A Penchant for Nostalgia
By Pamela A. Keene | Photography sourtesy of Brian Noyes, Andrew Thomas Lee
Brian Noyes went from a newsroom to the kitchen and found his Southern roots. With an old red truck and a former filling station, he created a storied bakery and best-selling cookbook.
For chef and baker Brian Noyes, everything has a silver lining, even two surgeries in the year of the pandemic.
“With both shoulder and knee surgeries at the beginning of last summer, I had plenty of time on my hands,” says Noyes. “We couldn’t go anywhere, so I used the time to work on my newest project, ‘The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook.’ It will be published in 2022, and will include all new recipes, including entrées, appetizers, salads, sides, and desserts. I’m really excited about it.”
His “The Red Truck Bakery Cookbook,” first published in 2018, is in its third printing. He launched The Red Truck Bakery in Marshall, Va., in 2009 in a 1921 Esso filling station. Business was so good, by 2015 he opened his second location in a 1922 former pharmacy and Masonic lodge. Actor Robert Duvall, who lives nearby and frequently buys pies and cakes from Noyes, cut the ribbon on the second store.
Noyes credits his Southern grandmother Willmana Noyes for his love of comfort food. Little did he know that the foods he learned to love as a teenager would lead him away from the family newspaper business and into the kitchen.
“Living in California with my newspaperman dad and my non-adventurous cook mom and the seven of us kids, we ate pretty economically,” he says. “Each summer from the time I was 12, I’d head to Hendersonville, N.C., and my grandmother’s house. That’s where I learned the truth about Southern cooking.”
Noyes admits that it took a while to embrace collard greens, country ham, smothered pork chops, and tomatoes and okra, but those summers in North Carolina planted a seed that took his own newspaper career to the kitchen, launching a whole new passion.
When his grandmother died, he kept some of the items from her kitchen that he treasured most: her green mixing bowl, a rolling pin, her box of recipes, and “Isabel” – a homemade dinner bell that always called the family to mealtime.
Growing up around the newspaper business, Noyes was well on his way to a storied life in publishing. From the time he was young, his father let him stop by the newspaper office after school. By 1984 Noyes had moved to the nation’s capital, where editor Ben Bradlee hired him as art director for the new Sunday magazine at The Washington Post. He also worked with the paper’s food critic, designing annual dining guides and weekly restaurant columns. He later became the art director for several high-profile magazines.
His entry into a food competition at the Arlington County Fair was the tipping point. “I entered peach jam made with local peaches and complemented by some crystallized ginger a friend brought by,” he says. “I wasn’t sure the judges would like it, but I ended up being named Grand Champion. After that, there was no turning back.”
When he purchased a weekend farmhouse, he planted orchards of peaches, apples and sour cherries. “We also bought a bright-red 1954 Ford F-100 online that happened to belong to fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who had been using it on his farm in Connecticut.”
That truck became his trademark as he began baking breads, pies, and homemade granola and delivering them to area stores.
Soon the bakery needed a home. “Because of my penchant for nostalgia it only seemed fitting to convert an old filling station into the bakery,” he says. “We called it ‘The Red Truck Bakery’ because so many people knew me by that truck.”
Noyes’ baking has been featured on the front page of the food section of The New York Times and highlighted by food critics and cookbook authors. The bakeries are regular stopovers for folks like Duvall, who has brought actor James Caan with him for sandwiches, and singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, who has been known to hang out there to work on her music.
Former President Barack Obama has become a fan. In fact, he likes Noyes’ pies so much that he penned the testimonial on the back of the “The Red Truck Bakery” cookbook.
So what is Noyes’ favorite thing to eat?
“No one has ever asked me that before,” he says after a moment of reflection. “Really, my favorites are the sides that people eat with barbecue, especially North Carolina barbecue. It’s the coleslaw, corn pudding, baked beans, and banana pudding. I guess they remind me of those summers with my grandmother.”
Red Truck Bakery’s Guinness Stout Chocolate Cake
A favorite at the Red Truck Bakery is this chocolate cake with a nod to the Irish, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. The secret ingredient in the frosting is Bailey’s Irish Cream coffee creamer, which offers the same taste and better results than the actual liqueur.
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1⁄2 cup Guinness stout
1 tablespoon plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 1⁄2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1 3⁄4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1⁄4 cup Baileys Irish Cream coffee creamer
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick spray and dust it with flour, tapping out any excess.
Make the cake: In a large bowl, whisk together the canola oil, Guinness, and melted butter until well blended. Whisk in the cocoa powder and granulated sugar. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the sour cream, egg, and vanilla at medium speed until just combined. Add the Guinness mixture and mix until combined. Add the flour, pudding mix, baking soda, and baking powder. Beat until smooth. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, turning the pan after 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the middle of the cake bounces back when touched. Let cool completely, then turn the cake out of the pan onto a cake stand or platter.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and Baileys coffee creamer, adding a bit more confectioners’ sugar as needed, until the frosting is pourable. Pour the frosting over the top of the cake and let it run down the sides, but don’t cover the cake completely.