Los Altos has its own resident artisan baker crafting handmade Japanese and French breads and pastries at Voyageur du Temps, the Craftsman-style former railroad station on First Street.
Chef Nobu Hoyo arrives seven hours before customers enter Voyageur’s front door at opening time. If one walks past the curbside kitchen window in the dark hours between midnight and sunrise, Hoyo and his staff are in full swing, music pumping, fully engrossed in an early-morning dance of whisking, rolling, patting, spreading, shaping and baking fresh daily Voyageur creations. Hoyo’s pride of product is like that of a father for his offspring. His Instagram feed is rich with photos presenting beautifully crafted pastries and bread captioned with the loving moniker “my babies.”
Hoyo’s passion for bread began early, while still in his first career as a professional soccer player for Team Bellmare from the coastal town of Hiratsuka, Japan. When the team was on tour in Japan and Europe, Hoyo could be found studying the bread making of renowned bakeries in his free time, eventually forsaking soccer balls for French boules.
Hoyo has spent 10 years practicing and refining his baking skills, training in both Tokyo and Paris. Those early years of the disciplined practice and rigor of professional soccer taught him never to give up. His first reward for his hard work came in 2007, when he received the Special Judges Prize from the California Raisin Committee for his pastry recipe using raisins. In 2009, he received an outstanding performance award for his bread recipe in a contest sponsored by Nisshin Flour Milling. In March 2014, Voyageur du Temps opened with Hoyo at the helm, simultaneously fulfilling his dream of living in California.
Hoyo’s small-batch specialties are masterpieces of thoughtful blueprinting. He uses organic eggs and blends several types of flours to achieve the best flavor. His flours are imported from Rogers Foods in Canada, which prides itself on natural, whole-grain flour products produced without the use of food additives or genetically modified organisms.
Hoyo wants the best for his customers’ health. For example, he doesn’t use any yeast in the raisin walnut, multigrain and fig bread. Despite the increased time and work required to make these breads using a traditional slow method, the health benefits are irrefutable. Much of our commercial bread baking has succumbed to using fast-acting yeasts and additives to reduce rising times to mere minutes. The longer a bread is allowed to rise, the less potent the gluten that remains in the finished product. Hoyo’s croissants endure a labor-intensive process of four days for dough rising to create that quintessential lofty lightness between each layer. Bread making is an age-old tradition and best left to rise in its own time.
Hoyo is a purist, right down to the butter he uses for Voyageur’s Croissant d’Échiré. Commercial butter often contains added flavoring used in the post-production. If you’re sold on the benefits of organic fruits and vegetables, then the same applies to additive-free baked goods.
The butter from Échiré is made by allowing the cream to rest for 16-18 hours, using natural ferments cultivated from skimmed Échiré milk. The milk comes from cows grazing on grass within a specific area of Échiré, a village on the Atlantic coast of France, officially designated by the Société de Laiterie Coopérative d’Échiré – yes, you read that correctly, a cooperative milk society gives this product a certification of origin and process to guarantee the highest quality, much like French Champagne produced under the rules of the Champagne appellation.
Hoyo adds that the Échiré butter from France gives his croissants a deeper flavor that he refers to as “umami,” Japanese for a “pleasant savory taste.”
Watching Hoyo work at his craft in the early-morning hours gives one an immeasurable respect for small-batch food production. The artist in his domain producing works of art is a labor of love. The fruits of Hoyo’s labor are one of the best-kept secrets of Los Altos, hidden in the dark of the wee hours between midnight and sunrise. Hoyo confides that all the extra work is worth it when he sees the customer smile.
Yvonne Cornell is a Los Altos resident who writes the blog followingbreadcrumbs.com, which promotes slow living, artisan foods and small-batch craftwork. To read the full version of this article, visit her blog.