Hope and Main, the schoolhouse turned food business incubator in Warren, has been open for over a year now. Even after this short time, if you're paying attention to food start-ups in the East Bay or RI at large, Hope and Main's name looms large. A great many food entrepreneurs who otherwise would have had a real struggle finding an affordable space have nested in its state-of-the-art kitchen facilities. This unconventional business space offers all sorts of opportunities and these can be seen in Helena Sheusi's quest for the perfect baguette. Helena is not exactly underemployed; she is senior VP for two surgery centers. Not one to sit still, in 2011 she earned her Baking and Pastry Arts degree at Johnson & Wales. With a business license on standby for an unknown future, she uses Hope and Main to maintain and hone her skills in a professional kitchen space, and what shone through when speaking to her is that she absolutely loves it there.
You spoke of the camaraderie you experience at Hope and Main – what is the atmosphere like there?
I love the environment, seeing young people all working in their individual kitchens. Everyone seems so happy. It’s inspirational.
Hope and Main gives you a way of keeping a toe in the waters of professional baking, with professional level equipment. Given the rigorous demands of your main career, why are you so compelled to go to a kitchen in your free time?
I love to learn and baking is something I have always loved to do, but I felt I could learn more. The training was pretty challenging... After all the training that I have done I owe it to myself to keep my skills up.
Could you speak to the difference between a great home cook and a professional baker?
Practice, practice, practice. When I bake at Hope and Main I have a different mindset. I look at the baked goods and say, “is this as good as a bakery?”
I know you've mostly been making food for your family, but you do have a business license and I heard mention of selling to restaurants.
I was going to do that, but that would require a huge commitment. Working in the medical field is just not going to allow me the time to do this. Maybe in the future.
Right now I imagine baking is somewhat of a relief from your stressful day job. Do you feel that if you were to make it your main business, the nature of your relationship would change and perhaps that gives you pause?
Maybe, I have been in the medical field for so long it would be quite a transition for me. One never knows what the future holds.
Are there any recipes you've been fine-tuning recently, something you want a definitive version of?
I make a lot of French baguettes. It takes a lot of practice to perfect it. I am always tweaking the recipe in order to make the perfect baguette. It is a challenge.
Where do you think of when you think of good baking locally, and where are some areas where you think there’s some room for more quality baking?
Seven Stars, [and] Flour in Boston are great bakeries. I think the East Bay could use a good artisanal bakery.
What about when it goes wrong?
There is nothing worse than when you have to bake something for someone and you realize you forget to add an ingredient. I hate to start from scratch. It’s pretty painful. Mise en place [is] the French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking. They drill this phrase into you in culinary school. It’s important to follow this phrase so you don’t miss anything. It really works and saves you from some disasters.