There are bakers. There are pastry chefs. There are farmers.
Mimi Brown is all three, and she’s got the acreage to prove it.
She and her husband, Ed, founded and operated the wildly popular Flower Flour bakery in San Jose’s Willow Glen for 14 years, before selling the business in 2017 to devote full time to their Wine Country venture, the Napa Farmhouse Inn in St. Helena, with its lodgings and 3-acre garden.
Now she’s back, with a new bakery in the original building, and this time she has bushels of produce with her. We talked with her about her organic philosophy and what customers will find in the pastry case and on the breakfast and lunch menus.
Q You’re driving from the Napa Valley farm to the San Jose bakery — and back — six days a week. Why is it important to you to invest that time and effort?
A First of all, I own the Willow Street building, which needed a modern renovation. Second, I am now a seasoned organic grower and have over 100 fruit trees and a one-acre kitchen and cut-flower garden, as well as an established herb potager and orangeries. I long to put all my beautiful produce to good use. Third, I am a passionate gardener, baker and chef and love being creative.
I also care deeply about my community and my customers. Nothing brings me more joy than harvesting the perfect produce and creating healthy food and beautiful cakes for my customers. Since my return, I have received tons of former customers welcoming me back to the Willow Glen neighborhood. It is so unexpected and extremely heartwarming.
Q Your new bakery is called Paris Avenue. What’s behind the name?
A My vision for Paris Avenue is a charming French bakery inspired by the French markets. One that is full of beauty and charm. The atmosphere is welcoming, and the customer is cared about. It’s a place you love to go for coffee or tea and enjoy a beautiful treat and take home a cake.
Q Right now, you are featuring the cauliflower you grew in your homemade soup, the broccoli you grew in the quiche. There’s a tray of persimmon cookies — baked with persimmons from your trees — in the bakery case. What will the spring harvest bring?
A I grow most of my vegetables from seeds. In the spring, there are strawberries and mulberries, radishes, peas, Swiss chard and more broccoli. There will be more beautiful lettuces — every few months, I plant about 400 assorted lettuces — and edible flowers for salads as well. Radishes always find their way into my sweet-and-sour pickles, which is a signature here. Of course, peas will make a beautiful bisque, perhaps paired with big chunky potatoes, which we also grow. The broccoli is showcased so beautifully in our quiche terrine. Our rhubarb and strawberries make beautiful tarts.
Q And what about the summer harvest?
A Summer is abundant. The heirloom tomatoes will be the stars of BLTs and tomato salads. The French Charentais melons also steal the show as part of our French market salads. There will be a lot of “today’s lunch specials” as summer’s bounty comes into play. Of course, peaches will find their way into custard-filled fresh peach tarts. And plums are delicious in flans.
Q What are some of the top customer favorites that you are again making on Willow Street?
A Organic persimmon cookies, jam bars and jam cookies, our signature chocolate cake (the Midnight Ruffle), blueberry buttermilk scones, cinnamon buns, our soup du jour, Waldorf tuna sandwich and apple strudel with, of course, organic apples from our orchard.
Q What about new creations?
A The Opera cake, chocolate and almond cake with mocha mousse, is brand new and beautiful, the Parisian Strawberry cake is new and the Guava and Mango have a new French flair. Our soup du jour is always seasonal.
Q Which cake is your best seller?
A The Raspberry Chocolate cake is our most popular cake. It is a delicious, all-red stunner, with chocolate cake, raspberry mousse, a chocolate band, raspberry glaze, chocolate ruffles and fresh berries.
Q You also specialize in wedding and special-event cakes. What’s the most interesting request you’ve had?
A We once did a huge 10-tier cake for a community event that towered over all of us. It was quite the show.
Q What’s the most popular baked breakfast item?
A Cinnamon buns, of course.
Q OK, last question. When do you ever find time to sleep?
A Gardeners and bakers don’t sleep. We just daydream about all the beautiful things we can grow and create!
Details: Paris Avenue is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday at 896 Willow St., San Jose; www.parisavenue.me