Gilda Doganiero makes what we think is the best biscotti this side of the Atlantic. HubBub has been carrying her tasty wares in classic flavors like vanilla bean and chocolate espresso pretty much since we opened. Perhaps you've seen them on the counter tops in our cafes in their elegant clear glass jars. These biscotti are everything we could ask for: slender, extra crunchy, and not too sweet. Paired with an Americano, they are the perfect afternoon snack.
Gilda's Biscotti is a longstanding member of our local food scene. She's been handcrafting her biscotti long before "artisanal" was a buzzword - in fact, this month marks her business' 20th Anniversary! While we've had the pleasure of meeting Gilda (pronounced "Jilda") in person a few times, we wanted to know more about who she is, how she got her start, and what makes her tick. She was kind enough to agree to an interview and share some photos, and we are so glad she did. Her story is a great one, and totally explains why her biscotti is so supremely good (hint: she's a trained chef!).
HubBub: Hi Gilda! Can you give us some background about your professional journey to becoming our local biscotti queen?
Gilda: I grew up in Haddonfield, New Jersey - suburbia central - in a large extended family of Italians from my father's side; my mother’s side was from Staunton, Virginia. They were all exceptional cooks and gardeners. I mention this because food was the center of our family life, as I remember it. When I expressed to my parents that I wanted to be “a chef” at age thirteen, they involved me in as many programs, camps and kitchen experiences as possible, to see if it was what I really wanted to do. I attended the Culinary Institute of America right out of high school and apprenticed at Le Bec Fin. I hate to say it but this was 1990-1991. After Le Bec, I worked at the Four Seasons and on my way home from work one afternoon, I noticed a thick acrid smoke streaming out of a storefront on 19th street. It was the owners of La Colombe, who were roasting coffee in their new place. They made me an espresso, we talked about food and Philadelphia and I went home that night to bake them a batch of chocolate hazelnut biscotti. They became my first client. That was 20 years ago this month.
HubBub: What kind of food did you like as a kid? Was biscotti something you enjoyed, or did that come later?
Gilda: As a kid I ate a lot of good bread, fresh vegetables and pasta. My mom is a terrific cook. The only biscotti we had around in the 70’s was that dreadful Stella D’oro “anise toasts.” But my Aunt Carmella and Uncle Dave made these totally insane soft style biscotti with apple butter. I didn’t come across the biscotti recipe that I know now until I got out of culinary school. I fell for this style of biscotti because of it craggy texture, its soak-ability and the way it shatters in your mouth.
HubBub: What influences the values of Gilda's Biscotti? What about your aesthetics?
Gilda: Tradition to craft. Authenticity. Simplicity. There are some ways of doing things that need to be preserved. They aren’t improved upon by modern advances, in my opinion. When I travel to Italy, I see it all the time. The Japanese and French are also obsessed with preservation of craft. As for the aesthetics, I feel the same way and thank goodness I met up with an artist right out of RISD early on. He got to know me, my family and my product and incorporated those black and white photos on my labels. The woman is my grandmother, Gilda, and the fella on the Dad’s Midnight Stash bag is my Dad. Dad is now 86 and unfortunately, I missed meeting my grandmother.
HubBub: Gilda seems like a pretty unique name (we LOVE it). Were you into it, as a kid? Or did you wish your name was Debbie or Jenny or something more "normal?"
Gilda: I’ve grown to love it, thank you. When I was little I liked Denise and Michelle, but I got over that quickly. My dad and his brothers tell me I’m just like her [her grandmother, Gilda].
HubBub: What are a few challenges of owning your own biz and being your own boss?
Gilda: Ugh, keeping up. Staying connected to my fantastic, loyal clients and staying present. I’m married with a 6 year old. We live on 5 acres with 6 sheep, 20 or so hens, and a colony of honeybees. There’s never a dull moment. My goal this year for work/home is to keep work at work and home at home.
HubBub: What’s the best part of your day?
Gilda: This is such a sweet question. I get up early to have my coffee and meditate for 15 minutes before the rest of the day “breaks." It can set the day up well. Also, after a productive stint at the bakery, I need to come home and make dinner. I like the table set and we play a game called, ironically, “What was the best part of your day?" To connect with my family around the table is what sustains me.
HubBub: One more thing: Do you like coffee? If so, what’s your preferred method for making at home or favorite kind of coffee to get out?
Gilda: I require one well made coffee per day. I tried to give it up this January when I was working on a yoga cleanse … it was the most ridiculous thing I ever agreed to do. I lasted 2.25 days. My body started to fail. Never again. But to answer your question, I have a fancy pants espresso machine that makes a mean latte, whole milk always. But when that machine went in for servicing last year, I dug out my old Bialetti Stovetop percolator. Makes an incredibly solid coffee, which I take with half and half.
Thank you so much, Gilda, for taking the time to answer our questions so thoughtfully. Happy 20th Anniversary to Gilda's Biscotti - we hope you never stop! Also, can you bring us some leftovers of that pork shoulder?