More Than Just Bread on the Rise

Cover Story Features

July 27, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo

When your job requires you to rise before the sun, a whiff of freshly baked bread straight from the oven is more than enough to snap you out of your groggy state of mind and into reality. Fortunately for Niel Koep, owner and chef of Fendu Boulangerie, 6 a.m. on the dot is the time when the European-style bakery comes alive, as pillows of homemade breads give off an alluring aroma that blankets the entire store. Once 7:30 rolls around, it’s the perfect setting — the doors open, and the quaint bake shop begins to bustle with activity.

A New Jersey native, Koep gained on-the-job experience at a restaurant called Pear Tree, where he worked among legendary chefs. It was then that he realized his calling. In pursuit of success, Koep studied at The New York School in Manhattan and received a grand diploma from International Pastry Arts Center in Elmsford, N.Y., prior to making the trip to Chicago, where Koep learned from French culinary genius Pierre Zimmerman at French Pastry School.

Nowadays, the roles have reversed and Fendu Boulangerie staff is taking their cues from Koep. Located in Manoa Marketplace, the bakery has evolved immensely since its inception in March 2009. Classics such as sourdough, rye, French Batard and multi-grain bread are Fendu originals. The repertoire has since expanded to include breakfast pastries, paninis, pizza, sandwiches, chicken pot pies, frittatas and soups.

“The concept began with a bread shop, but in the modern day, to only sell bread, we would not be successful. All of our baked goods are made with high-quality, all natural ingredients, with no added chemicals or hydrogenated shortenings,” Koep explains.

The name Fendu Boulangerie translates to a shop that specializes in breads. Fendu refers to a classic French bread loaf shape, specifically a split loaf. According to Koep, Parisian ($5.60), French Batard ($5.35) and Pain Fendu ($5.35) are among the top three most-requested loaves. Parisian bread is known for its thick crust and high percentage of wheat flour; French Batard is categorized by its lighter crust and crumb; and lastly, Pain Fendu boasts a split loaf that’s curved for good luck.

Throughout the years, Fendu Boulangerie has drawn quite a following of dedicated fans and supporters. Although the establishment caters more to takeout orders, there is a handful of tables and chairs outside the bake shop, where patrons can sit to enjoy their meal.

The authenticity of Fendu’s creations are steeped in a traditional European style that’s glorified with American, Hawaiian and Asian influences. For instance, Vegetarian Special Panini ($8.75) bursts with a bit of Asian flair, as Japanese eggplant shines as a main component, along with mushrooms, bell peppers, sweet onions, fresh tomato, herbs and mozzarella cheese, grilled on hand-made whole wheat bread and splashed with balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Priced at $6.75, Chicken Papaya Noodle Soup is Koep’s twist on classic chicken soup. Morsels of chicken swim in a broth flavored with fragments of ginger, garlic and green papaya.

Then, spice up your lunch or dinner options with Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich ($7.65), served on sweet onion naan bread with farm-fresh greens and tomatoes.

With an expertise in gourmet cuisine, Koep also keeps it real with unassuming Italian staples, such as Classic Pizza (8-inch $8.75, 14-inch $14) topped with tomato sauce, Pecorino, whole milk mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, as well as a pinch of fresh basil for garnish.

If time is of the essence and you’re scrambling to catch a quick bite, then Oven Roasted Smoked Turkey/Black Forest Ham is among the go-to sandwich selections. Priced at $7.60, it is assembled with crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato, Provolone cheese, and a coat of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard on Fendu’s rustic bread bun.

Any legitimately savvy food enthusiast knows that opposites attract — especially savory and sweet. And Fendu Boulangerie doesn’t cut corners when it comes to decadent confections. A longtime best-seller is Buttermilk and Fresh Berry Panna Cotta ($4.85), a classic Italian dessert featuring layers of raspberry sauce, lady finger sponge cake, cream filling and fresh berries.

“We use buttermilk, along with heavy cream for a lighter texture and a more pronounced flavor.”

Koep also reveals that customers have a deep affinity for Lychee Caramel Flan ($4.60), which he 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, noting that morsels of fresh fruit add crescendo accents to this already alluring symphony. “When cool, the flan is topped with caramel gelee and watermelon. I love the combination of lychee and watermelon because both flavors go together perfectly.”

For the chocolate connoisseur, Valrhona Dark Chocolate Dome ($5.85) is a work of art. The elegant, eye-catching dome is a mouthwatering indulgence that garners mass appeal.

“My goal was to create a chocolate dessert with a variety of elements for the palate,” states Koep. “Looks can be deceiving, as it’s not unbearably rich.”

The outer layer is composed of light chocolate mousse made with top-of-the-line Valrhona Manjari Dark Chocolate, enhanced with a shiny dark chocolate glaze, and garnished with coco nibs, gold leaf (edible gold that is pounded very thin) and a shard of Manjari Chocolate.

“The base is a thin Dutch-style chocolate cookie. Its crisp texture blends nicely with the smooth consistency of the chocolate and creme brulee.”

Bite into the dome, where the Grand Marnier Creme Brulee rests atop chocolate chunk and macadamia nut sponge cake. The verdict? A sinfully, sweet composition of harmonious textures and flavors.

For Koep, it’s surreal to think that it’s been five years since he embarked on this incredible journey. Through blood, sweat and tears, Koep devotes 100 percent to the operation. Settling is not an option. He believes that when you are passionate about something you have to run with it. So, what’s next for Fendu Boulangerie? “I am looking into adding espresso drinks to the menu some time later this year or early next year,” Koep says with a smile.

Fendu Boulangerie

Manoa Marketplace
2752 Woodlawn Drive
Monday-Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m

Manoa Marketplace, Honolulu, HI 96822

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Hawaii's Best