Sunday, November 4, 2007

Birdbath/City Bakery: Maury Rubin

In an ideal society, for every pastry I ate, the world would be a better place. Bakers would be world leaders, scones and muffins would cure pandemics and the term “global warming” would refer to the waft of freshly baked cookies permeating through the air.

Though the world has yet to reach this idyllic state of eternal bliss, at least help is on the way. Thanks to Maury Rubin and his trio of “green” bakeries, you can tell all your friends eating a croissant helps save the environment.

You might recognize his first establishment, City Bakery. For almost 17 years, his tarts, cookies, muffins and croissants have filled our bellies with bliss. Every February, his arsenal of hot chocolate concoctions can make even the most loyal Swiss Miss fan a reformed believer of Rubin.

Within the past two years, he’s expanded his kingdom to include a pair of earth-friendly bakeries, both respectively named Birdbath. The East Village location, discreetly opened in January 2006, after a considerable amount of consumer speculation – has since prospered significantly. At the newer West Village location, you’ll find a broader range of food and drink. There’s even seating for customers. Ideally, for those that have traveled by foot, bike or the eco-friendly rickshaw. (The East Village location delivers baked goods to the West Village spot via rickshaw).

Incorporating toxic-free, chemical-free materials throughout the bakeries, his goal was to utilize materials that require less energy to manufacture. Biodegradable cups. Recycled paper towels. Compact fluorescent light bulbs. Even a countertop constructed out of recycled paper. And of course, most give off very few to zero volatile organic compounds. Dare he have it any other way?

“I’ve felt strongly about the environment since the third grade” he told me, “after a presentation to my class about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.” He quipped, “That was approximately 40 years ago.”

Yet his two Birdbath locations aren’t the only green-minded bakeries. “City Bakery has always been a green small business. Quietly and without promotion” he said. “We’ve composted our own food waste for close to 10 years and recycled at our own expense.” “Everyday at 3pm, we dim the lights in the store to save energy.” Currently, he’s been promoting the usage of ceramic mugs for customers who drink inside the bakery. And in the future, he even hopes to create a novel program to ban bottled water.

In the past, Rubin wasn’t necessarily set on baking. His former stint as a producer and director at ABC Sports took up the better half of his career. It wasn’t until his days in Paris that he learned to bake. There he learned the ways of kneading, braiding, mixing and constructing classic French pastries. He refers to his baking style as “purely, classically and stubbornly French, innovated a great deal – in aesthetics.” When I asked him if there have been any outside influences since then, he said, “very little – there’s a lifetime to work within the French canon.”

The ingredients used at his bakeries pull from all over the nation, but also straight from the Union Square Greenmarket – a few blocks away from main hub City Bakery. “Quality trumps everything. No matter what,” he explained. “Never once have organic and local ingredients not been in the best interest of quality and flavor.” Such principle is why he goes so far to get his flour from Pennsylvania and North Carolina, settling only for the best.

But don’t get the man wrong; he doesn’t play around with whom he deals with. Within the next 2 to 3 years, the Rubin kingdom plans to limit who they from buy based on tangible, sustainable eco-friendly guidelines. “We have begun to share our concerns for the environment with our vendors, and encouraged them to be mindful of being green.”

And how does the baker get to work? “I’ve walked to work everyday for seventeen years.” “With the occasional taxi thrown in here and there for rainy days.”

Though the most burning question I had for him was whether or not his beloved hot chocolate might pop up in the two Birdbaths. All I got was a qualified “maybe”. So I inquired about the best chocolate chip cookie he’s ever had. “It’s not my own, but that’s all I can say,” he replied.

Instead of trying to prod him some more, I settled on that. I must say he’s quite good at conserving energy, or at least his own little secrets.