Hangin’ With Klecko: Part 2: David Fhima, the Baker
Friends, last month I started a two-pronged interview with David Fhima. In March I spoke to David Fhima the Chef, this month I’d like to introduce you to someone many of you don’t know….Fhima the Baker.
Klecko: I think I forgot to mention to you last time I was at the Kowalski’s deli counter, I was buying roast beef and a woman standing next to me, recognized me and asked if I was going to put it on a loaf of my sourdough. I smiled and told her that I had just visited David Fhima and he had given me several loaves of ciabatta.
You should have seen her smile. She told me when her daughter got married, they had the party at your St. Paul restaurant, not long after it opened. She said every detail was executed with perfection.
She also seemed surprised that you baked. I hope you don’t mind, but I told her you bake better than you cook (winking).
Fhima: That is a nice story, Daniel, thanks for passing it on. I have always had a special place in my heart for baking. The bread starter I use was handed down to me from my mother. It has been in circulation for close to100 years. Not too long ago I had a scare, somehow the bucket got left out and erupted. I always keep a backup in the cooler, but for a split moment I forgot and was frightened.
Klecko: What’s the hardest hospitality gig you’ve had?
Fhima: I’ve had many, but I remember, as a young man, I studied in Paris. I formed and baked baguettes for an older man. He was fair, but he was gruff. After I was hired I was told that the bakery didn’t have a door, so I had to crawl on my belly through an egress window.
After some time passed, I found out the bakery actually had a door, but we weren’t allowed to use it, because when you exit a bakery through an egress window, it’s impossible to steal bread, right?
This was the first time I worked with bread, I didn’t know what I was doing. To me, the hardest thing about any job is when you go into it without knowledge or instruction.
Klecko: OK, it’s click bait time, Fhima. Tell me something about you most people don’t know.
Fhima: I come from a big family. During my upbringing it was stressed that nothing mattered as much as family. I had 13 sisters and three brothers. The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize, nothing has the power to hurt me as much as my sisters. It has always been important for me to gain their approval because they all contributed to teaching me how to understand what matters. They were the people who taught me manners and ethics. There was so many of us, and we didn’t have much, just each other, but we didn’t figure that out until later in life.
Klecko: Other than your family, who had the biggest influence on you?
Fhima: (Pausing, with a blank stare) When I was a child, I was sent to boarding school. I attended in Paris and London. I created mischief; I acted out. When I turned 7, I was sent to Strasbourg. Monsieur Loeve was the director. I remember how stunned I was when I saw that he had concentration numbers tattooed across his arm.
He told me with certainty, in a way I understood, that even though I was young, I was running out of time. This was my last chance in life to become productive. To become someone I could be proud of, because if I didn’t shape up he would leave me behind. He only had time to help kids who were trying, and there was no way he was going to let my negative behavior influence those kids.
In the basement of that school was a room where Jews were tortured during the war, and now Monsieur Loeve was redirecting that energy into something positive. Other than my dad, he was the toughest man I ever met. I am certain he saved my life.
Recently I went back to a reunion, he was old now and in a wheelchair. When I went over and introduced myself, he remembered me. When I bent down to hug him, he pinched my ear, like he used to do, and for the first time, it didn’t hurt.
Klecko: Where are you going for your next vacation?
Fhima: Paris, to see my mother. We will cook and eat. She always has plenty of things to tell me. My mother never learned to read or write, but her memory is perfect, and she tells wonderful stories.
Klecko: On your Facebook page you wrote …
RESTAURANTS ARE HARD
BAKERIES ARE IMPOSSIBLE
That actually made me laugh out loud, I’m not even sure why. What were you trying to say?
Fhima: Restaurants are a tough business, but if you show up at 7 a.m. and cook until 11 p.m., it might be tough, but its not as tough as baking, and when I say baking, I don’t mean sweet goods or cakes, I’m talking bread. People weren’t born to work from midnight till 8 a.m. Your DNA won’t work at its highest level during the third shift.
If you screw up short ribs, there are ways to move around it, you can even start over from scratch without losing much time, but with bread, that’s science, that’s yeast. There are few things worse than realizing you’ve messed up a dough at 3 a.m.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this, Daniel.
Klecko: Yes, I have and the feeling is beyond helpless. With that said, it’s about time for me to wrap this up. In addition to thanking you for becoming my first serial interview, I want you to know, I will always be grateful for everything you have taught me about this industry, but I’m even more thankful for what you have taught me about myself. I’m in your debt.
Fhima: Nothing makes me happier, Daniel, and if you truly are in my debt, the only thing I would ask is that you bring your beautiful wife here. And let me sit both of you at the chefs table and feed you.
Until next time
Dan “Klecko” McGleno can be reached at email@example.com or 651-329-4321.