When asked if baking brings him comfort, Lionel Vatinet laughs.

“The only thing I know is to bake bread,” the master baker replies. 

Vatinet, the French-born legend behind Cary’s La Farm Bakery, opened the bakeshop in 1999 but he’s been making loaves since he was a teenager. First came France’s prestigious guild of artisan bakers, Les Compagnons du Devoir, which Vatinet entered at the age of 16, and where he burnished his skills over the next 7 years. Since opening La Farm, he’s leavened his gospel into a 2013 tome, A Passion For Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker, with step-by-step instructions on mixing, proofing, kneading, and baking. 

Suffice to say, Lionel Vatinet knows dough

As people resort to performing rustic housebound activities for their social media followers, baking has taken over the country. Sourdough starters are swapped between neighbors like baseball cards (you can also purchase kits: La Farm has a comprehensive kit and in Durham, Ninth Street Bakery is also selling the essentials), and yeast and flour have quietly disappeared from grocery-store shelves—which is a good reminder not to hoard, since baking is a need and not just a novelty for many people. 

Vatinet understands the impulse, though. 

“Baking is a good stress relief,” he says. “When you see the whole process coming from your household—the smell from your bread oven, it brings a smile to the people inside the house. I think it’s why people go back to baking, because it’s beautiful.” 

During the shutdown, the three La Farm locations have remained open and the bakery is doing rapidy delivery and curbside deliveries. The La Farms truck continues to venture out across Cary, parking in different neighborhoods and outside breweries; a rolling list of locations can be found on La Farm’s Facebook page. The bakery also maintains a booth at the State Farmers Market, and also stays busy baking for emergency departments

Vatinet’s recipe for focaccia, a flat Italian yeasted bread, does not require a starter but rewards with ease and flexibility. Vatinet shared the recipe to time with the Cherry Blossoms—which, were we able to travel, maybe we’d be seeing in D.C.—but says that other sweet ingredients like strawberries or grapes can be seamlessly swapped in. 

“If we can bring some sunshine, it’s what we do and what we do best,” Vatinet says of his bread-baking tutorials, “To put a loaf on the table to be shared by a family.”

Fresh Bing Cherry and Pine Nut Focaccia 

Dough Ingredients: 

  • Unbleached flour 3 cups
  • Salt 1 1/4 teaspoons
  • Instant Yeast 1 teaspoon
  • Water 1 1 /2 cups
  • Olive Oil, Extra Virgin 1 Tablespoon

**Plus 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil to coat fermenting bowl**

For the topping:

  • Toasted Pine Nuts 3.2 ounces
  • Pitted fresh cherries 8.6 ounces


  • Preheat oven to 450 F
  • Mix by hand 20-25 minutes
  • Add the toasted pine nuts and mix until nuts are just incorporated into the dough
  • Final dough temperature 75-80º
  • Place dough in a bowl which has been oiled. Cover dough with plastic and let sit 3 hours (one fold after each hour-two folds total)
  • Divide and place on sheet pans, pressing down on the dough with a flat hand, forming the dough into a large rectangle (or to fit the shape of your pan)
  • Proofing time 40 minutes to one hour
  • Randomly place the cherries over the top of the dough, pushing them down until they almost hit the bottom of the pan. The top should be evenly dotted with cherries.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes depending on oven temperature
  • Let cool slightly and then sift a light dusting of confectioners sugar over the top. Cut into pieces and serve.

Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at sedwards@indyweek.com.

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