Chef Megan Roen Forman of Gracious Bakery creates artful baked goods with with passion and panache
As you approach a small building between Pine and broadway, there’s an intoxicating smell of butter, cinnamon and vanilla. It’s Gracious To Go, which is attached to Gracious Bakery’s 5,000 square-foot commissary kitchen. This local bread and pastry shop is run by husband-and-wife team Jay and Chef Megan Roen Forman (the former is a contributor to one of this magazine’s sister publications). Their flagship ship store is in the Woodward Design + Build building at 1000 S. Jefferson Davis Parkway and the couple recently opened a new store on 2854 St. Charles, as well as a location at 4930 Prytania St.
As a child, Forman frequently baked with her mother but it was her father who instilled in her a passion for the culinary arts.
“He was the original farm-to-table chef,” she says. “He hunted and we foraged for mushrooms, he had a profound effect on me.”
As a young woman she saw a segment on CNN about culinary schools and was intrigued by the piece.
“It just slapped me across my face,” she says. “I knew I’d found a job I would love.”
Forman is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute. After an externship as a pastry chef, her fate was sealed. She’s now worked as a pastry chef for 20 years in New York and at Bayona and Sucré in New Orleans, and she’s been awarded the Rising Star Pastry Chef from Star Chefs Magazine.
Every one of her 50-person staff contributes to the well-ordered operation. The bread bakers arrive at 3 a.m. and the pastry chefs at 3:30. Then the bakery truly begins to hum bringing to life rustic American breads, delicate pastries and buttery croissants. Forman knows the rules of baking need to be followed, but her bakery flourishes because of all of the creativity in her shop.
“It’s like jazz, you learn the fundamentals then you can riff, you can improvise.”
Heather Myers, Gracious’ director of operations, says that it is her boss’s positive energy that fuels the bakery’s success.
“She always makes sure no one feels like an island here,” she says. “[Forman] is full of creativity and she nurtures it in others. She never tells people just do it her way. She encourages everyone to share their ideas and try new things.”
Forman says the most powerful event in her life was making the decision to start Gracious.
“It was a death of a good friend that made me focus on the fact that life is not forever,” she says. “It made me realized how important it is to participate fully in life. It’s the old saying no one ever says near the end of their life that they wished they had worked harder or won more awards. It’s about the relationships you make and doing the things you love.”
She loves sweets and says sugar is her bottom line. She also believes brown butter should be in everything, that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are her everything, and that she doesn’t think she could be friends with someone who doesn’t like chocolate.
Her creativity and love of her profession keeps her constantly engaged.
“This is such a big field and the learning process is never ending,” she says. “I never get bored. I use this medium to express my passion. I’m so lucky I get to do what I do.”