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eGullet Q&A with Master Baker James MacGuire


Jason Perlow
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James MacGuire Bio

James MacGuire was born into an Irish-American family in Manhattan in 1951. At the age of sixteen, he landed his first summer job as a dishwasher at Porky Manero’s Steakhouse in Westport, Connecticut. He was quickly promoted to salad boy -- preparing iceberg lettuce with bottled dressing – and soon got hooked on the pressure-cooker high of the professional kitchen. He continued to work in restaurants while attending McGill University in Montreal but quit after two years to wield a knife full time.

MacGuire’s culinary career then brought him back to the States. He worked in San Francisco (Ernie’s), Los Angeles (The Biltmore Hotel, Le Chambord), Dallas, Ketchum, Baltimore, and finally back to New York where he worked at The River Café under Larry Forgione.

Next came a sojourn to France where he toiled in the kitchens of L’Auberge de L’Ill in Alsace, Orsi and Bernachon in Lyon, Auberge Henri IV in Chartres, and Jean Delaveyne in Bougival. At his final stop in Tours, he worked for the man he still describes as his mentor, Charles Barrier.

“Barrier remains a great friend and huge influence,” says MacGuire. “He made everything in-house, and was totally unafraid to delve into charcuterie and other specialties. He did things right, including a professional bread-making operation to make bread for sixty customers at lunch and another sixty at dinner. When he wasn’t satisfied with the results, he called on his friend, bread expert, Raymond Calvel, who has since become a friend of mine and my biggest influence on the baking side.”

MacGuire then returned to Montreal, where he opened Le Passe-Partout in 1981. The thirty-seat restaurant featured a small changing menu of cuisine du marché. Almost everything was made in-house. He later added a bakery, where his bread and viennoiseries were considered the best in the city. In April 2004, after 23 years in business, he closed both operations.

MacGuire now works as a consultant and teacher, and has held bread seminars for The American Institute of Baking, The Culinary Institute of America, and The American Breadbakers’ Guild. He also contributes articles and cookbook reviews to Ed Behr’s The Art of Eating.

With Dr. Ronald Wirtz, MacGuire translated Professor Calvel’s last book, The Taste Of Bread (Aspen Publishing, 2001) into English.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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