“At culinary school, often you learn only how to bake from mixes. But anyone can learn to prepare healthy food from scratch, and this is what I want to change.”
“Bread isn’t bad for anybody!” exclaims Robert Plantadis, owner of The Midnight Bakers, holding court over freshly brewed French coffee in his working kitchen.
There are many places in which that might be seen as a contentious remark, but addressing the bad press bread tends to get these days (“A disaster!” Plantadis says) is one of the tasks he’s set for himself in America. “In Europe, people eat bread all day long, and it’s not a problem for anyone,” says Plantadis. Here in America, he continues, the problems are all in the ingredients and methods, and in the difference between mass production and artisanal baking — which, as you might guess, is a stark one.
At The Midnight Bakers, a small wholesale bakery he opened on Hunter Road with his partner chef, Michelle Cuttings, the philosophy is all in the name: Baking is done at night — between 11 p.m. and 10 a.m., give or take a few hours — to ensure absolute freshness. All deliveries take place in the mornings. And Plantadis stresses that by “obeying the baking sequence” (there are many stages to a dough, he explains, each requiring patience and discipline), he can create simple, real food.
“My longest recipe has seven ingredients,” he says, proudly.
Baking has been a lifelong passion for both Plantadis, a lively French native, and the equally energetic Cuttings. (The partnership between Plantadis and Cuttings got off to a quintessentially culinary beginning: the two bonded blindly over what Cuttings called “the most beautifully decorated and delicious” cheesecakes she had ordered from Plantadis through a friend. “He is my experience,” she says, crediting Plantadis for her kitchen skills and newfound healthy lifestyle.)
Prior to opening his business on Hilton Head, Plantadis’ work as a chef took him around the world and back. He’s worked in 26 countries, often at Club Med resorts from the Middle East to Tahiti, where he’d prepare all manner of cuisines for guest lists of up to 2,400. He recalls one night when, midway through presenting his dinner by parading over a bridge above the swimming pool, the structure collapsed, sending that night’s feast — along with the entire kitchen staff — plummeting into the water.
The Secrets of The Midnight Bakers
- Lemon, lemon, lemon. It’s the most underrated ingredient. Use it on everything during and after cooking. It adds flavor and keeps things fresh.
- Use ingredients sparingly. No more than seven are needed for a great recipe.
“We had to make the dinner all over from scratch,” he said, with a bright chuckle.
The stories go on: Plantadis accompanied a United Nations mission to Algeria following the 1980 El Asnam earthquake, establishing a kitchen in what he calls “the middle of chaos.” He spent a year working for Concorde, simplifying fine dining into small portions. He’s worked for the five-star Seven Oaks restaurant in Greenville and The Georgian Club in Marietta, Ga.
But while those experiences were certainly valuable, Plantadis says, they were also demanding, and he recently made the decision to forego big corporations in favor of a better quality of life, where he could focus on raising his young sons, both world-class junior triathletes (Hilton Head Monthly, Dec. 1997), and his own dreams of having his own business that focuses equally on baking and nutrition.
In fact, though cooking has been his passion, Plantadis says he considers himself more of an expert on nutrition, and it is his goal to teach others about improving their health through cooking and eating right.
Plantadis stresses that judgment and discipline, not industrial equipment and fancy gadgets, are the keys to success. His kitchen operates on 10 regular-sized ovens. With The Midnight Bakers, the duo’s mission is to fill a market gap by supplying restaurants with “fresh daily” breads and pastries, but their goal in the long run is to teach young people to bake fresh, live healthily and develop the skills they might need to open their own bakeries. Plantadis and Cuttings also believe in acting fairly towards customers in today’s economy; to that end, some of their products sell for several dollars cheaper than retail.
“At culinary school, often you only learn how to bake from mixes. But anyone can learn to prepare healthy food from scratch, and this is what I want to change,” Plantadis says.
Despite the challenges — such as having to sleep between 2 and 8 p.m., as well as finding the funds to start a business — Plantadis and Cuttings are always looking to expand on their experiences. I was lucky enough to be entertained by one of Plantadis’ kitchen disasters — he has enough stories to write a book, easily — in which he returned from an unplanned 15-minute nap to find a monster of overly risen dough expanding across his kitchen surfaces and floor. Take solace in the fact that even the best have accidents sometimes. Or, as Cuttings said, “Food loves him as much as he loves it.”
WHAT DO THEY SELL?
Heavenly croissants, bursting blueberry muffins, sticky chocolate éclairs, fresh fruit squares, light, springy loaves of bread ...are you salivating yet?
WHERE CAN I GET THEM?
The Midnight Bakers currently supply Java Joe’s and Plantation Café (North and South).
(FROM ROBERT PLANTADIS OF THE MIDNIGHT BAKERS)
16 oz. honey
12 oz. granulated white sugar
42 oz. bread flour
1.5 oz. baking soda
2 oz. ground cinnamon
1 oz. cocoa powder
1/4 oz. ground ginger
1/4 oz. allspice
1/8 oz. each:
• Ground cloves
• Ground cardamon (green)
2 large eggs
5 oz. whole milk
3 oz. water
Set oven at 300 degrees F. Boil honey and sugar together for one minute; let completely cool. Combine and sift all dry ingredients twice. Combine milk, water and eggs in a pitcher. Add honey-sugar mixture to mixer; on slow speed alternately add the milk and dry ingredients to the mixture in the mixing bowl; mix for no more that three minutes. Be careful not to over-mix. Roll dough in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 12 hours. Now the dough is ready to roll and bake. Using a rolling pin roll dough into your design; place dough on baking sheet with parchment paper; bake 7-10 minutes or until it is firm. Cool completely. (Note: If your dough is too soft you may rebake. It will not hurt the gingerbread.)
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
3 large egg whites
Mix all three ingredients in mixer until stiff peaks form. Place in pastry bag immediately to prevent drying; use to assemble and decorate gingerbread house. Have fun and be creative!