Bay Area baker captures America's attention with panettone pastry that's become an Oprah obsession

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Bay Area baker's obsessive love of panettone has captured America's attention, including Oprah's, making it one of the hottest holiday food gift this year.

Roy Shvartzapel was about halfway through a laborious 40-hour process when we caught up with him at La Boulangerie's 70,000 square foot kitchen facility in South San Francisco, where he has a small portion of to use.

Shvartzapel was in the zone, attending to two giant stand mixes filled with airy, light yellow dough, pouring 50 pounds of chocolate chips into one.

"What's the highest ratio of chocolate to dough I can get away with without being against the law?" Shvartzapel grins.

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This man is self-proclaimed to be "maniac by nature" with an "obsessive work ethic". He tells ABC7 News he barely sleeps three or four hours a night, and oftentimes sleeps at the office in order to keep up with demand for his buttery, airy and luxurious panettone.

Shvartzapel's love affair with this difficult-to-make bread began 12 years ago in Paris.

"The texture, the aroma, the chew the way it ate. I tasted it and it was like one of those meditative lights off moments. The crazy love affair began when I was working in Paris in a pastry shop."

Panettone dough, known for being fickle, required years of mentorship.

"I sought out to go to Italy and find the grand master panettone whisperer," Says Shvartzapel. "I showed up with a backpack and knocked on his door and said I want to learn how to make panettone."

When Shvartzapel decided to bring what he learned back to the United States and then launch his panettone, it didn't come without hurdles.

"You can't expedite this journey. You have to fail a lot at this. This has to beat you up. I told people what I was going to do and they looked at me like I had fallen off the moon! Most people have this perception of what's in the grocery store for seven or eight bucks was made six months ago and tastes like cardboard!"

Pretty soon, without a penny spent on advertising, the world began to take notice.

"Before I knew it there was a huge article in the New York Times about what I was doing. I had messed up an order, overnighted two panettones to this address in New York, and then I get this phone call saying she'd like to write a story. I thought it was a practical joke!" smiles Shvarzapel.

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It probably doesn't hurt to be on this year's Oprah's Favorite Things list either!

Roy hopes his obsession will change America's perceptions of the indulgent food.

"My goal is to have From Roy be a gift giving item and it doesn't have to be a season. Twelve months a year, there's no bad time to indulge!"

From Roy recently partnered with Whole Foods and Williams Sonoma, and his product can be found at various other online retailers.

He plans to expand cautiously over the next year, adding brioche to Northern California Whole Foods locations and two premium nut and chocolate spreads to the From Roy lineup.

Here's where you can see more from the Bay Area baker.
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