There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread, surrounding you in the morning. It’s a smell instilled in our memory from when we were young (I don't know why), but its a smell that is comforting, warming, foundational.
We recently spent a morning with our friend Greg Blanc, the General Manager and head of the baking department of Gjusta. He works on getting the freshest bread and product to the Gjelina group of restaurants, and most of Venice, Santa Monica and anyone that really loves the best quality bread.
He was raised in restaurants in France, his family owned them, then moved onto apparel for 10 years. He went back to working with food, after wanting a change, and started working with Travis Lett (the master Chef of Gjelina/GTA/Gjusta) 5 years ago...
Gjusta is a 5,000 square foot area that has a massive baking facility, state of the art. It’s only 7 months old, and has already made itself a part of the Venice community, a place we love. It’s easiest described as a bakery, delicatessen, and cafe of the finest kind, that makes 95% of everything it sells. It prides itself on the quality of produce it is making, there is a certain creativity, alongside traditional methods of making foods.
You'll find it on a side street, unassuming from the exterior. All that changes when you walk inside. Skylights and windows make it naturally lit, bright and open, white walls, open beamed ceilings, lots of sparkling stainless steel of machines and appliances, and raw woods all come together in a bustling active, modern environment. A lot of energy here, the scents of a bakery, coffee, fresh flowers, its glass front counters all so well stocked and displayed. A massive open plan kitchen and baking area, you can watch what is being made, the front counters are full of incredibly enticing product, and are always getting replenished or replaced by new foods.
It has a coffee bar with baristas that are always busy, fresh juices of fruits and combinations that are pressed at the bar in front of you. There's a natural, rustic outdoor communal eating space with beautiful clusters of local shrubs and plants, that are all suitable to our low water climate. The vibe is upbeat. You can tell the staff dig working here.
Here's a little more from Greg on Gjusta, bread and surfing:
I moved to America 15 years ago from France. I wanted to do more surfing, to ride motorcycles, enjoy the Californian lifestyle. I used to live here in Venice for 10 years when I moved here. Before Abbot Kinney was as it is now, before Gjelina, before it was a cultural trend centre the world visits. I used to surf down at the Washington pier, but it got crowded, but it was my home.
I moved to Little Dume, (past Malibu, on the coast) and was having a pig roast bbq, when I met Travis Lett from Gjelina. We became good friends. Then I helped him with GTA (another cafe of Gjelina, the take away part) and then with the construction and set up of Gjusta. I changed from working in apparel back to food because I love it. Food inspires me every day. Travis dreams big, and I was up for the challenge of helping make Gjusta happen.
Now I live in Malibu, up on a hill. I moved because I love the nature up there. Where I work is an organized chaos, we have a staff of 70 at Gjusta, and with over a 1000 people coming through the door a day its like Grand Central Station for 15 hours a day. When I get home to the top of my mountain, it’s like, crickets are the only noise. I have mountain views, it’s beautiful, peaceful. I'm 7 minutes from the beach, so it’s easy to surf, when I have time. I start work at 3am, and generally work until 4 or 5pm. Riding my motorbike to work in the mornings is easy, I have the best commute, along the PCH, the ocean on my side the whole way. I have to slow down now though, I've had a couple of speeding tickets, it’s hard to go slow when there's no one on that road.
I love traveling. My dream is to ride from here on my off-road motorbike, with my surfboard, down to South America. I want to visit that good left reef break in Chile, and go to Peru. Stop in Panama and visit my friend Omer, who has a surf camp there. Eventually I'd like to open a surf hotel in South America.
Bread is the foundation of the whole Gjusta program. It’s the base of all the product we do. Regardless of what you order, there'll be some kind of bread in your dish. From the bialys, to the egg sandwich, the baguettes for our lunch service.
We started making our own sourdough bread 6 years ago, in the pizza ovens of GTA. The sourdough is the base of all the bread we make. It’s a culture we created, made here in Venice. Any sourdough we make here in Venice is going to taste different from one you taste in NY or San Francisco. People say the water is important, but the environment brings all the flavors. We feed the sourdough culture twice a day, like a baby. It’s an active culture, and temperamental. In Winter it takes longer to ferment than now in Summer.
If we make an olive bread, a whole wheat or a rye lavain, sourdough is the base to the bread. Our bread is really simple compared to most other breads, just flour, water, levain and sea salt, no sugar, no commercial yeast, so it’s much healthier. There is a traditional way to make things, and we believe that's the way to make things. We are a real bakery, with a top of the line bread oven. We are mixing flour 12hrs a day minimum, that’s a lot of bread in a mixer that takes 200lbs. All of our breads are rolled by hand, touched by hand, we spend a lot of time doing this, all day. We make about 250-300 baguettes and 100 loaves of bread.
As well as the baking, we smoke our own salmon, brisket, pastrami, reuben and smoked trout. I had cured fish and meats before, so I knew the techniques. We just needed to put it together into a massive scale. We smoke about 12 salmon a day, and have a separate fish and meats smoker ovens, we follow traditional techniques, pretty basic really, those techniques have really proven to bring out the flavor.
We make a whole lot of fermented/pickled produce, and use South American techniques for pickles and vegetables, using leaves etc. We do some Italian and Eastern European methods too, just using salt and sauerkraut.
We're in contact with the people eating our bread, which is pretty rewarding. It’s good for the customer to see how it’s getting made, but also rewarding for us, the employees, to see what the customer eats all the time, and to get the instant feedback.
What we strive for is quality, that's our No 1.
For some of that incredible bread or product, visit Gjusta and say hi to Greg:
320 Sunset Ave, Venice, CA 90291