The digital edition of the August 2009 issue of Chef Magazine is now online through the Chef Web site. This digital edition features all the same great content as the print edition, plus online exclusives for more dessert recipes and shelving and storage. To access the issue, click the icon below. You can also register on the Chef Web site to receive e-mail notification when each new digital magazine is available for viewing.
"As the economy continues to affect the industry, some in foodservice are feeling it more than others. Chefs are usually the ones who have to carry the weight of the kitchen as it pertains to labor costs and food costs. We all know that when business is slow, to save on labor, the chef has to send cooks home early—and the chef usually has to stay and finish the shift. In culinary school, I learned that a chef is many things and wears many hats, but when you have to be the prep cook, the line cook, the kitchen manager and the purchaser all at the same time, it gets cumbersome. Chefs are strong kitchen warriors, but after a while of juggling all of the duties, it gets old real quick. So what’s a chef to do?"
"Sandwiches are one of the most popular foods worldwide, and almost every culture offers its own take on the hand-friendly fare. Each encloses or stacks small amounts of food in outer wrappings in order to make the meal go further, but the choice of covering makes each variation distinct. Some like to insert their burgers between two halves of a bun or their pastrami between two slices of rye. Others prefer to wrap their food in lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves, grape leaves, banana leaves, palm fronds or corn husks. Elsewhere, morsels of food are enclosed in plain pastry, puff pastry, wet noodles or paper--rice paper, parchment paper, even newspaper."
--Irena Chalmers, "Between the Bread," "The Last Word," August 2009, Chef Magazine
This article is an online exclusive for the August 2009 issue of Chef Magazine.
The low-carb fad never seemed to catch on for Allison Reid, co-owner of South Portland, Maine-based Scratch Baking Co., or her loyal patrons, who come back again and again for the retail bakery's light and chewy sourdough bagels. Reid recently demonstrated how to prepare her bagels using a wood-fired oven at this year's Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, Maine. She talks to Chef about the staying power of bagels in the American diet, baking trends she picked up at the conference as well as her baker's philosophy.
Chef: Are you seeing any trend away from bagels in the industry in general these days, in favor of maybe lower-carb options like flatbread or wraps for breakfast?
Reid: I'm not into the whole low-carb thing, obviously because I'm a baker. But bagels are trendy right now, and not because they are low-carb. That said, our bagels are lower carb than, say, a traditional bagel, but it's not because we intended them to be. It's because we are making a sourdough bagel that has a little more hydration in it than a traditional bagel that uses high-gluten flour.
Chef: What do you mean by more hydration exactly?
Reid: Our process is different. We use a sourdough starter, [which we named] Lulu, for our bagels. She's a liquid levain starter, meaning that she is 100 percent hydration. Our bagels are 65 percent water, as opposed to the high 50s, which I've seen in some other formulas. Our bagels also differ from other bagels because we don't put any sugar in them. Some are made with malt powder or malt syrup, which tends to lend them a little extra sweetness. Ours are chewy and have a thin, crispy crust, but they're not really dense. They're not getting that chew from the high-gluten flour being really elastic.
Chef: What is the best-selling item at Scratch Baking?
Reid: Definitely the bagels. People do come in for the bread, but mostly because they hear about the bagels first. Also our country-style boule loaf is a big seller. Our sourdough baguettes are a big seller as well. We have a liquid starter named Lulu and a stiff starter named Laverne. We use the starters in most doughs we make here, except for a few sandwich breads that are commercially yeasted breads.
Chef: Do you typically sell whole or partial loaves?
Reid: We sell the 4-pound boule in quarters or halves, which is great for people coming in every day and just getting a little bread for dinner. I love that. I want people to come in every day and buy bread. We do a lot of 1-pound, 6-ounce loaves, which are good for a family for dinner. And then we do loaf breads. We don't preslice. I think that would be crazy, and I want people to slice their own bread. It's that interaction with the bread that I want. We bakers get a little philosophical. I just feel it's really important to hold the bread and slice it rather than take slices out of the plastic bag.
Chef: Tell me a little about the 2009 Kneading Conference in July. Didn't Scratch Baking do a demonstration?
Reid: A co-worker and I did a bagel demonstration, and it was the second year in a row that we were asked to be a part of this cool little event. The whole event is outdoors, and they used these really neat portable wood-fired ovens, which are a big trend right now, built by Maine Wood Co. You could bake about a dozen bagels at a time in there, but they also build production bakery ovens. They had about five stations at the conference, and they would have seminars going on at the same time.
Chef: Were there more consumers than professionals there then?
Reid: Yes, a lot of people who attended were bread enthusiasts in one way or another--growing their own grain or wheat or organic flours. There were a few professionals there, too. I think they'd like to get more professionals, but it's just so hard to get away. We scheduled our demonstration in the afternoon so we could bake in the morning and then leave.
Chef: What is it about baking in a wood-fired oven that people are so attracted to right now?
Reid: I haven't done a lot of wood-fired oven baking, unfortunately. I would love to just for the whole primal aspect of it. We bake a 4-pound boule loaf, and I always think about the historical influence of that big country bread that used to feed a family for a week. I love the idea of it. It's too bad we couldn't bake it in a wood-fired oven because it would be so traditional. When we used it at the conference, it definitely affected the crust of the bagels. A little more water was able to evaporate out of the dough, so the bagels were more crispy and lighter. They had a little of that smoky kind of flavor, but not quite enough to distinguish it. It was just a hotter, drier environment.
Chef: I understand you recently changed the name of the business. How does the change reflect what Scratch Baking is about?
Reid: Two years ago, part of our business split off to do its own thing, so we decided to change the name [from One Fifty Ate Willard Square] to set us apart from our beginnings. The name Scratch Baking lends itself more to who we are and what we do now--we make everything from scratch every day. We have 12 people baking here at one time, which is a lot of hands, but it just takes that many if you're doing everything from scratch. We also try and use as many organic ingredients as possible and keep it local. We're using organic eggs from Maine, and we're using milk from a local dairy, Smiling Hill Farms. It costs more money, but it's important. We use King Arthur Flour out of Norwich, Vt., because it's more consistent and cheaper. I feel very strongly about the company; they're an employee-owned business. And then we use organic rye flour and wheat flour that has been grown and milled in Maine. We try to know where stuff is coming in from. You just have to pick and choose.
Chef: Any advice for restaurants doing bread in-house? Or should they just buy bread wholesale? Or does it just depend?
Reid: It depends on the business. If you have a really dedicated person who loves bread, you can make bread out of anything as far as ovens go. People who are passionate about bread find a way to make it. They will rig up all kinds of situations in their ovens--to make some steam, to do what they need to do--to make a good loaf of bread. And that says a lot about bakers. There's a passion there. This is a craft we're carrying on. It's not who's better than who or who's making the most creative thing. We're all just carrying on the craft and hopefully sharing it with whomever is passionate about bread. I think that's a huge difference between baking and cooking.
Chef: That said, what's your favorite bread to make and to eat?
Reid: I think for consistency and preciseness and getting things perfect, baguette is my favorite to make. There are so many steps involved in getting a really great baguette. To eat, our wheat levain is my baby that we constantly try to perfect that is the metaphor for baking; it never really is perfect so you just keep trying! But on Sunday mornings, I put a little cashew butter or unsalted plain butter on the wheat levain because you really get the flavor of the grain through the creamy butter. There's such a subtlety with cream that it is really hard to find that perfect balance. I've only been baking for seven years and I'm just starting to learn that. Like cooking, it's all about balance.
Chef's Stirrings is the official blog of Chef Magazine, the industry publication for restaurant and foodservice professionals. The blog offers culinary news and online exclusives from the editors ofChef.