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Culinary Artist: Baker Jose Sanchez

Nov 18, 2015 01:05PM ● Published by Kevin

Remember the days when bakeries were small and local and the flavors were fresh? When glass cases were filled with so many treats it was hard to choose, and you were handed your order in a crisp white paper bag?

In an era of pastries in pre-packaged in plastic from big box discount stores, supermarkets and chain bakeries, one small bakery on Hanford’s Irwin Street is doing business the old way: Sweet Palette Bakery.

Jose Sanchez, who has combined his love of baking and art, owns the bakery. His slogan is “Art You Can Taste.”

Depending on the day, customers might find strawberry pizzas, chocolate covered fruit, caramel apple tarts, flan, cheesecake, napoleons, scones, pies, cream puffs, cookies, cupcakes, rice pudding, bread pudding and Hawaiian bread. Sometimes he makes Mexican bread pudding with sugar cane and molasses, a more syrupy version than its American counterpart.

“I like to eat. I enjoy food. When we got together food was a big part of it,” he said of his family.

Raised in Avenal, Jose has no formal culinary training but taught himself to bake by trial and error and by watching Julia Child on PBS. 

“I’d never pay attention that I was learning,” he said. “I just knew these things.”

His other interest was art and when it came time to think about a career he left the Central Valley for the Seattle Art Institute. He specialized in murals, airbrush work and portraits. When a full-time career in art did not pan out, he ended up in financial services in Seattle. 

Family brought him home. 

He had planned to open a finance business but came up with a better idea.

“I looked around and there is no good bakery here,” he said. “Macagno’s (a long- time Hanford bakery) was in the process of closing. I looked around and said ‘maybe I could do this.’”

Sweet Palette Bakery has been open for almost two years and will soon expand into a nearby vacant space to provide Jose with a larger work area. With the addition, the bakery will feature breakfast and lunch items such as quiche, soup and salads, croissants and artisan breads. 

Jose said Sweet Palette is about food, celebration and sharing. 

He has a loyal following. Customers come in for a treat to go. Others sit in a small seating area. 

“I know a lot of them by name,” Jose said. “I think people know I’m passionate with what I do. They always see me here.”

Nancy Cecil of Hanford called Jose’s baking “awesome” as she enjoyed a slice of strawberry pizza. Referring to his extensive talent and creativity, she said, “he’ll do anything.”

For the bakery’s grand opening, Jose baked an 11-foot cake with 20 different flavors and a 4-foot base. It barely fit under the ceiling. Customers were lined up around the corner to have a piece of cake and to take advantage of his “one day, one dollar” sale on anything in the bakery.

Other local businesses have been supportive.

Leprino Foods in Lemoore ordered 2,000 cookies. The local hospital ordered an assortment of cookies for employee gifts. Jose has donated chocolate baskets, roses and fruit for the Hanford Guild of Children’s Hospital of Central California. Valentine’s Day is big and so is Thanksgiving when he bakes pies.

“Instead of Starbucks cards, they want something fresh,” he said. “We do everything fresh. That helps.” 

His day begins at 2 a.m. and sometimes lasts for 18 hours. His sister helps, as do two interns from the culinary program at the Institute of Technology in Fresno.

He still draws portraits but most of them are on cakes, a medium he likes. He also likes working with chocolate and has created intricate chocolate roses, chocolate feathers and edible arrangements.

He researches recipes and visits bakeries when he travels for new ideas. 

“We do a lot of the things they do in big cities,” he said, noting a customer favorite: his edible mocha mousse cups. 

Jose said Sweet Palette is about food, celebration and sharing.  

“Everybody has his or her favorites,” he said of his customers, adding they often want to “show off what they like” to their families and friends.

Sweet Palette Bakery is located at 701 N. Irwin St. in Hanford. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, call (559) 530-3001.

Story and photos by Judith House Menezes, a professor of journalism and adviser to the student newspaper at College of the Sequoias in Visalia.

Scones

Combine:

2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

Cut in one stick of unsalted butter, 2/3 cup of buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Work the dough gently. To this base, add your choice of items, such as blueberries, orange zest, banana, cinnamon, or raisins, chocolate chips.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so. Moist ingredients may need more time to bake.

Food+Drink, Today Savor in this issue 2015 business winter bakeries baked goods sweets pastries
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