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Cover Story

A Dream in the “Baking”

By Alana Folen Photos By Leah Friel
August 11, 2013

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For New Jersey native Niel Koep, a part-time job during high school as a dishwasher at a small restaurant called Fromagerie would be the first step in the long journey ahead toward his career as owner and chef of his own European-style bakery and bread shop.

Koep’s love for baking didn’t happen overnight, but at age 19. While working as a pastry chef at a restaurant called Pear Tree, he met some famous chefs that would help spark a passion within him. Koep went on to pursue his culinary training miles away from home at The New York Restaurant School in Manhattan and received a grand diploma from International Pastry Arts Center in Elmsford, N.Y. He would later go on to study at French Pastry School in Chicago under the guidance of French world champion Pierre Zimmerman.

Fast-forward to today, and Koep is living his dream, as he oversees every aspect of the day-to-day operations at Fendu Boulangerie in Manoa Marketplace.

If the aroma of freshly baked breads and pastries doesn’t draw you in to this quaint bake shop, perhaps the buzzing crowd of loyal patrons will.

“We have loaves of fresh breads that come out of the oven at 6 a.m. daily, and we open our doors at 7:30,” says Koep,” noting that the first wave of customers for the day want nothing more than warm breads, breakfast pastries and breakfast paninis. “Whether it’s Miches, rye, sourdough, multi-grain or classic French batard, people want to get their hands on a loaf of bread or a Chocolate Croissant.”

And it’s obvious why that is. For starters, Koep and his staff bake with only the best ingredients possible. Secondly, “all-natural” is the only way to go.

“We’re not cutting corners and substituting anything for low-quality ingredients,” he adds. We bake everything fresh and we really try to make it taste good. Our main goal is to get it right with taste.”

Breads, breakfast pastries and pizzas were the first things to hit the menu when Fendu Boulangerie opened for business in March 2009. Since then, Koep has added a multitude of sandwiches, chicken pot pies and, most recently, frittatas to his culinary repertoire.

“When you have a good customer base, people get tired of the same things, and as chefs we get tired of making the same things, so we always want to come up with something new and we owe it to our customers to do so,” he explains. “We’ve enhanced our breakfast menu with frittatas (an Italian-style omelette), which are in fact dense in consistency when compared to your typical breakfast omelette, which is light and fluffy. Currently, we’re offering a Vegetarian Frittata ($6.75) with eggs, spinach, asparagus, Yukon Gold potatoes, soy beans, bell peppers, Japanese eggplant, tomatoes and sweet onions, along with a Smoked Turkey and Bacon Frittata ($6.50) with eggs, bacon, Yukon Gold potatoes, Cheddar and Brie cheeses, and shallots.”

These coveted frittatas only are available during the morning rush from 7:30 to 10:30. Once 11 a.m. rolls around, Fendu’s paninis, sandwiches and desserts are the talk of the town — most specifically, Basil Pesto Chicken Panini ($8.50), which boasts chicken tender-loins sauteed with Hawaiian salt and black pepper, grilled on rustic bread with bacon, mayonnaise, tomato, shallots and goat cheese.

“The pesto consists of bits of garlic, macadamia nut, local basil, Hawaiian salt, Parmesan Reggiano cheese and olive oil,” Koep explains. “It’s very savory.”

But what’s savory without a dose of sweet? For a European-style bake shop, catering to all sweet tooths is a must. For a Fendu fanatic, Lemon Strawberry Cremeux and Lychee Caramel Flan top the list. Priced at $5.75, Cremeux, which in French translates to “creamy,” consists of a layer of pistachio chocolate sponge cake topped with strawberry cremeux, another layer of vanilla chiffon and a tangy lemon cremeux as the finishing touch.

Of course, you can’t stop there, so satisfy your sweet tooth even more with Lychee Caramel Flan ($4.50), which Koep describes as a unique spin off of the classic creme caramel dessert.

“I substitute some of the milk in the flan with lychee puree,” he explains, adding that morsels of water-melon, kiwi and blueberries add crescendo accents to this already alluring symphony.

“I love to pair water-melon with lychee because both flavors go perfectly together.”

As the sun sets over beautiful Manoa Valley, lasagnas, pizzas and chicken pot pies are among the favorites popping out of the oven just in time for the early dinner crowd, who more often than not sneak a few desserts home with them as well.

The road to success hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Koep, but fortunately, Fendu Boulangerie has been able to weather the storms that come its way.

“There’s been times that were worrisome for us, but as the months and years go on, we continue to break our sales records. We can’t thank our customers enough for that,” he says with a smile.

But Koep’s plans don’t stop there. “There are always things that we can improve on, and in the next year or so, we hope to open other locations across the island.”

At Fendu Boulangerie, it’s always a dream in the “baking.”

Fendu Boulangerie

Manoa Marketplace
2752 Woodlawn Drive
988-4310
Monday-Saturday, 7:30 A.M.-7 P.M.
Sunday, 7:30 A.M.-3 P.M.