The Role of Bread In An Elevated Dining Experience

Ahh, bread.

As a guest in a fine dining restaurant, either you love it or... you don’t understand it!

Has anyone ever advised to not eat too much bread, because it can ruin your appetite? Or, maybe you had that one friend who would refrain from eating the warm doughy loaf in hopes of maintaining or improve their figure. These mixed attitudes towards bread have left the ancient food with a negative reputation.

To restore that reputation, the rise of the "bread program” movement highlights the significant role of bread in an elevated dining experience.

“It’s incredibly important,” said Chef Marc Forgione, whose restaurant serves an elevated version of the classic potato roll, brushed with clarified butter, sprinkled with black salt and served with a side of caramelized onion butter. “It’s the first bite you have at the restaurant, so it’s the first impression you’re getting of our food and the experience.”

Traditionally, bread has always been part of fine dining (usually, at no extra cost.) But, when a bread program really shines, it’s because it offers something unique or of the best quality.

Bringing the best product forward to each guest takes extra time, effort and money. Some restaurants achieve this by producing fresh, house-made bread daily, while others, leave the job to local artisans who have mastered the craft and only worry about the logistics of getting the quality loaf to the patrons' table.

In some cases, restaurants may do a combination of both depending on their menu offerings.

This is the case for Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink (MGFD,) the flagship restaurant of James Beard award-winning chef and owner Michael Schwartz.

“We know that somebody else has better resources who does it to perfection. We like to promote those people, because they are doing something special,” says MGFD’s Pastry Chef Maria Garcia, referring to Miami-based artisans from Zak the Baker, La Parisienne Bakery and True Loaf that provide bread for the bread course and some sandwiches on the menu at Michael’s Genuine.

Avocado Toast with spicy crab, cilantro, lime, Zak's Rye #thisismgfd #mgfdbrunch

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Oof that's lunch. #mgfdlunch #pastramisandwich #falafel #mezze @zakthebaker 💗

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A lot of thought and effort goes into ensuring the best quality breads make it to guests’ tables, therefore the bread course at MGFD is offered for an extra charge.

“A lot of restaurants with our style of cooking are doing this nowadays, because in all honesty, it’s so much better to bring something that is actually really special that people can get excited about, and granted, yes, you have to pay, but it is so worth it,” said Chef Garcia, who attributes her love for bread to her family from Spain and her respect for its role in an elevated dining experience to Chef Michael Schwartz and Chef Bradley Heron.

“I think Schwartz and Brad have a really good philosophy and they have managed to teach it to all of us, so we can appreciate the good things,” added Chef Garcia.

Not only is Garcia in charge of confections as Michael Genuine’s pastry chef, but she also oversees the production house-made breads for MGFD and their sister restaurant cafe, Ella. These include: focaccia, pizza dough, pita bread, donuts, buns and bagels.

Her day begins at 6 a.m. at a commissary kitchen, where she spends the first three hours of her day.  An everyday task in the day-to-day prep list, is assuring the dough being fermented in bulk, is done so appropriately.

Soppressata Pizza 🍕🍕 crushed tomato, chile flake, honey, mozzarella #mgfdpizza #mgfdlunch

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#eggsandwich with grilled bacon & cheddar on a brioche #mgfdbrunch #michaelsgenuine #miamidesigndistrict #baconandeggs #sundaybrunch

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🍩🍩 cookies & cream donut #sobewff #thisismgfd #brunch #donutlovers 😍

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“The quality of your bread will rely on how well you ferment things and how they behave. So, we bulk ferment so the dough can develop a lot more flavors, so the alcohol doesn’t have that yeasty flavor. We like to give time for it to slow down and give time for the bacteria to grow, so it allows the bread to slowly ferment,” said Chef Garcia, who considers bread-making both an art and a science.

“It’s understanding the elements, their behavior and qualities as well as the artistic beauty of good bread.”

Foodable Labs ranked the following restaurants no. 1 in their respective cities when it came down to sentiment scores towards bread.

  • Portland - Le Pigeon
  • Miami - Michael's Genuine
  • New York - Marc Forgione
  • Denver - Work & Class
  • Chicago - Monteverde
  • Los Angeles - Animal

Watch the video to learn about other restaurants doing in-house bread!

Pastry Chef at Michael’s Genuine Talks Desserts and Incorporating the Seasons

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Dessert remains a favorite even for grownups. Roughly one third of guests order dessert when dining out. So it’s safe to say that many consumers can’t resist a sweet after dinner treat, especially when it’s in a mini portioned dessert.

Like appetizers and entrees, desserts are (and have always been) often dependent on the seasons. More restaurants are determining their menu solely based on the ingredients in season. Fall favorites like pumpkin and apple have already started to appear all over menus.

A restaurant known for its cuisine that is “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients” is Michael’s Genuine. This Miami gem is repeatedly on the Foodable Top 25 restaurants.

We decided to get in the kitchen with Maria Jose (MJ) Garcia, the executive pastry chef at Michael’s Genuine to find out what ingredients she enjoys to work with, fan-favorites at MG, and what advice she has for aspiring pastry chefs.  

Foodable: What do you love the most about being a pastry chef?

Chef MJ: There’s a few things. I love working with my team, teaching and grooming. Watching them grow as individuals, I enjoy that the most. Challenging ourselves. Learning how to use our different backgrounds and having fun.

🍎🍎🍎 apple pie with salted caramel gelato 😋😋 #mgfdpastry #mgfddessert #applepie #yummy

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Then also, getting to see people eat something and love it.

Foodable: What are your favorite ingredients to work with?

Chef MJ: I like licorice. I also like to work with things that remind me of my childhood or places I have been. When I am cooking, I like to reminisce the things of my childhood. At the end of the day, when people eat they want to reminisce the things they used to enjoy when they were little.

On a seasonal level, winter would be strawberries, oranges or anything citrus. In the summer, I love to work with stone fruit. In the fall, obviously apple. But, I also love quince (membrillo in Spanish) because the region where I am from, quince is a prominent fruit we see often with cheese platters. In a week or two weeks from now, we will be able to get quince.

Foodable: What are your favorite fall season desserts to prepare? 

Chef MJ: Apple is that versatile ingredient that you can go extremely homey with, like homemade apple pies. But, quince is something I would love to work with more. It’s different for everyone. One of my assistants, loves persimmons and the other one loves pomegranate. 

Foodable: What are the most popular desserts at Michael’s Genuine?

Chef MJ: It varies. Obviously, you have your chocolate-holics that will always go for the chocolate dessert. Chefs Brad’s favorite is the Rosemary Pine Nut Tarte, it’s elegant, mild and very much an adult dessert. Then you have the Apple Fritters, which is my favorite. It’s that fried item that just reminds me of my childhood.

Foodable: If you could only pick five ingredients to make a dessert, what would they be?

Chef MJ: Orange, strawberry, olive oil, almonds and vanilla. Nuts, in particular, always enhance, give flavor and give texture.

Vanilla Pound Cake 🍫🍫🍫 chocolate glaze #thisismgfd #mgfdbrunch

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Foodable: What advice do you have for amateur pastry chefs just starting out?

Chef MJ: You’re going to burn a lot of cake and that’s okay! Keep being persistent. This industry requires a lot of work, work on yourself. Have the strength to be humble and keep working. Just make sure everything that you do is up to your standards and never compromising.

Someone becomes really good at something when they do it a lot of times. I have burnt a hundred cakes in order to make a really good cake. That’s how you make yourself better, if you keep challenging yourself every day.

Foodable: What are some of the dessert trends you are seeing emerge?

Chef MJ: We follow seasonality. American cuisine gives you a big spectrum to work with, you could go Italian, American, French. In terms of trends, I am seeing these California-style bakeries where it is all about method and well-executed desserts, even if it is just a pie. California/ the west coast has set a standard and there are a lot of restaurants that are seasonal now.

It’s interesting to see all these bakeries rising, especially in Florida, like True Loaf with the best bread ever. You see these bakeries that follow that seasonality and that method of doing things perfectly. But, the trend I see the most is sourcing out the best ingredients.