Felipe Hernandez Salcedo, master baker at Panchita’s Bakery, has dedicated himself to making bread and pastries since he was 12 years old.
With nearly a lifetime dedicated to this culinary art, Mr. Hernandez Salcedo told La Prensa San Diego why he chose this profession during his youth.
“There was a bakery on my block in Guadalajara and I would go there a lot because I started liking and becoming interested in bread,” said Hernandez Salcedo, who at 70 years of age still remembers the first piece of bread he ever made. “The first thing I baked was a little vanilla concha for my girlfriend at the time.”
Hernandez Salcedo began working under the tutelage of various master bakers and with time learned all there is to making baked goods.
Every baker’s day begins before the sun rises, which is something he also learned in his first days working in what he sees as his calling.
“In my first days, I would wake up at five in the morning and I walked to work with my eyes closed, but I did it because I liked being a baker,” he shared.
Hernandez Salcedo was 22 years old when he arrived to the United States for the first time. Although he never intended to live north of the border for long, he eventually chose to permanently reside in San Diego and continued to make a living as a baker.
Years later, Hernandez Salcedo began to work at the original Panchita’s Bakery, on C Street in Golden Hill, since his uncle was the first master baker when the bakery opened. Years later, one of Hernandez Salcedo’s cousins would be the master baker at the location on Logan Avenue.
To this day, Hernandez Salcedo works six days a week, splitting his time between both of these Panchita’s locations.
“At my age I feel very comfortable and very fit to keep working. I actually get fed up of being at home on my days off,” he shared laughing.
Despite Mr. Hernandez Salcedo’s day starting at 3 a.m., the first steps to making San Diego’s best bread are taken a day before, when the dough and ingredients for the next day are prepared.
“You always have to mix a lot of things because everything has to be ready a day before,” he explained. “You have to ferment the dough and give it some good time so that the bread comes out perfect.”
The day’s baking process begins with making donuts. Then, Hernandez Salcedo makes traditional mexican rolls and the rest of the bread, this while other kitchen staff kneads and prepares doughs and batters. Through this kitchen routine, the more than 3,000 pieces of bread made daily starting to come out of the oven as early as 4 a.m.
Out of all of the varieties of bread made at Panchita’s, Hernandez Salcedo shared his favorites and what his secret touch is.
“Danishes and Mexican croissants are my favorites to make,” he pointed out. “I actually add a bit of lard so that they are softer for a longer time, although these pastries are usually made with only butter, eggs, and milk.”
Mr. Hernandez also shared his hypothesis on a mystery of Mexican baking: why bolillo salado, a type of crunchy sandwich roll, can only be made in Guadalajara.
“Things such as the elevation of the city, the water, the yeast strains, and the salts do make a difference, but it is the oven more than anything,” he explained. “If you put a brick oven in any bakery, the bolillo salado will come out the way it should be.”
With a lifetime of baking and nearly 30 years at Panchita’s, he explained why the bread he and the rest of his staff makes is the best there is.
“Nowadays many learn how to bake, but only a few can make bread well and I imagine that the work of many bakers is not the best,” he declared. “This baking thing has to be done with love, because one likes making bread, that plays a big part in having bread come out good.”
Even with a lifetime of experience, knowing that his baked goods are among San Diego’s favorites still brings him great joy.
“It’s very satisfying to know that people come try our bread and happily take it home,” he shared. “Customers always look very happy to come in and just that makes me feel good.”