created Sift with the goal of delivering an unforgettable experience every time.
"I think that food and beverage, specifically, is extremely experiential," says Young. "Nobody comes to Sift out of necessity. You come here because you want to experience something unique, and I think it's got to be something way more than you would expect. The service has got to be special and memorable."
At Sift, guests peruse glass cases displaying a cross-section of croissants, scones, sticky buns, muffins, and delightfully decadent dessert pastries, cakes, and cookies. The shop's shelves are loaded with artisanal breads. And every single bakery item is made fresh daily in Sift's glass-windowed, in-house exhibition kitchen. The kitchen was specifically created so guests can watch the bakers in action, says Young.
"Everything's glass because we want everyone to be engaged and understand that we are literally making every single thing here," he explains. "And that also is very unusual to see these days: 100 percent of everything being produced in-house."
Sift's bakers start at 3 a.m. daily to get production underway. The Mystic shop serves as the main bakery, delivering the daily fresh inventory offered in Watch Hill. Open seven days a week, the shop's doors start swinging at 7 a.m. and stay open until every single menu item
And just in case you're wondering, yes, Young is right in there, baking.
In addition to his management and administrative work, he says, "I'm definitely producing every single day. I'm very, very, very much hands on.I bake, I can make the petite gâteaux, or basically help wherever it's warranted; but typically, on the desserts and French macaroons. Especially with the volume that we're selling now -- those are not simple things to make! They take a controlled set of extra hands to really make sure the quality is not compromised."
"There's a lot of training that goes in, whether it be the bakers in the back or the retail folks in the front," Young explains of the approximate 50 staff Sift now employs. "Out front, customer service is very important to us, professionalism is very important to us, and really finding the right individuals who are experienced, polished can speak elegantly about the food – all of those things are very important."
Young says he will be forever grateful for the boost Sift received after he became Best Baker in America.
For all of the competition rolled into Food Network's episodic battles of Best Baker in America, Young says the he rarely felt like he was competing against anyone but himself.
"No one's competing against one another when it's that type of atmosphere," he says. "You're competing against the clock and yourself, and quite frankly, there's just no time to focus on what anyone else is doing. You just kind of try to work on your own stuff."
The show was Young's second visit to Food Network. In 2017, he made it to the final round (top three of nine) of Food Network's Spring Baking Championship. He was excited when he was given to the chance to vie for Best Baker in America, he says.
"You have a little opportunity to plan, but you still have to think on the fly, and you have to come up with the ideas. At the end of the day, it's all techniques that are kind of relative to our bakery, and a representation of the types of things we actually make here, and that's what made the show attractive to me in the first place," he says.
With the clock ticking, Young relied on years of experience and a mental inventory of flavor profiles and combinations to come up with his big win. The seventh and final episode required three finalists to create a chocolate torte and chocolate with caramel cake. First, Young wowed the judges with an apricot with lavender chocolate torte. With just six hours on the clock, Young then crafted a grand multi-layered chocolate cake soaked in coconut rum syrup, filled with coconut praline layers, and topped with exotic fruits.
"You do know all of the techniques from practicing them for years, and then you implement different flavors or ideas and you just have to do that extremely quickly," says Young. "I call it throwing a Hail Mary for every single episode. It's just trying to implement as much
as you possibly can -- and sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn't. But you certainly try to put your best foot forward in every round, and it seems to have paid off for me this time."
In addition to the $25,000 prize, a big bonus for Young was getting to know eight new pastry peers.
"There's a great camaraderie with the group of pastry chefs there," he says. "We've had wonderful networking connections. These are people that you wouldn't normally have had the chance to meet throughout the country, that you get to spend 20 hours a day with for two or three solid weeks."
Young was just 18 years old when he met one of the most influential pastry chefs in his life. Born and raised in Vermont, Young began working in restaurant kitchens at 12, washing dishes. He entered New England Culinary Arts Institute at 17 with the intention of becoming a savory chef and earned his degree. Next, he headed off to New Orleans, where he'd landed his first apprenticeship.
"I was just a kid. It was me and my suitcase – that was pretty much all I had. I had a couple of days to secure living accommodations and start my apprenticeship, and you can imagine the culture shock," says Young."My entire intention of going there was to work in the kitchen," he continues. "I show to up work my first day, and they basically said, 'Well, we don't have any work for you in the kitchen anymore. However, the pastry section needs help.'"
Thanks to that twist of fate, Young found himself apprenticed to Pastry Chef Joy Jessup.
"At the time, I don't think either one of us realized how much of an impact that it made for me to work with her. She explained and gave me an appreciation for the technique and the control variables and the standard outcome that would result in pastry, and that's something
that's very attractive to me," Young says.
In the precision that is pastry, Young has found his passion.
"The whole idea is something I'm very passionate about," he says. "Obviously, it was enough for me to migrate from the savory side of the kitchen into a full-fledged career in strictly pastry. Savory cooking is very intuitive. You can season, you can flavor, and you can manipulate. With pastry, it's very controlled. It's very technique-focused and there's a strict set of variables. And as long as you're controlling them, you'll have the same outcome every time. And that's something that's very difficult for a lot of chefs. They struggle with baking a little bit, because it's very precise. But it's something that is very inspiring to
me, and that I love to implement here."
Sift Bake Shop is located at 5 Water Street in Mystic CT. For hours, information, menus, and more visit www.siftbakeshopmystic. com, follow Sift Bake Shop Mystic on Facebook or call (860) 245-0541.
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