Baker brings ‘Studious' approach to craft
Photo Gallery | The Studious Baker
PITTSFIELD -- To Rob Llana, baking is more of an art than a task.
He enjoys blending flavors and ingredients together to create cookies, scones, muffins, cakes and pastries.
In reflection of his work, Llana's given his cookies colorful names like sesame rosemary ginger, lemon lavender, lime elderberry and peanut butter lime chipotle.
"I also make things with flavors that nobody else puts together," he said, referring to a long ago concoction he created while working in Monterey. "I made a pear tart with black pepper corn and fennel."
Llana's current cooking canvas can be found at The Studious Baker, which recently opened in the Crawford Square building on the corner of North and Depot streets. Llana owns the business with his wife, Jennie Heck. They are the firm's only employees.
Originally from upstate New York, Llana is a self-taught baker who has both owned and worked at numerous Berkshire culinary establishments. In the 1980s, he owned a farm in New York's Rensselaer County, that he says was the third establishment in the country to operate under the Community Sustainable Agriculture or CSA model (one of the country's first CSA's was established at Indian Line Farm in Great Barrington in 1986).
Heck, who has a background in graphic marketing, is from Chapel Hill, N.C, where she worked for an engineering association. Llana met Heck when he moved to North Carolina to take care of his parents, and the couple lived there for several years before deciding to relocate to the Berkshires. They live in Pittsfield.
‘We kind of wanted to get out of the heat of the South," Heck said.
Llana named the bakery after a nickname that had been given to a cooking student who drove a Studebaker and worked with a friend of his at a Boston bakery several years ago.
"The kitchen called him the studious baker, and that name just stuck with me all these years," Llana said. "I thought that's a great name for a bakery."
That name could also refer to the bespectacled Llana, who sometimes bakes while wearing a beret.
"I'm studious in the sense that as a chef I'm always looking at different ingredients and putting them together, but I do it from a point of art," he said. "Finding flavors to me is art and it's a way of giving to humanity.
"Art in this case is the development of flavor textures," Llana said. "You start with a key ingredient then you build around that.
"The thing I really want to get across is that I'm not baking facsimiles," Llana said. "I use certified flours, different flour brands, and build the taste around that so that it stands by itself as an original."
Being self-taught, Llana did not have a mentor, so he said he didn't develop a style from someone else. He also grinds his own seeds.
"When I'm making a recipe, I don't measure, I just throw everything into a bowl because I'm looking for a certain flavor" he said, "Then, I make a recipe after that."
Llana and Heck spent under $100,000 renovating their workspace, which is a former clothing store. They have a three-year lease with their landlord, Whaling Properties of Pittsfield, which owns the Crawford Square building. They financed their bakery with personal savings.
. The Studious Baker is open from 7 a.m., to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It is closed on Sunday and Monday.
To reach Tony Dobrowolsk TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
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