March 25th, 2011
03:30 PM ET
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Erika Dimmler is a producer for CNN's American Morning.

Carolina Garcia was searching for the perfect French baguette. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Garcia had spent two years in France enjoying some of the best breads and pastries the country had to offer, and now, as a resident of Arlington, Virginia, she was having trouble finding a baguette that met her expectations.

Even worse, she had just been offered a job she knew she would hate. An economist by trade, Garcia was contemplating a position as an assistant in a firm where she was told point-blank that there was very little room for growth above her current position. After years of studying economics, and then earning her masters in international business, she would be booking flights and organizing breakfasts.

In order to de-stress after searching high and low for other opportunities, Garcia turned to baking. It was her "relaxing therapy." Despite her baking prowess, she studiously stayed away from baking bread. After all, Garcia had tried it once before and the results were disastrous. According to family legend, her grandmother had to leave her "bread" in water for a week so the birds could eat it. Her brother makes fun of her to this day.

Garcia’s husband, Santiago, thought there was probably an easy fix to this problem: He started by buying her a premade dough for practice, as well as a book on bread. What happened next shocked both of them.

Garcia realized that she actually enjoyed the art of bread baking. One month later, she was baking for eight hours a day - and looking for another job the rest of the time. Pretty soon, she had enough bread on her hands that whenever the couple was invited out to dinner, she took some bread with her. People loved it, and always asked Garcia why she didn’t try selling it. Her response was always the same. "Well, no, it’s not my job."

Eventually even Garcia started asking herself, "well, why not?" As tasty as her loaves had become, she knew they still didn’t quite match those she had encountered during her time in France.

The answer to her dilemma came from an unsurprising place: the city where her love of pastries began. His name? Arnaud Delmontel, a French baker who won first prize in the 2007 Best Baguette in Paris. Garcia decided to write an e-mail to Delmontel, asking him if she could come to Paris and apprentice in one of his three bakeries.

The weeks that followed became a time of massive handwringing for Garcia: Was she making the right decision? Would she be better off if she stuck with economics and found another "serious" job in her chosen field? As Garcia tells it, "there was this one night where I was almost collapsing. I was really stressed out. My god, what am I going to do? And I said, please god, send me a sign, because I am totally, totally confused."

The next day, Garcia received her sign. Delmontel had invited her to Paris. One week later she was in France, learning how to bake.

It was backbreaking work. For three weeks (and 300 Euros plus airfare), Garcia picked up almost every shift at a rotating mix of three Delmontel bakeries. Oftentimes the first shift began at midnight, and would end at 4 a.m. Garcia would head home, sleep, have dinner and then head back to work. She was given the flexibility to do anything and everything, and she took full advantage making quiches, tartlets, breads and croissants.

Toward the end of her apprenticeship, Delmontel gave her his book of recipes and told her that while she couldn’t take the book home with her, she had his consent to copy down whatever recipes she would like.

Garcia headed home armed with an increased passion, newfound confidence and lots of plans - but Delmontel warned her that even though she felt like she had a lot of ideas, the reality was that there was still a long way to go. After all, the United States doesn’t have the same exact water as France. Or the same altitude. Or flour. As Delmontel saw it, everything was different, and she was going to have to work her way through the differences until she hit upon the perfect combination.

And he was right. For one whole month Garcia found herself baking three times a day. Put more water in. Take some water out. More yeast. Less yeast. Tinker with the temperature. After a month and a half, she finally had the recipe done but the opinions of those around her were still divided.

Some friends were encouraging and believed in the product she was creating, others thought she was crazy and told her so. One wondered how many years Garcia would have to bake bread before her salary would match the one she might earn in a more traditional field, at a "normal" company.

After she won a local contest that asked for the best small business plans, Garcia knew she was on the right track - despite the naysayers.

Now, business is booming. The business model Garcia has adapted is simple. Everything is made to order: raspberry tartlets, chocolate croissants, chouquettes, madeleines, various quiches and an entire array of breads are all available for delivery.

As for the name of her enterprise, LeoNora Bakery, Garcia decided to combine Leonor, her mother’s name, with Nora, her aunt’s. Both of them instilled in Garcia her love of cooking and baking, and she points to their influence as being the defining reason for her appreciation of good food.

Besides sheer determination, Garcia is a firm believer in the notion that when you cook, the food you cook reflects your mood. The love and passion she pours into each baguette almost assures its deliciousness. Not to mention a little assistance from Arnaud Delmontel.



soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. E-Cigarettes Rochor

    E-Cigarettes HarbourFront

    April 11, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  2. Jcorbin

    Hi!

    I am working on a team of 8 people to develop a new, innovative product for a class assignment at Boston University. We have decided to develop a home bread proofer that can be sold commercially and we really need feedback from experienced home bakers and baking enthusiasts. The survey takes no longer than 5-10 minutes and we would really appreciate all the positive feedback we can possibly get! All feedback is anonymous and will be used for academic purposes only.

    The survey can be found at http://bumanagement.qualtrics.com//SE/?SID=SV_2gj7YiFTbD1wxso

    Thank you so much for your participation, time and feedback. It means a lot to both myself and my team!
    JCorbin

    March 30, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  3. Bambz

    Great work Carol!
    Still remember the night you decided to make us Arepas at 3am in the morning in Europole!
    Good to see you took it to another level!
    All the best with the business!

    March 30, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  4. le pain

    What an inspiring story. While many business models fail, this woman worked hard, truly had a passion for baking, and has come out on top due to her dedication and also to a bit of luck. It's such a shame that good bread is so difficult to come by in most of the U.S. While there are a few locals bakeries where I live, most "artisan" type bread I buy is still from the local grocery or chain bakery/sandwich shops like Panera Bread–which just doesn't measure up. I'd kill for a genuine French-style bakery, but because of our suburban sprawl, most people go to the grocery once a week or two and stock up on foods that are so full of preservatives that real bread would often be wasted. Oh, to live in Paris and have a patisserie, charcuterie, fromagerie, open market on every corner!...

    March 28, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  5. Mildred

    My cooking for therapy this past weekend was making Chinese Five Spice cookies and shortbread, and Lavender shortbread.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  6. conradshull

    You can make passable French bread at home in your oven by following her instructions in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Hint: you need a brick ,a gas stovetop, sturdy tongs and a pan of hot water.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  7. conradshull

    This story is not unusual. For whatever reason, many "successful" people in the second half of their life become attracted to the idea of making a livelihood from cooking, baking or brewing. Not such a bad thing, I think.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  8. Jack

    My wife (From Spain) yearned good European bread for a long time. By chance, we discovered a local sandwich/bakery (bon fresco) in Columbia, MD that bakes the best bread that we've had in the U.S. so far. They do run out, but when we have the fortune of scoring on a fresh baguette, it really is phenom! I've encouraged them to enter in competitions, and I'm sure they will win hands down.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  9. The_Mick

    P.S. to my last comment:

    If you don't like the dense bread you tend to get from automatic breadmakers, add 2/3 tsp of Vital Wheat Gluten per cup of flour and you'll get an airy loaf: just make sure you scale it to the 1.5 lb loaf size because it will come out as a 2 lb-sized loaf (normally the largest size that can be baked in the machine) due to the extra rising: the VWG allows the dough to form longer, stronger, protein chains and hold more air bubbles.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  10. The_Mick

    I got involved in breadmaking through a $35 Sony automatic breadmaking machine ($50+ last I looked, at that AMAZing ONline store) that's still working fine after 3 years. Julia Child, on one of the shows in that series where she highlights other chefs, said, "A house is not a home without an automatic breadmaker."

    Using the dough cycle alone you can do doughs for bread, pretzels, pizza dough, English muffins (banana bread, blueberry, etc. versions), banana bread, etc: you just dump the ingredients in and, if you want, come back after the dough's been mixed, risen, knocked down, and risen again.

    Personally, I don't like the loaf shapes you get from baking bread right in the cheaper machines, so I use the dough cycle then finish them in bread pans or on trays (rolls, French breads, etc.) in the oven.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  11. Fred

    I absolutely LOVE bakeries. Bakers are so close to God...

    March 28, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  12. ianstuart

    "France is not at the same altitude as the US" that's funny, I thought that sea level was sea level and both Paris and DC are basically at sea level.

    March 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  13. runner920

    More power to her for turning a passion into a career! I spent 6 months living in France and miss their baguettes and beautiful pastries very much!

    March 27, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  14. Fiona

    Economist by "trade"? You mean she had an Economics degree? In the US that's just another Humanities degree, and generally a lead-in to grad school. Sorry, but if she'd been offered a PA job, she was not an Economist. She was just another person with a general university degree.

    I get so annoyed by people who go on an on about not really being the baker, construction worker, restaurant owner or dog walker they are...because they have college degrees. I'd have a bit more respect for her if she'd take pride in what she chose to do. To discount baking is to discount those far more talented than she, who didn't get Econ degrees.

    BTW, I know four people who have basically the same story as this chick. It's not news.

    March 27, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • T3chsupport

      I get annoyed by anyone who can't just shut up and be happy for someone. Is it so hard or wrong to congratulate someone on discovering their passion?
      I also get annoyed by people who state the obvious, that this is not news. It's not supposed to be news, it's a BLOG.

      March 27, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Carolina

      Passion is what moves the world... academic background helps making your dream come true. I hope you enjoy what you do and feel the passion and happiness I feel everyday when I wake up to bake.

      BTW, I consider myself a baker and this is news to me !

      March 27, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • SophyB

      Wow – what a crab you are! Why not just be happy for someone else's success?

      And the article does say she has a masters degree, by the way. A little overqualified for an admin position!

      March 27, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
      • SophyB

        And the "crab" remark is @Fiona by the way. Not intended for innocent bystanders, lol!!

        March 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • ExEngineer

      I have an Electrical Engineering Degree and a Computer science degree. I make Pizza for a living. Several of my coworkers also have degrees including a masters degree in physics and a BS in Aerospace engineering, we joke about being the first Pizza place to have nuclear ballistic missile capability. It's unfortunate but if your an American over 40 with an engineering degree you own a worthless piece of paper. Fortunately engineers are hard workers, you can't get an engineering degree without a lot of hard work, so they don't sit around when their job is sent to India they take any job they can.

      March 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  15. Soylnet Green

    How much does an advertisement like this cost?

    March 27, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  16. Geeshgirl

    Mmmm...baguette...

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5hrUGFhsXo&w=640&h=390]

    March 27, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • @Geeshgirl

      Quite apropo! I love FOTC!

      Carolina, this is a fantastic article! I admire you for following your dream.

      March 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  17. PETER

    When I was in college in the 70's I came up with a similar saying:
    Shoot to the moon because even if you don't reach it, you would have gone higher anyway.

    March 27, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  18. Glenn

    Caroline, you should write a cook book and share your secrets with those of us that don't live close enough for delivery. I lived in France for a year and would love to have come real French bred. Nothing even close here in Fort Wayne.

    March 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Carolina

      WOW! That would be amazing! I would love to do that and definitely consider it after this article! It seems that I'm not alone in the search for good bread!

      March 27, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  19. homesick

    I moved to Florida a few years ago and what I miss most about my old home in Ohio are good baked goods. The only bakeries are the "walmart" variety, to me it's not worth even looking at there stuff any more. In three years of trying every different bread product I could find I have found ONE decent loaf of plain white bread. I had to resort to making my own. Thankfully grandma always had a loaf rising in the kitchen so I had a good recipe and enough knowledge from asking my older relations to produce a decent loaf. Now if I could only make a decent German style rye, the only rye here is heavy packaged pumpernickel that tastes like sawdust and sits in your stomach like cement. As far as a good Baguette, danish or turnover you can forget it, I'll have some mailed to me, three day old bread from my hometown bakery is better than anything I have found in this state.

    March 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  20. I can totally relate to the story

    only tht I have not seen the end yet and am still in the struggle mode:)...and another twist would be that i am looking for the perfect cupcakes and not the baguette :)...and when Carolina wrote that quote" shoot for the moon even if you miss you will land among the stars" ..:) I was like WOW! is she my lost twin?..lol.. it has been one of my fav quotes of all times and I use it often to keep a cool head in tough times.
    my best wishes to you Carolina!

    March 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Carolina

      thank you so much for your good wishes! Pleeeease continue with your cupcake search, I'm sure you will find the perfect one! good luck!

      March 27, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  21. Carole Clarke

    Spent 4 years in France as an Army Brat in Orleans, south of Paris and went daily to Paris to school for a year. The French have every right to be proud of their cuisine. I've tried the so-called French bread in the stores here and it tastes like cardboard and dries out in a day, even when kept in the refrigerator. Don't know if it's what makes up the dough or the type of oven but French bread here sucks! Same for croissants tho they are not too bad, just too dry. And you can't make tarts with processed jam, it has to be fruit fresh-pulped and made. Most Americans won't go to the trouble and you can taste the difference. What a shame.

    March 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Fiona

      How silly. French bread dries out in a day, too. That's why it's bought fresh every day. If you go a bakery regularly in France, they will often throw in some rolls or something from yesterday's bake. You use these for stuffing, croutons, or other day-old recipes. If you want good bread, go to a real bakery (not the grocery store) and buy it fresh on the day you plan to eat it.

      March 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  22. bvilleyellowdog

    King Aurthur has good French bread flour – too bad it is so expensive :(

    March 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Carolina

      But it is worth it! Believe me!

      March 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  23. Wayne

    Good French bread requires bromated flour.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  24. Wayne

    I'd go back to France just for the bread. The best ever. American's don't know how to make bread.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • TakeIt ToThe Bank

      $$$$$$ Whadaya call that???

      March 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  25. maureen

    Congratulations,wish you every success and please come to NY! Good bread very hard to find in the US,think it must be the type of flour.There is NOTHING like a real French baguette,exquisite,heavenly perfection...............

    March 26, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  26. Santiago

    When moving to the United States, about 18 months ago, one of our main drivers to choose neighborhood – within DC metro area – was proximity to good bread and coffee. Challenging goal since couldn't really find a good bread until Caro started backing :)

    March 26, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  27. reyesrob

    Great article! Nothing beats a an inspirational story in the morning while drinking coffee. Well, I could use some fresh bread :)

    March 26, 2011 at 5:19 am |
  28. Shiromi

    I agree, because I do to

    March 26, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  29. JP0

    Either you make bread with a good crust like real French Bread or you make the soggy crap Americans will buy. Which is it?

    March 26, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • Carolina

      A description of our french bread could be: great crust, delicious flavor and unique texture

      March 26, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • H. B.

      It may interest some of you to know that Mexico has its own equivalent of the French Bread. It is called a "bolillo," (bo-lee-yoh), and it's crusty, tender inside, and scrumptious. Instead of one long baguette, they take a shorter chunk of dough, and give it a twist in the middle, and slash each one lengthwise. This makes two, the size of a good hard roll, from each "tira," or joined set of two, that easily breaks apart. I find them indistinguishable from fine French Bread, except for being, perhaps, a bit more substantial, sticking more to the ribs, as it were.

      I'd stack the bolillo up against anyone's French Bread, any time. Not as superior, but as equal. If you ever get to Mexico, be sure to try them. There are street vendors who split a bolillo, remove some of the center crumb, and fill it with savory meats and vegetables – delicious and addictive. I've tried duplicating them in my kitchen, so far without success, but I'll keep trying. I think eventually I can come pretty close. Meanwhile there are bakery trucks that can deliver them, still warm from the oven, to residential areas – so far not my new one, but they came every week to the last house I rented, selling not just bolillos, but donuts and sweet rolls – even custards. YUM.

      I'd like to see the bolillo given a fair share of credit, since it is merited. It seems that if something comes from Mexico or is done there, it "can't be important at all" in many peoples' minds. They'd only realize how wrong they are if they had the purification drops that I can get – to genuinely purify fresh produce with total safety. The drops were responsible for the virtual extermination of cholera in Mexico about 50 years back. They could help Americans, even today, especially because of those people who used to run around contaminating Mexican produce with salmonella and e-coli. I notice that, since Bush went byebye, those things have run dry. Still, every home should have these inexpensive and 100% safe purification drops. Mexico has them; you can't. If I were you, I'd be rather tee-d off about that, and would start inquiring why we can't have this product. It does precisely what it says it'll do. I could eat a raw spinach salad, using that spinach you all threw away because it was contaminated with e-coli. I could eat it and NOT get sick. You can't.

      March 26, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
      • Aaron

        Yeah, and the flies are free with any food you buy from a street vendor in Mexico. Glad that you've got a strong stomach.

        March 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
      • PETER

        When I was in Mexico, everywhere I went and ordered bread it was soft and hard to eat. They were worst than eating leather. I found out it was because they put the bread in a microwave oven to "toast". They didn't realize that when you put bread in a microwave, the bread does not get "toasted", it gets soft and hard to eat.

        March 27, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Charlotte

      Italian breads are equally good....

      March 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  30. douglas

    woops...baking. See I'm still high.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  31. douglas

    This article was just asking for it, wasn't it. Funny.

    Yes I remember backing with some pot once...relaxing...yepers.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  32. deepwater805

    I wouldn't mind getting baked with Caroline Garcia. She could knead my dough anytime...

    March 26, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • In Your Dreams

      If she could find it.

      March 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
      • Aaron

        ROFL

        March 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • T3chsupport

      Not much point if it just won't rise...

      March 27, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  33. Ahh the joys of Bread!

    Wow – Nice to know of an authentic French baguette maker that is nearby!

    Carolina – from the short video, I recognize the traditional methods you are using in shaping the baguettes, the dusting of the couches (burlap fabric) and the scoring of the loaves. Thanks for pursuing your passion – Can't wait to try!

    March 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  34. Frederica

    Ah... European delicacies are truly beautiful... An art as many other things are there.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  35. Carolina

    Thanks a lot for this amazing article! We invite everyone to visit us online at http://www.leonorabakery.com to know more about us and place your orders! and don't forget: shoot for the moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars (anonymous)

    March 25, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • wayne

      This is a wonderful tale of dreams and perseverance. As someone who has lived many years in Europe I appreciate nice pastry, but moreso I love your story and just wanted to wish you all the very best with this new venture. Regardless of the financial implications, you've made the right choice by taking control of your life and doing something that will make you, your family and friends happy and proud. And a lot of pastry lovers very happy. Good luck to you, Carolina.

      April 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  36. Obama's Wrong

    It's Obama's fault.

    March 25, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  37. The Witty One@Kat & SLT

    Thanks for this! I went to the website and they deliver in my area! The sourdough bread looks good and I am definitely going for one of the tartlets.

    March 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • The Witty One

      Sorry- That should have been to Erika Dimmler. Thank you.

      But she couldn't have posted it if the blog wasn't here. So thanks again Kat and Sarah.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  38. The Witty One

    I get baked for therapy as well!

    March 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  39. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    Can't beat fresh baked bread. The best food in the universe.

    Especially after getting baked.

    March 25, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
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