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!

When Trends Rule, Chicago Chefs Go Against The Grain

Friendly competition continues to drive forward the Chicago food scene. On this episode of “Chef’s Alliance Round Table,” Paul Barron sits down with the Windy City’s top culinary movers and shakers to have a discussion about the food artisan movement, along other topics. 

Abraham Conlon, chef/owner of Fat Rice, believes chefs have a larger role when it comes to the future of the industry. “Chefs are always looking for the next thing… the next thing to impress and delight their guests,” said Conlon. He says his guest would respond positively after being introduced to a new ingredient from Southeast Asia, that he had incorporated to his menu after coming back from his travels.

When it comes to trends, most of the roundtable participants agreed that the ultimate goal is not to be trendy.

“I think everybody here wants to kind of go against the grain and kind of do your own thing, because everybody wants something unique,” said Jimmy Bannos Jr., chef and partner at The Purple Pig.

Proving this very point, Sarah Grueneberg, chef and partner at Monteverde, affirmed that authenticity is more important than being "trendy." “I think that the diner wants to come into your restaurant and feel like you’re cooking for them. And feel like you are in their home, in their place… If that can be successful long term then I would be very happy to not have to create a trendy concept,” added Grueneberg.

So is authenticity and diversity perhaps what makes Chicago such a culinary hub, then?

Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco, also jumped in the conversation, “It’s authenticity, but not in the old way of describing it. It’s authentic meaning you’re doing what you love, what’s right for you and that you are authentically putting that food on the table,” said Bayless. “Wherever you go in this town, you can find small restaurants doing something that’s very unique vision…”

To finalize the round table discussion, Barron touched on the subject of local ingredients and the ability to keep up with the current demand.

Bayless gave the example of his supplier, Nichols Farm & Orchard, located about one hour away from the city, and how they have grown tremendously in size in order to keep up with high demands for local produce.

When it come to localized farm-to-fork menu, Mike Sherin, executive chef at Billy Dec’s Rockit Bar and Grill, clarified “It’s about seasonality, it’s about purity with food… and really letting the actual fruit or vegetable or meat shine as it’s own..”