How many small towns in America can boast having a resident artisan baker? In the Silicon Valley hamlet of Los Altos, California, a century-old railroad station is poised at the town’s entrance, transformed in 2014 into a cafe and bakery, Voyageur du Temps, known simply to locals as The V. The craftsman-style station house, originally built in 1913, was the real force behind the early commercial development of the town and serves no less of a pivotal role today. On any given day, seven days a week, one can find the valley’s thumb-typing, smartphone movers & shakers perched on bar stools overlooking the former train tracks, now a 7-mile expressway between Palo Alto and Cupertino. The place is buzzing at breakfast, lunch, and into the late afternoon. The low hum of tech chatter carries on unaware of artisan craftsman, Chef Nobu Hoyo, making his handmade Japanese and French breads and pastries.
Chef Nobu arrives seven hours before the well-heeled and tech savvy 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, Nobu 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. Nobu’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 children.”
An artisan’s passion is a lifetime commitment. Much like that of a ballet dancer, the passion informs and invigorates a life of practice, discipline and commitment to craft. Nobu’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, Nobu could be found studying the bread making of renowned bakeries in his free time, eventually forsaking soccer balls for French boules.
Nobu has spent ten 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 to never give up. His first reward for his hard work came in 2007, receiving 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. Finally, in March 2014, Voyageur du Temps opened with Chef Nobu at the helm, simultaneously fulfilling his dream of living in California.
Nobu hot iron brands each of Voyageur’s signature Shokupan or “sweet milk” breads.
The tech-terroir of Silicon Valley engenders well-designed products. Similarly, Chef Nobu’s small-batch specialties are masterpieces of thoughtful blueprinting. Nobu 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 GMOs. Nobu wants the best for his customer’s 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. Nobu’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.
Nobu 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 to 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. Nobu adds that the Échiré butter from France gives his croissants a deeper flavor which he refers to as umami, Japanese for a pleasant savory taste. If you want the best of French croissants without having to fly to Paris, you need to import the best ingredients. Famed French bread baker Lionel Poilane, said in a 2001 N.Y Times interview: ”I’d love to give you my cookie recipe, but I won’t because you’ll never be able to make it in America. Your butter just isn’t the same as ours.”
Watching Nobu 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 Nobu 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. Nobu confides that all the extra work is worth it when he sees the customer smile.
Visit Voyageur du Temps, where past and present intersect.
288 1st Street
Los Altos, California
Early morning greetings from Chef Nobu @ The V.
Story and photos by Yvonne Cornell. This story, Los Altos bakery chef uses only finest ingredients, appeared in Food & Wine section of The Los Altos Town Crier