RAZZLE-DAZA Pat-P Daza – The Philippine Star

February 14, 2022 | 12:00am

Last Christmas, I received an assortment of breads and dips from makeup-artist-to-the-stars Bambbi Fuentes. I particularly loved the buttery croissant and the pita bread paired with hummus and baklava, which were all to die for.

When I called Bambbi to thank him for the gift, he said they were from a bake shop named Bait Lehem (which means house of bread in Hebrew) that is thriving during the pandemic, despite not having a restaurant. He added that Bait Lehem’s customers can only get their food by buying from their booth at the Legazpi Sunday Market in Makati or by ordering online. Sensing that I wanted to learn more, Bambbi then offered to introduce me to the husband and wife behind the breads. I readily agreed and we set a date to meet Mike and Christine Tweg at their bake shop-office in Mandaluyong.

Husband and wife Mike and Christine Tweg, proud owners of Bait Lehem House of Bread.

Upon entering the Bait Lehem commissary last week, I immediately caught the homey scent of fresh bread and herbs wafting through the air. Bambbi welcomed me and introduced me to Mike and Christine, the owners of Bait Lehem. Mike was born in Israel and has traveled the world, baking in London, Spain, New York, Israel and now, the Philippines. His wife Christine, on the other hand, hails from Pangasinan but went to Israel and worked there as a private cook to a wealthy Jew who was married to a Filipina.

It was in Israel, where Mike and Christine met and married. In 2012, they decided to go to the Philippines and settle here. They have one daughter, Shira May, who is 15 years old and a member of Gandaras, the all-girl sing-and-dance group that was discovered on TV5’s Pop Pinoy show last year.

Soon after Mike arrived in Manila, a Jewish friend showed him some baking equipment that had been in storage for many years. These belonged to a Jewish family that had owned a bakeshop in Makati but closed shop when the family moved back to Israel. This got Mike thinking that there was a market for Mediterranean breads here that was once served by the bakeshop. He gladly acquired the baking equipment and restored them to working order.

In 2013, Mike opened a small Mediterranean restaurant that served simple fare like pocket pita and falafel. It was difficult at first since Filipinos were not too familiar with the menu. But Mike persisted and slowly introduced products that appealed to the Filipino palate without compromising quality and authenticity. His persistence paid off when he had to expand his workplace to accommodate all the orders of his regular clients.

In 2019, Mike found a bigger and better ventilated warehouse which he transformed not only into his commissary and bakeshop, but into his family’s living quarters as well. He has over 50 kinds of Mediterranean and West Asian breads like assorted artisan loaves such as olive and rosemary, cereal and oat, cranberry and raisin, dark multigrain, walnut (my personal favorite, it’s so delicious when it’s toasted), assorted flatbreads, bagels like cinnamon and raisin, cranberry, blueberry, sesame, garlic, onion. He also has sourdough ciabatta, rosemary focaccia, assorted buns, breads and rolls and dips such as babaganoush, matbucha and hummus.

To keep up with demand, Mike now employs 40 bakers and workers in his commissary, which regularly churns out an average of 2,000 pieces of assorted breads, though it has the capacity to bake 5,000 pieces when the need arises.

Last year, Mike invited Avi Shani (a Jewish friend from way back) to join Bait Lehem to create a more expansive menu that wasn’t limited to breads. A chef and food engineer who made Manila his home in 2013, Avi added eggplant pâté, lasagna, pizza, escargot puff, no-bake cheesecake and bourekas to the menu, alongside best sellers like kebabs and falafel. And even if Bait Lehem already enjoys the patronage of stars like Ruffa Gutierrez and Janice de Belen, it’s not resting on its laurels. You can be sure that Mike, Christine and Avi are hard at work as you read this, concocting delightful new recipes in their ever-busy kitchen. Because today is Valentine’s Day, Bait Lehem has its special spin on strawberry cheesecake and chocolate cake to celebrate the Day of Hearts.

(To order for delivery, visit their FB page at facebook.com/BaitLehemBakery or their IG account @baitlehembakery.)





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