What happens when you take a baker trained at the Culinary Institute of America, whose previous career was in graphic design and who is married to an architect, who then opens his own shop?
You get an incredibly delicious cookbook from a now-nationally known bakery with two locations in Virginia’s countryside whose interiors are just as smart as its baked goods are tasty.
Brian Noyes quit his day job in 2008 and started baking full time, selling his goods on the weekends out of a vintage red truck he purchased from Tommy Hilfiger. He developed such a following that he ultimately purchased an old Esso station in the heart of downtown Warrenton, which his architect husband Dwight McNeill helped him convert into The Red Truck Bakery. We’d stop there every time we drove out toward the Shenandoah to grab coffee and pastries, and sit at the big communal farm table, where you could watch the bakers working in the adjacent kitchen—the space where they used to repair cars.
This past Sunday, however, my son and I drove out to Marshall, their second location—which is a lot bigger than the Warrenton shop so it can handle a huge mail-order business—where Brian was signing his new cookbook.
For me, it’s a lot of worlds coming together: When Brian was the chief designer for Smithsonian magazine, he came over to Scripps Howard News Service, where I worked at the time, to train us on putting out a magazine for HGTV, which at that nascent, pre-Hearst time was a newspaper insert in several markets around the country.
Turned out, he also lived a couple blocks from us in Arlington, and we followed his fortunes as he opened the bakery and promptly got a glowing review in the New York Times, followed by many, many more write-ups in national magazines and other publications (including testimonials from the likes of Oprah and President Obama).
Then in 2016, my food-writer friend Nevin Martell started working on the cookbook with Brian, and I got to test some recipes for it! One of them, the Paw Paw Chess Pie, made it into the book.
There’s no picture with the recipe on Page 74, but here’s my tester version from two years ago:
Brian was right when he described the taste in the book: “something akin to bananas mixed with apples, pears and a touch of mango.” The graham cracker crust needs no explanation.
ANYWAY. Back to Marshall, where Brian was signing his books on Sunday. The store was so packed with fans that you could barely move.
(There’s a great interview with Brian in Fauquier Now, in case you want to know more.)
While we were waiting in line, the kitchen was an open buffet of goodies. I opted for the rosemary focaccia and the ham-stuffed savory biscuits, both of which are in the book!
To my earlier point about Brian’s graphic design background, the food isn’t the only star in his bakeries. They are filled with homey scenes with vintage objects, signs—and doors!—that, I swear, makes the food taste better.
Even the labels on the food are gorgeous, as you can see from the Red Truck’s artfully arranged photos on Instagram:
As a graphics geek myself (I read a whole book on the history of fonts once), I love the combination of cursive and blocky sans-sarif lettering on those labels. I’ll have to ask Brian what they are.
So, if you want to experience good food and good design, what more can I tell you?
Get yourself a book and you can start making Brian’s caramel pumpkin pie, rum cake and ham scones in your own kitchen.