No barbeque so far this summer, but I did get some marvelous wiesswurst at my butcher the other day. The only thing missing was some brotchen! So I pulled out a bread school formula and whipped up a batch. Here's what I got!
Jaded as I am as a chef (nevermind as a New Yorker!), a restaurant find in Williamsburg left me with pure happy in my belly. And my soul! It's a Peruvian restaurant called Llama Inn. No attitude except serve great food, it's the creation of Chef Erik Ramirez, formerly of Eleven Madison.
I'm not sure, but judging from my meal here, he seems French trained. Regardless, he's serving the most delicious anticucho's, tiradito, ceviche,and more. Honestly, it was so good me and my part just kept ordering. This seven month old restaurant is right on, with remarkable great (yet unpretentious) service. Attentive and knowledgable, where do you get that these days? Here's some food shots, man, I'm going back again!
You’re an Italian living in Sweden, tell us about yourself?
I left Rome to do medical research in Sweden, but not only. I was also in search of a more peaceful and orderly place to live. Stockholm was, and still is, my dream town. I feel at home here.
How did you become interested in bread baking?
Bread has always been important for me and my family. I remember that it was a big issue when we did not have freshly baked rosette on the table. Coming to Sweden, the one thing I missed was Italian—Roman—bread. So I learned how to make it.
What is Bread & Companatico?
As soon as I started to bake bread, I also started to write about it. I was so fascinated by the ease of the process and by how incredibly satisfying it is to make bread, even when made without any professional training. I wanted to spread the news as much as possible. My first blog was called My Italian Smörgåsbord. A couple of years later it became Bread & Companatico.
Companatico means “whatever goes with bread," a rather archaic Italian term for “food." This gives an idea of how central bread used to be in Italian cuisine.
What bread did you grow up eating?
Well, I grew up in a central Roman district. On weekdays we used to get fresh rosette from the nearby bakery. Rosette are very special: they have plenty of empty space inside surrounded by soft, delectable, white bread encased in a light and crunchy crust. Us kids loved to do scarpetta with them — to use the bread to collect juices from food.
On weekends, or at least on weekends spent in the countryside, we loved to get a large loaf of fragrant country sourdough,that we sliced and filled with warm porchetta (sliced roasted pork). This type of sandwich is typical of the hills and lakes surrounding Rome that we call Castelli Romani. Nowadays, country loaves are brought to Rome daily, and one can find them even in supermarkets. Too bad they don’t ship to Sweden!
How’s Swedish bread, compared to artisan Italian?
French-style bread is becoming mainstream in Sweden, like everywhere else. So it is difficult to define Swedish bread, nowadays. When I moved to Stockholm 12 years ago, it was much harder to find a country style crusty loaf with an open crumb. Or a proper baguette. Now there are plenty of good international-style bakeries that do sourdough.
This bread is not much dissimilar from Italian bread, especially now that many Italian bakeries are also doing international-style sourdoughs. However, traditional Swedish bread is quite different. It is not crusty and has a regular crumb with small air pockets. It almost always contains sugar or syrup, which tastes a little odd to an Italian palate, at least in a “savory” bread. The most traditional of Swedish breads is not sweet at all, though, and crunchy all the way. I am referring to knäckebröd, a type of crackers generally made out of whole grains, in the past mostly rye and barley. That is lovely served with food.
To me though, Swedish bread excels in its sweetest versions, the many variants of kaffebröd, bread to be served with coffee. This type of bread is central to the Swedish coffee-break, here called "fika". Fika is an important moment of relaxation and socialization. In fact, while meals are generally consumed fast in Sweden compared with Italy, coffee and coffee bread are savored slowly.
Holey bread; what’s the reason it’s popular?
Different people would give different answers to this question. It seems pretty reasonable to me to think that in recent times holey bread has become a symbol of the artisan bread renaissance. It is in fact very different from industrially produced bread, which is very soft and does not present the irregular, large, holes that can only be achieved in non-industrial bread baking facilities. Large holes and an uneven crumb are in fact suggestive of long fermentation and a delicate handling.
You had issues with digestion of wheat. Are you cured?
Yes and no. Yes, I had issues with wheat and no, I am not cured. But I am dealing with it and I have found some wheat varieties which do not give me the usual unpleasant reactions I suffer with regular wheat. Plus, I keep other factors, which I know can worsen my wheat intolerance, under control. My latest examinations showed that I have some alterations in common with celiac disease, but I don’t have the full pathology. You can find more in my review on gluten sensitivity in the latest issue of BREAD Magazine.
Are you a bread science person, or just love baking?
I am fascinated by the science behind some aspects of bread baking, particularly sourdough fermentation. However, I would not define myself as a "bread science person." Someone who takes a scientific approach to bread baking. Possibly due to my medical scientist background and my intolerance issues, what interests me most is the science that can tell us how to make grains and bread healthier, rather than the one which can give us the perfect loaf.
Are you micro baking, or looking for a bigger project?
Good question. I am setting up a new concept store, Mother Grain. The website is coming soon at mothergrain.se. It's focused on heirloom grains, in particular, heritage wheat varieties.
If you are wondering about the name, I owe it to my then six-year old daughter, who has put in words what I am for her: a mother and a grains lover. For years she has been offering me ears of wild grasses instead of flowers. How cute is that?
With Mother Grain I want to help the health conscious who seek to prevent future sensitization, as well as people who are experiencing symptoms of wheat intolerance - though without celiac disease - to find alternatives to going gluten-free.
Sustainability is certainly one reason why we should not lose this important food source, which is both nutrients-rich and environmentally friendly. Plus, wheat is our heritage, something we should not give up without solid reasons.
Lastly, there is the foodie aspect of heirloom grains and one of my biggest wishes is to educate my nearby and far community to the distinctive flavors and aromas of different landraces grown in specific terroirs. We already do this for wine, cheese, coffee, chocolate and so on, why not for wheat and other cereals?
Favorite grain currently?
Difficult to choose!
I am interested to several varieties, since each confers to the resulting bread distinct baking properties, flavor and aroma. Different types of wheat can also be differentially tolerated by different people.
Sicilian heirloom hard wheat (Russello, Perciasacchi, Tumminia) has been an all-time favorite of mine, but lately I am experimenting with Senatore Cappelli, another heritage hard wheat grown in Southern Italy that is promising in terms of baking properties and digestibility. Khorasan is also a very interesting grain. Like emmer… and I truly cannot bake without my base strong heritage wheat, American Turkey Red, one of the varieties I personally tolerate best. Swedish Ölandsvete is also promising.
Ancient grain is good alone or with modern mix?
It depends. If your aim is to offer a more digestible bread, you may have higher chances to achieve that using the heritage/ancient varieties alone or combined with other heritage/ancient varieties. There surely are some modern varieties which are well tolerated, but on a regular flour package there is generally no indication on which modern variety we are buying. I would gladly use and promote highly tolerable modern varieties, if and when I will find some. However, if your aim is baking properties rather than health, then mixing is good, as it will more easily give you awe-inducing open crumb and “ears”.
How do you develop a recipe?
Again, it depends. I do use spreadsheets when I want to elaborate a recipe for a special bread that I know I may want to replicate (like panettone), and when the aim is a recipe to share. But when I am testing a new flour, as well as when I bake for myself and family, I just use my eyes and touch to figure out how much water I need to add and for how long I want to work and ferment the dough.
Are you considering a book?
I have been writing extensively about bread and related topics for the Italian bread bakers’ guild journal. And for BREAD Magazine. Plus for my blog. I have a couple of topics that are particularly dear to my heart and that I would like to see developed into monographies, but I do not know when this is going to happen.
What do you like to do when you’re not baking?
Hard to say. Do I have hobbies independent from my main interest? To serve as an example, for this summer’s vacation, my husband picked a lovely Greek island and I ended up filling my suitcase with local flour. There was an acorn meal production facility. How to prevent myself from learning everything I could about it? You see, I find it difficult not to feed my monomania with virtually everything that comes my way.
Who in the bread world inspires you?
First, all the professional bakers who keep doing their hard job day after day and keep loving it, always striving to further learn and improve their breads. Then, of course, I am with the artisan millers, who believe in high quality grains and flours and do an incredible job in supporting wheat growers and helping heirloom varieties to become known and accessible to many.
But most of all, I look up to the independent farmers. Those who take full control over their seeds and systems and bear the weight of their choices, including facing the losses due to an increasingly unpredictable weather. Without the heirloom wheat growers, no change will be possible. They truly are my heroes.
5 years from now, where do you want your business?
I hope that Mother Grain will have started to effectively help customers to access heirloom grains, bakers to expand their horizons, and heirloom grains growers to multiply. Am I wishing for too much?
Below is the recipe of the dark colored holey sourdough showed above, which Barbara graciously shared with us.
HERITAGE WHEAT SOURDOUGH WITH ACORN MEAL
300 g mature (but not overly so) sourdough wheat starter
700 g white strong (mine was 12.5% protein) heritage wheat
300 g sifted medium-strong (mine was 10.5% protein) stone-ground heritage wheat
30 g acorn meal
22 g sea salt
Water… as much as it takes it (as our grandmas use to say)
Combine the starter with the two flours and add 750 g water.
Knead for 3 minutes at low speed.
Let rest for ½ h.
Add 1/3 of the acorn meal and another 50 g water and mix more, at low speed.
Keep mixing and slowly add the rest of the acorn meal and more water, if it takes it.
Toward the end of the mixing, increase speed and add the salt.
Your dough should look shiny, well hydrated, and very elastic when stretched.
Transfer the dough in a large round bowl and do some stretch and fold in the bowl, to create tension.
Let rest for ½ hour and repeat the stretch and fold in the bowl.
Do the previous for another couple of times.
Do the bulk proof in the bowl (from start to finish) for 3 h, considering a room temperature around 22 C.
Shape with a delicate hand.
Final proof 2, maximum 3 hours at room temp.
Slash or don’t (I often don’t) and bake at high temperature (mine was 280 C) with steam for the first 15 minutes, then lower the temperature (to 230 C in my case) and release the steam.
You don’t need to wait too much for cutting into these light loaves (I make three small ones with this much dough).
Dizengoff is a street in Tel Aviv, Israel. Now a restaurant by that name has opened in New York. Focused on hummus, Dizengoff is the creation of Chef Michael Solomon of Zahav. It's great, with fresh, Israeli inspired pickles, pita and gorgeous, delicious, tahini rich hummus. It also serves local beer and a frozen, boozy concoction called "Lemonanna." Though I hankered for a falafel, here's what I had.
The ongoing no-gas crisis continues in my building. Tired of the electric coil burner-top offered by my landlord, I went out and bought an Induction cooktop. The one problem is cookware, namely my collection of stainless steel pans with copper lining. Apparently there are issues with metallic magneticism. Well, for my first efforts I used stainless steel bowls usually used for mixing doughs. But then I successfully tried some cast iron works. It makes up for no gas for now, and it's a great option for catering, too. Maybe!
I just got Elisia Menduni's new book Antico Forno Roscioli. To remind you, the book is named for the bakery and restaurant I visited in Rome several times. Skimming through the well documented and photo filled book, I recognized some of the dishes and breads enjoyed in Rome.
Diving in to give the recipes a try, my first effort was to make a featured Lariano bread, even while I dreamt of making tozzeti, wonderful little square rolls. Anyway, here's my first try, a long proof and final shove in the oven and I got this lovely loaf!
Linda Miller Nicholson of Salty in Seattle has been on my radar for a long time. She's a food muse for me. Her art sense is amazing. It's been a long wait to finally reach out and get her here on Stir The Pots, but here she is.
Why Salty Seattle?
Several years ago, I operated a blog and called it Salty Seattle because I’m salt-obsessed, sure, but also a little bit cheeky and eccentric, as the other meaning of salty implies. Once the full-scale social media barrage came along, I quit maintaining a blog, but kept the moniker because it continues to describe me both geographically and ideologically, and also because it’s a quick and easy identifier to keep consistent across social media channels.
Where did you learn to cook?
When I was young, my parents moved me from urban and culturally dense Southern California to the middle of nowhere Idaho. My only friend that first summer was a cow who I bottle-fed named Slobber. At the end of the summer, I returned to California for a couple of weeks to visit friends and family, and when I got back to Idaho, my dad informed me that we were having hamburgers for dinner. I was excited. He asked if I knew where he got the beef. I assumed the store, and was appalled to discover that he had murdered my Slobber, my sweet friend, completely unbeknownst to me while I was away. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. At that moment I announced I was vegetarian, and my meat-and-potatoes can’t cook their way out of a paper bag parents laughed in my face. They told me I would starve because no one would cook for me.
There is nothing I like more than a challenge. I taught myself to cook that fall through a series of (small) successes and (large) failures. I once tried to make pancakes in a glass dish right over the stove-top burner. When the glass exploded, I buried the evidence in the backyard before my parents got home. I mean, you can only go uphill from there, right?
When I added meat back into my repertoire 20 years later, I loved it, but I never use it as a crutch. I use it more for an accent to complement various pasta and vegetable dishes that are the ultimate comfort to me. There was no fancy internet in those days, so I got by with cookbooks rented from the library. The vegetarian epicure was a personal favorite. When I would visit my German grandparents in California, we would spend the day making egg noodles that we hand-rolled and lay over the backs of chairs to get them to stretch further. I now have some tricks up my sleeve that I wish I could share with my grandparents (RIP), but I’m so grateful to them for the noodle fundamentals, as pasta is where my heart now lies.
How do you describe your food, modernist, classic, Italian?
I am really rooted in classic techniques and flavor combinations, and I build flavor and sauces using mainly French and Italian techniques, however I have a global approach to combining ingredients and a local appreciation for what is seasonal and fresh. I have no problem with hyper-modern culinary techniques, however I think many of them are cost-prohibitive to employ in a home kitchen, with the notable exception of owning an immersion circulator for sous vide cooking.
Why do you love pasta?
I love pasta because it’s such an under-explored medium in terms of art, and it has the added bonus of being delicious. I love color, flavor, and texture, and with pasta-making, I get to play with the interface of those three elements every day. There is such a huge world of pasta out there- every culture has some form of milled grain mixed with liquid to form a “paste” that gets cooked. I am on a quest to discover as many of those variations as I can, and hopefully to add my unique creations to the pasta vernacular.
Lately your making food in really incredible ways, colorfully intense and decorative, what are you striving to please, taste, look?
Lately I have been focusing on a lot of colorful pasta. It started a few years ago when my picky child started rejecting more and more vegetables. I decided to start hiding them within the actual dough of the pasta rather than in the sauce, thinking he wouldn’t be able to pick them out that way. It worked- I can now honestly say that my child eats half a head of kale for dinner pretty often, although he doesn’t think of it that way. The colors have taken on a life of their own lately. I’ll add anything from blueberries to (edible) activated charcoal to pasta dough. It makes the artistic possibilities endless. I also don’t believe food should just be about food, so I try to make relevant cultural, social, and political statements with some of my pasta creations.
Traditional is great, but are you aloud to interpret or veer off course?
I think it is important to have a basis and knowledge of traditional culinary techniques, but progress would not be made if we did not build upon them. We have access to a global pantry in 2016, so it’s fun to be able to put things together that may not have traditionally been joined. I love to travel and get ideas from hole-in-the-wall restaurants in random countries, and then come home and put a personal twist on what I saw or ate.
What’s your favorite dish?
My favorite dish is simple and goes back to childhood, I’m sure I’m not alone in that. When I was a kid I would call it butter noodles. My grandmother and I would both order it at one of those fake-Italian small chain restaurants that has since closed, and then we would douse the noodles in red pepper flakes and that nasty stuff they would pass off as parm. Now that I can make it exactly as I want, I’d call it aglio, olio e pepperoncino. I still use a knob of butter but I temper it with fresh, green olive oil, and I use both sliced garlic that has been sautéed for 15 seconds in the butter (no longer than that, and sliced Goodfellas-style) as well as smoked garlic powder that I make myself. I use 100% yolk chitarra-cut noodles in place of boxed spaghetti, and I toss in some Calabrian chile oil as well as crushed red pepper for heat. I make it rain with really good parmigiano reggiano and then stir it all together for an upgraded taste of my youth.
Are you a cook, writer, model…what and who are you?
Hmm, too complicated to answer. I usually just tell people I do crazy shit with food.
What is molecular cooking really about, and will it last?
Modernist cooking is here for the long haul and there is definitely a time and a place for many of the techniques it has given us, but I acknowledge that it’s not for everyone and I certainly don’t use it every day. I think people want to be wowed, but they also want to find better ways of doing things, and modernist techniques can help us with both of those. 100 years from now, we will look at what we consider modern today as old hat, and of course some things will stay the course, and others we might find odd in the same way some people find things like aspic, blood sausage, or head cheese odd today.
What do you do when not cooking?
When I’m not cooking I teach cooking classes to kids and adults, do a fair amount of traveling, take care of my chickens, ducks, goats, dogs, kid, and husband, work on seemingly-endless construction projects around the house we built that never seems to quite be finished, snowboard, run, forage, garden, write, drink wine, and enjoy life J!
What’s your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is to strive for deliciousness above all, but presentation, creativity, and art can’t hurt to consider. We do, after all, eat first with our eyes. Any time I can tell a story, evoke emotion, or bring people together over food, I feel like I’ve accomplished my goal.
Hand shaped or extruded pasta, your favorite?
All pasta is good pasta and unless it’s overcooked, I haven’t met a pasta I don’t like. I’m lucky enough to have a decent pasta extruder to play with as well as good equipment for making hand-sheeted and formed pasta. I personally make way more sheeted-pasta because it’s more like a canvas upon which to create art. At least once a week I make pasta using nothing mechanized and only wooden or brass tools. This is usually gnocchi or cavatelli. I think making pasta is like learning to write. Nowadays you can probably go straight to an ipad and learn there, but you’ll miss the nuances if you don’t grasp the feel of a pen and paper first. The art and magic are in the pen and paper and once you get that down, you can transfer it to more modern media.
You were in Asia recently, Singapore, how did you feel about the trip?
I just got home from Singapore- what a cultural clusterf*ck! I believe it is too financially-driven from an industry perspective, not to mention too young (only 50!), to be a true food capital, but there is much to recommend it.
First off, great swaths of people from most every country live there, and they bring their food with them. We think we can find everything in the US. Well Singapore puts that to shame. While that is fantastic in itself, it also presents a problem because many of those esoteric items are not as fresh as they could be, and the widespread availability of "other" along with virtually nonexistent local agriculture leads to a real lack of any kind of terroir-based food culture. It reminds me a lot of Las Vegas, another city that attracts big-name chefs, but since nothing grows there, they somewhat-tiredly rely on their proven concept restaurants from elsewhere rather than attempting to integrate local concepts.
Don't get me wrong, I had some great food in Singapore, most of which was from hawker stalls from various other parts of Asia. Most of the higher-end food I had, I would classify as "failed fusion." Singapore is the definition of fusion, being so young and so global, but that's a hard mark to hit without muddying the flavors of one aspect or another- like mixing paint- you have to be careful you don't wind up with brown.
One notable exception was Wild Rocket. Their menu (currently) has French, Italian, Thai, Singaporean, modernist, Japanese, Chinese, Peranakan, Spanish (and more) nods, and all that is expertly woven together in a clean, vibrant, unpretentious way. For example, I learned about a rice noodle version of spaetzle that's named for its resemblance to rodent droppings. It called "bee tai bak or low si fun." The noodles were served with minced pork and the eponymous onsen egg, otherwise known as a 63-degree/sous vide egg. I'm eager to recreate those rice noodles & many other foods inspired by my trip.
Are restaurants still relevant?
I love dining out. Restaurants, pop-ups, supper clubs, greasy spoons, hawker centers, anywhere that serves food has relevance. I love to be able to get ideas when I go out and riff my own interpretations of restaurant dishes. Also, not everyone’s passion is cooking, and some people don’t have or make time for it.
Restaurants are an essential way of really getting your finger on the pulse of a city you’ve newly-visited. I think we are in the middle of a real restaurant renaissance. People are testing concepts like crazy and I applaud the variety. Owning a successful restaurant is another matter entirely, and it makes me sad when I see my restaurant chef friends having to make sacrifices they don’t want to make just to meet a bottom line.
What do you think about foodies and trends?
I think the fetishization of food in our country, at least, is double-edged. Anything that gets people talking about the future of food, great organic products, non-GMO produce, etc, helps further the conversation. I hate that access to quality organic food is not widespread across all income levels. Sometimes when something gets too cult, it also gets expensive and all of a sudden a society that has been relying on it as a mainstay of their diet for centuries gets priced out of their own diet (quinoa comes to mind).
My favorite ingredient is salt. I’m trying not to cop out here and just say one thing, but homegrown eggs and really good flour are also pretty damn important.
Book, will you write one?
There is a possibility I will figure out exactly what I want the Salty Seattle book to look like one day and I’ll actually get it down on paper. I’ve kept publishers and agents at bay for the time being until I really distill the idea down into something that I think might be useful and lovely for people to bring into their homes.
Is food television stupid?
Food TV- this is tricky because I’ve been a part of some food television shows and I am represented by a production company who may someday put together a project for me, but I don’t actually watch food TV, so I probably shouldn’t comment on it, too in-depth. I know that there are quality shows out there and I’d like to see more of them hit the mainstream. For now we can rely on people like Anthony Bourdain to keep on keepigng on.
Are people better cooks today, and why?
I think people have the potential to be better cooks today because there is a lot of access to quality information on cooking out there and it isn’t as hard to be self-taught. That being said, I’ve also seen recipes for whipped cream that involve nothing more than buying a can of ReddiWip. That makes me sad. Semi-homemade makes me sad. I’m not a big shortcut person. If you want to do something well, you have to put in the time and effort. That means time-management and mise en place are essential.
END OF INTERVIEW
(FROM LINDA) Here's a pork sugo recipe to go with all that pasta. Pasta is so much a "by feel" thing that my whole philosophy of teaching it is predicated on not getting caught up in numbers or recipes so I don't give recipes for it- that's why I'm having such a hard time trying to formulate how to do a pasta book... :)
Recipe: Pork Sugo
1" minced ginger
3 garlic cloves
3# boneless pork ribs
1 smoked turkey leg
1 bottle white wine
4c chicken stock
Dutch oven onions carrots celery shallot. In separate pan, brown salted and peppered short ribs. Add ginger garlic to onions. Stir for one minute. Dump in bottle of wine. Reduce for 5 min. Add pork into Dutch oven along with turkey leg, chicken stock, milk, bay, thyme. Bring to simmer. Cover, cook in oven at 150c for 3 hours. Remove meat & bay leaves from sauce- blend sauce, add meat back in. Serve over thick egg noodles such as pappardelle.
I first connected with Marc-André Cyr on Twitter. We finally got to know each other in person on visits to Montreal. Marc is a busy baker, who started out in studying cinema, worked in different areas of the food business (cooking, groceries), and finally became a baker. Today he can be found often sharing ideas about grain with other bakers. So let's catch up with the "The Baker on the go", the moniker for his blog!
These days, I’m in between gigs, as they say. But I’m always the Baker on the Go, and have been for about nine years. I go to people’s homes and teach them how to make bread; in their kitchens with their own gear and oven. Pretty simple concept but I think I’m one of the only guys out there doing this. Go figure! I can’t say I’m crazy busy with this and maybe that’s why nobody else does it. But it’s always a lot of fun. People contact me by email so it’s always a treat to show up with my bags full of flour and stuff, ring the doorbell, and finally meet the folks who’ve asked for my services. It usually turns into a party.
What is A Taste for Grain?
The first A Taste for Grain - Le Goût du grain event is an idea I had to bring together folks whose passions and livelihoods are built on grain but who, by the very nature of the work they do, rarely get to spend time together. And at the same time, I wanted to celebrate local Canadian grain in all its forms and flavors.
So far, I’ve done only one but I’ve begun working on the next two. Another one in Montréal and one in New Brunswick. This first one took place in two parts; at an amazing place called the Foodlab here in Montréal. First a three-hour conference, conversation, symposium of sorts, by invitation only. Grain heads unite!! Randy George (Red Hen Baking), Loïc Dewavrin (Moulin des Cèdres), and Blair Marvin (Elmore Mountain Bread) all spoke for a few minutes, then we opened it up for questions and discussion. After that, we had guest chefs in the Foodlab kitchen each working with a different Quebec grain to create a cool menu. It made for a wonderful dinner party, and it was open to the public.
Do you think cooks and bakers are different?
Yes but I wish they weren’t. I think they both stand to learn a lot from each other. But mostly, I feel a lot of bakers I know would benefit greatly from some kitchen time.
How’s the food and bread scene in Montreal?
Exciting! There’s lots going on, especially on the restaurant scene. Still lots of room for more good bread, though. There’s a whole half of the city (the west side of the mountain, say) that is dramatically scarce for tasty and pretty bread.
Your favorite grain?
Wheat. C’mon, gluten is magical! Buckwheat is #2.
Mixer or hand mixing, what do you like best?
I’ve come to really appreciate the value of building dough structure with the use of folds. The mixer is useful for initial mixing of the ingredients, and I stop there. At home I was always was a mixer guy, now I barely use it.
What bread did you grow up eating?
The bread I remember the most fondly is all that tasty Jewish deli-style bread of places like Cantor’s and Van Horne Bagel in Montréal. Challah, pumpernickel, kimmel. There was this two-toned, yin-yang rye thing that still haunts me, that I’ve never seen again or since. It was cylinder-shaped, probably baked in some funky tube-like mould. Man, I loved that stuff. My brother and I use to make our kosher beef salami sandwiches for school on that bread. Fond memories.
Sourdough only, or do you use yeast too?
Both! I have no problem with commercial yeast. My favorite baguette ever is made with yeast by my first bread mentor Guy Bonraisin. Can’t argue with that. I don’t buy into the almost dogmatic, and sometimes snobby attitude of some hardcore sourdough users out there.
(You mean like me? - Joke. I didn't ask.) What influences you and your craft?
Ha! Ha! Instagram! I guess I should say something more like…the seasons, the market, etc.
Who influences you?
Most of my baker and cook buddies both inspire and influence me. In the past year, Simon Blackwell and his lovely and skilled crew at Blackbird Baking in Toronto have made their way into to a very special place in my baker’s heart. The passionate work being done by the gang at Elmore Mountain Bread is very inspiring.
I remember seeing an article in a French home style and fashion magazine about Lionel Poilâne many, many years ago as I was first getting interested in bread. I thought he was the coolest thing ever. Sharing tartine recipes in his fancy Paris apartment, wearing a pinstriped shirt and a tie. Probably had suspenders on too. Man, was he slick! His sense of style, art appreciation, aesthetics, skill, interests outside of bread. At the same time, I was also into Ed Brown’s Tassajara Bread Book, which also influenced me on a sentimental, touchy-feely, spiritual level. As you can see, I’m all over the place.
What’s your favorite bread?
Guy’s (Le Petit Breton) baguette and campagnard, anything from Blackbird in TO, challah from Snowdon Bakery.
Do you think neighborhood bakeries are something of the past?
No, I think and hope they are part of the future! In fact, it’s what I’m looking at possibly doing next. In my own beloved neighbourhood of N.D.G., here in Montréal.
How do you feel about the newest renaissance of baking? (Looking back at La Brea etc..)
If you mean local grain, fresh-milled flour, gentler handling of the dough, and all that, I love it and I can’t wait for it to hit Montreal a little more! Hopefully, I can be a part of that.
Who is or was the godfather of bread for you growing up, or the grandmother?
I’m not one of those fellas with a special cathartic childhood memory of something special that got me into food and bread, like those cats on Chef’s Table. I got into bread very late, at thirty years old (I’m 46 now.) Sure my mom cooked all kinds of stuff but what I mainly learned from her was how important it is to be open to anything and everything, food- and music-wise! Thanks Mom.
What are some of the root culture of Acadian bread?
There wasn’t much bread culture in my family, that I know of. In my experience, old-time French Canadian bread in general is puffy white “pain de ménage”, which translates as household bread. Heavily yeasted and under-baked. Not my favorite.
Will you write a book?
I don’t know… if I do it won’t necessarily be a how-to kinda thing. There are already some very, very good ones out there. Richard Bertinet and Dan Lepard’s books have a lovely tone and clear, excellent instructions. And after that, well Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread pretty much covers it all. I’ll leave that to the more scientific types out there. If I do one it will be a bit more anthropological, a social studies book but with cool comic book-style images. Lucky Peach meets Marvel Comics meets Margaret Visser, James Beard, and Harold McGee.
Are you all about bread, and or cuisine too?
Both. It’s all food, right? But the process of bread making brings me a great deal of pleasure, it’s what makes me happiest.
Out of bagels, I made a batch at home, going with the Montreal formula. In otherwords, no salt! Some folks say Montreal bagels lack the chew of those made in New York. Hah! These days it's hard to find a decent commercial bagel that is actually made in New York City. Below are shots of my Montreal version, adapted for sourdough of course!