Co-Owner & Executive Pastry Chef at Pasticceria Bruno
Biagio Settepani began his career at the age of 13 in a small pastry shop in Brooklyn, New York, spending his next few years learning as much as he could. At the age of 21 he took over the reins of Bruno Bakery, a well known bakery and cafe in New York City.
Since then, his dedication to excellence has brought him around the world in search of knowledge. He has competed nationally and internationally for over a decade, earning him several medals and numerous accolades.
In 2001, he became a C.M.B. (certified master baker). He now runs together with his family, two retail shops in Staten Island, and one in New York City. He still finds time to share his knowledge by teaching at various schools to the new generation of pastry chefs.
You’ve been baking since you were a young teen. What was it like, starting out so young?
I came to this country in 1973. I actually started working at a bakery quite by accident! My parents wanted me to do something with my life, not run in the streets. So I started working in a small pastry shop in the Bronx, and I found I liked it. I was there a long time. But after my first year in college, I wanted to work full-time.
Baking was my passion. I asked my boss and he said, “We’ll try it for one night and then in six months we’ll see.” It sounds funny but it really hurt me. I stayed another four or five months but all the time, I was looking for my own place and finally, I found it, a little shop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn – for $19,000. My parents helped me buy it. After I ran it for a couple of years – doing the whole thing – baking, ordering, waiting on customers, the books – my brother and I decided to buy another bakery by NYU, and we went from retail to wholesale, where we had 140 accounts – restaurants and hotels and shops. And the rest is history.
How has the business changed in the last 30 years?
The mom-and-pop bakeries are pretty much over. Today you can’t be just a bakery; you also need other kinds of food. I also believe that outsourcing today is a good idea. You might be better off in the long run, rather than dealing with a staff, equipment, suppliers.
Who would you say has inspired you most?
Without a doubt, that would have to be Robert Ellinger. I met him once at a demonstration given by a German company and the second time, we took a class together in Gettysburg and then we became friends and I looked up to him as a professional, more than anybody else in this industry. Robert was one of those guys, if you have a question, you just picked up the phone and he was like a walking library. He never let his sickness stop him, and when I have a rough day, I think of Robert, and I stop complaining.
What’s the hot, new thing today in pastry?
Classical is coming back. It’s like the fashions, you know? What’s hot today may not be hot tomorrow, but it will be back. Last year it was cupcakes. This year it’s the cronut, half-crossant, half-doughnut. Everyone is always looking for a new idea. But there are no new ideas. They’re old ideas that are renovated. Another trend is gluten-free. We try to satisfy everyone. We have some sugar – free items, lactose-free, and now, gluten-free.
You became a certified master baker in 2001, and have won numerous awards in competitions. What is that like for you?
Of course, it is wonderful! But you have to work very hard, harder than you ever thought you could, and along the way, you have to help the people around you. When I am the captain, I’m the production guy, the food guy, because that’s what I do. When I do a competition, I pick people for what they are good at – good at chocolate, good at sugar. We work together as a team and winning is the reward!
What would you tell young people wanting to start out today?
You have to sacrifice. You have to be willing to work hard. And you need to move around a little, so you get lots of experience. You may have to work as an apprentice for two years – with no financial backing. But you have to do it. You have to love it and be willing to do whatever you have to, to get where you want to be. Nothing good comes without work.
You’ve said baking is your passion. But how do you square passion with profit?
One thing you never do is compromise quality. And when I create something, I try to stay true to my roots. Use the top-quality ingredients, and if the price has to be a little higher, then that’s the way it has to be.
What’s ahead for you?
My daughter just graduated from college, a marketing major. So my future would be to expand the life of what I’ve created, bring it into the future with my kids. We have our two locations in Sam Allen’s, and our original shop is in the Village, 506 LaGuardia Place. And I also want to give back, to teach the new generation of pastry chefs.