Celebrated French baker Eric Keyser is no stranger to foreign markets. From Tokyo to Kinshasa, the baker’s franchise has spread around the world to lands not known for their fine baked goods. Today he cuts the ribbon at the newest Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger branches at AEON mall, as part of a week-long trip to Phnom Penh.
“Half the world eats rice, and half the world eats bread,” said the baker, who comes from Lorraine, over fresh eclairs at his recently opened bakery adjacent to the White Mansion on Thursday. “We are in a country where the people eat rice, but we come in with the bread and the people start eating more and more and more bread. It’s a style of the life now.”
Kayser, a 50-year-old freckled redhead who comes from a family of bakers that stretches back six generations, is passionate about sharing his creations. “You have to try this!” he exclaimed, breaking out of his thick French accent to speak in a high-pitched American voice as he took a bite of an eclair: “It’s amazing!”
And his baked goods, which range from fresh rye bread to lemon-stuffed tarts, are among the most reasonably priced in Cambodia. A tart costs $3, while a loaf of olive bread is $2.
The prices, he explained, were intentionally reduced in the Cambodian market to maximise local interest in the brand. The concept has brought positive results, as the company estimates that, in the first three months of operation, 90 per cent of their customers have been Cambodian.
To offer something for local tastes, Kayser has cooked up a Cambodian special: chocolate bread with Kampot pepper. With just a hint of black pepper, the sweet bread carries a spicy kick. But while he tries to have at least one dish in every country incorporating local influences, customers generally go for the French offerings.
“I think this country loves the bread, loves the pastries … it has a beautiful history with France before, and now it’s time to open in Cambodia and do something good,” he said.
The secret ingredient to his signature sourdough bread is the leaven, according to the baker. Through his Fermentolevain machine, which he invented in 1994, Kayser is able to make his bread with the help of a machine that creates natural leaven from yeast and bacteria. The result is a nice subtle acidic flavour.
Kayser also makes his bread at a much slower rate than most bakers. “We usually spend 12 hours to produce a [loaf]. The baker usually spends four or five hours,” he said.
Should the Eric Kayser brand take off in the Kingdom, it would not be the first time that the company’s ventures succeed in Asia. Luc Boulet, the Hong Kong-based CEO for Eric Kayser’s Asian operations, explained that Asia is the company’s best-performing market in the world.
“We still haven’t come to the UK or Germany, but we are already many countries in Southeast Asia,” he said, adding that Eric Kayser also has branches in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Plans are under way to introduce the brand into Malaysia, he added.
But Kayser says his mission is not all about money. Some of his bakers are sent to France to study, while the central office in Paris dispatches French talent to its stores around the world to train local staff – to spread the love of baking.
“My philosophy is to give my arm to other people to have a good job. We see some beautiful people in different countries who come to our place and start to learn how to bake. Now we can send those people around the world.”