Food Interviews

Baking is a family affair for The Village Hearth

Home is where the hearth is

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Whether it’s the early morning pastry crowd or Sunday pizza night regulars, Andrea Colognese and Doriana Carella’s Village Hearth is part of the routine for many Jamestowners. With him on the bread, and her on the pastry, their midweek is spent prepping and their weekends are filled with firing ovens, kneading bread, folding pastry and wanting sleep.

The couple met in the ‘90s backpacking in Nepal. Their love of food is similarly international, but their bakery is positively domestic, which began in their house and slowly expanded until they were forced out. Expansions, renovations and two grown children later, their artisanal bakery has grown deep roots in the Jamestown community.

After all these years, baking still centers on the rhythms of the wood-fired oven at the heart of their kitchen made from the bricks Andrea laid by hand. Batch after batch brings crust and crumb that can only be achieved by time and craft. If you want your guaranteed selection, get there early. There’s no resupply and no shortcuts.

Baking is a bit of science, and a bit of intuition. Where do you fall on the spectrum?
Andrea: It is very scientific, but I don’t like that part. With pastry you have to be more specific, but not with bread. I mean, you have to use measurements, a scale and everything, but I like to go by the feeling. In the winter you have to add more water, in the summer you have to hold some back because there is more humidity in the air. By doing it for years and years, I get it pretty much right, but it’s not exactly the same every bake. Sometimes it’s a little hotter, sometimes a little cooler. You’ve got to play around.

So there are no dials on your wood-fired oven?

Andrea: On this type of oven, there’s no vents, it’s just a very basic design. The fire is inside the same chamber that we bake in, so the baker has to know the amount of hours you’re going to fire. When you bake bread, the oven is not firing. You’re using the residual heat from the day before. I’m done baking at seven in the
morning. Then I fire up by filling up the oven with firewood, fire all day, and then by the afternoon I spread all the coals around so they burn out. At the end of the day I rake it out, sweep it and mop it so it’s clean. Then I close the door and it’s ready for the morning.

How was raising a family in a bakery?

Andrea: When we started the business [our twin girls] were two-and-a-half years old, so it was really hard. We had a baby monitor so we could hear them when we were coming in and working. After seven or eight years we moved out of the house and expanded. Now they are 16 and have been working here for years with us on the weekends. They know what it means to work hard.

I saw some new solar panels on the roof. Does that make you a green business?
Doriana: The state offered a grant for a small agricultural business, which we applied for and got. It just went live.
Andrea: We’re very excited because we just installed [the] solar panel, so we are very proud to be green. We have very romantic concepts about saving energy. [It should provide] between 60-70% in total. We don’t know the difference in the bill yet since it just went live, but just the idea of not being on the grid so much is nice.

What are some of the pros and cons of doing everything yourselves?
Andrea: A lot of people don’t understand. They wonder why aren’t you open seven days a week? Why isn’t the shelf always full? The only reason we survived all these years is because we do everything. We bake the bread, we do the shopping, we do the cleaning. We’re successful because we work long hours.
Doriana: Most of the places you go to buy bagels and croissants, everything is frozen. We could easily do the same thing. But you’ll never see a Sysco truck pull up here, and we never buy frozen products. We do everything
from scratch.

The Village Hearth Bakery Cafe
2 Watson Avenue, Jamestown

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