Meet the chef: Andrée Falls
American culinary expert James Beard is quoted as saying, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” Sage Bakehouse owner/baker Andrée Falls agrees. She offers 14 delicious varieties of bread at her artisan bread bakery and complements them with excellent, fresh ingredients to create delicious tartines, panini, soups, and salads at her café (535 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe). She says, “We’re a bit food-obsessed, not about fussy presentations.”
Falls grew up in a restaurant family and “by the time she was eight, she was wearing an apron and has been cooking and baking ever since,” according to her website. “But not the same kind of cooking that my mother did in her 1970s Dallas restaurant,” she emphasizes. After three years in Paris and an apprenticeship in Upstate New York with cookbook author and exceptional baker Michael London, Falls decided to open a bakery and small café. “I had the misconception that baking is more controllable than a restaurant, but there is a lot of baking that is not controlled. I learned that working with sourdough bread, there is a different vintage every day. Also, everything ferments faster at altitude – what took 12 hours to ferment in New York, takes only eight hours here – the window to get things right between fermentations is smaller.”
Since she was new to baking, why did she choose opening a bread bakery in Santa Fe with an altitude of 7,199 feet? “Growing up in Texas, I had visited Santa Fe for years. Personally, I enjoy outside activities; I am an avid hiker, skier, and mountain biker. For the bakery, I needed a food sophisticated place with a population large enough to support the business. In Santa Fe, people are interested in high quality, and our retail customers opened the way for the stores to carry our breads, which was crucial to our success,” Falls says. She continues, “it was essential to reach a volume, so that huge investment in the massive oven and mixers would be offset, and the business could become profitable. The restaurants are also important, and I’ll always be grateful to Andiamo, which was the first restaurant in town to serve our bread.
“Putting the whole business puzzle together requires establishing relationships with customers, employees, and vendors. I learned a lot about running a small business from my mother. She would mentor her employees and the staff would be multi-generational. We have the same relationship here; I try to treat people with respect and pay them as much I can. I have employees who started with me 27 years ago, and now their sons work with me. The sons understand the interdependence between the employees and the business. If the business thrives, we all thrive. I haven’t had to hire a new employee in ten years.”
That respect also extends to her vendors. She purchases her wheat from organic growers in Monte Vista, just over the Colorado border from New Mexico. The wheat is then stone ground by her miller, Kris Gosar. She shops for her produce from the Santa Fe Farmers Market, frequenting the Malandro Farm’s booth, where she has developed a relationship with 2019 Farmer All Star Lisa Anderson. “I buy parsnips, carrots, spinach, and butternut squash for soups, and in the summer I purchase tomatoes for tartines. There is zero comparison between the quality of the product that I purchase from Lisa, and what I find at the grocery store. The flavor of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market tomatoes are 100% juicy, sweet – almost like berries. We use only a few ingredients, so I need excellent products. I have always been attracted to food and the role it plays in people’s lives, and there is also the moral aspect that I want to support local agriculture,” Falls says.
Falls notes that Sage Bakery has been “an incredible journey” in which she is constantly learning. “I would encourage a young woman who wants to be an entrepreneur to be open to experiential learning – to find a mentor and just jump in and work. As you work, you will find what you are interested in and you will find what frustrates you. In the beginning I confronted some ‘machismo,’ but as time went on and I was seen doing hard things and as the business prospered, that issue went away.” Her parting advice is, “Travel provides a wonderful education. I wouldn’t have the kind of bread that I have, if I didn’t spend time in Paris!” Bon voyage.