In our 'Patissiers of Shanghai' series, Dominic Ngai and Betty Richardson speak to some of Shanghai’s makers and bakers, digging deep into different aspects of their work. Up next is Harauld 'Ox' Sextus of Shanghai Bakery.
Think of the heavyweight bakeries in Shanghai, and the name Shanghai Bakery, Harauld Sextus’ small but perfectly formed outpost on Yanping Lu, probably doesn’t spring to mind. “I’ve never been the kind of guy who cared about ‘coming first,’” he tells us while slicing into a matcha and milk chocolate brioche, one of Shanghai Bakery’s signature creations. “I like to challenge myself in different ways,” he finishes, handing us a piece.
For the Guadeloupe native (who goes by ‘Ox’), baking runs within the family. “Back home, my family owns four bakeries. My father worked incredibly hard to get the business to where it is now, and during my younger years I’d help them out in the front of the shop.” When not there, he’d spend time cooking with his mother and grandmother, playing with different ingredients and recipes. The best results from these culinary experimentations would likely end up on the shelves of their bakery.
Having been in China for 14 years, Sextus, who speaks fluent Chinese, first arrived in Hubei, the place where he had “one of the best pieces of bread he’s had in China.”
“It was cooked in a wok, bizarrely enough; so it roasts and steams at the same time. It opened my eyes that every country in the world has a culture of bread in some form.”
Sextus eventually moved to Shanghai to pursue commercial and art-related video production projects, and his bakery revelation came four years ago. “Honestly, I started baking again out of frustration – wanting to eat things I missed from home and not being able to find any here in Shanghai. Gradually I started baking for friends, and finally opened Shanghai Bakery last year.”
Set in a 10-square-foot space in north Jing’an, what Shanghai Bakery lacks in size it makes up for in output, selling a everything from flour-dusted baguettes, cinnamon buns, rye and sourdough, tartines and brioches.
Alternative flavor combinations and ingredients are another characteristic of the bakery “I’m almost a vegan these days,” Sextus explains as he dips a spoon into a housemade dairy-free coconut panna cotta. “ And while I have a sweet tooth, our recipes use a little less sugar and butter – so I actually can eat more! Shanghai is also getting healthier, and I hope to open a hypo-allergenic bakery in the future, focusing on gluten-free products.”
With a steady stream of customers dropping by throughout the day (including a loyal in-the-know following for the bakery’s mesmerizingly fluffy hot chocolate), the Shanghai Bakery could just go on being one of Shanghai’s best kept secrets, but expansion looks to be on the horizon. “We’re opening our second branch, with an enclosed courtyard at the new Anken Life center a few blocks away,” he tells us. Whatever the future holds for this quirky enterprise, we’re sure it will be delicious.
See a listing for Shanghai Bakery here.