Like most people who bake bread for a living, Dean Kim gets up at an ungodly hour and goes home when the rest of us are already in our pajamas. But he wouldn't have it any other way. "How many people do you know look forward to punching out?" he says. "To me, it's a different thing. I love being there; I don't consider it work. It's crazy—I'm being paid for doing something that isn't work to me."
As the owner and head baker of OC Baking Co., Kim is arguably the most celebrated bread baker our county has ever seen. In the less than five years since he opened it, his OC Baking Co. has become the go-to supplier of bread for about 100 restaurants, including Anaheim's THE RANCH. Kim is humble about his success. "I don't think I'm the best baker in the world," he says. "I have a lot to learn."
He credits the close-knit OC chef community for its support, but it's the bread that sells itself. If you had a dinner roll at an Orange County restaurant and marveled at how the crust crackles just so, the crumb fluffy and flavorful, chances are it was made by Kim and his crew at an anonymous industrial office park in Orange cradled by the 91, 55 and 57 freeways.
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Born in 1971 in Glendale to a Swedish father and a Korean mother, Kim describes his upbringing as "meat and potatoes" rather than "rice and kimchi." He didn't catch the baking bug until college at UC Berkeley. He was working part-time at Noah's Bagels when he realized flour could be developed into a beautiful thing. "I just remember the smell of those bagels," he recalls. "It was so intoxicating. This was one of the best things I ever smelled in my life." Baking that first bagel also made him see that if he put his heart into it, he could do well and have a good living.
From that point on, he dove into the culinary world, peeling potatoes, working his way up, observing and learning everything he could. Kim got a proper culinary education at American Institute of Baking and the San Francisco Baking Institute; he even went to Rome to round out his studies. He came to settle in Orange County, becoming executive baker at Breads N Spreads in Mission Viejo. It was then that local chefs took notice.
Seeing and tasting the superior product he was making, they egged him on to open his own bakery. Kim was hesitant at first, but his wife—who is a CPA and now does the books for the company—finally convinced him to go for it. "I was very immature," he says. "I don't think I was ready to open this bakery four years ago, but my wife told me I'm not getting younger." They opened OC Baking Co. a year after they got married, and the rest is rising, delicious history. "It worked out really well for us."
As for the future, he's happy with keeping his bakery local. He only sells to the public every Saturday at the Orange Certified Farmer's Market and is known to refuse accounts that are too far, telling them, "If I can't get to you within a half-hour, there's no reason for me to even do your bread for you." He foresees OC Baking Co. eventually growing into a comfortable size, but he doesn't want to broaden too far, reasoning that bread is a precious, perishable thing. "I don't think my mother in Washington should be able to buy my bread."