A Food Blogger's Dream Date

Recently I had the privilege of “breaking bread” with two of St. Louis’ finest culinary figures, Josh Allen of Companion and Chef Gerard Craft of Niche, a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2008 and a two-time James Beard Finalist, along with a few other St. Louis food bloggers.
The seminar, arranged by Companion and held in the kitchen of Chef Gerard’s Niche, focused on moving bread from the humble bread plate to center stage on the menu. Don’t get me wrong. Companion breads, named by USA Today in 2007 as one of the “Top 10 Artisan Bakeries” in the country, are truly amazing eaten modestly with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. But the flagship Companion Pain Beaucaire, simple white bread, starred in all three courses the chefs prepared (click on the title link to go to the recipe).
and Affogato featuring Cinnamon Brown Butter Croutons and served over Serendipity ice cream and a shot of espresso.
I’ve never been privy to a restaurant off-hours, let alone in the kitchen and up-close and personal with such renowned talent. The atmosphere was laid-back, but really informative, and questions were encouraged. These guys were interested in us. Why we blog. What we blog about. What we cook. Everyone was quite impressed with the jams, jellies, and preserves that Libby from Café Libby puts up and the gorgeous food porn photographer-chef-in-the-making posts at Shoot to Cook. And chatting with Sauce Magazine's food and spirits columnist, Ligaya Figueras, about foraging and growing figs trees was a treat too.  

Watching and listening to the pros casually throw out tips and tidbits was indeed a highlight of the afternoon:

  • Simple food is delicious food. Okay, I knew this, but all the more special when Chef Gerard says it and shared that Mondays at Niche will now follow this mantra.
  • Easy, rustic bruschetta is so adaptable. It transcends the standard topping of tomatoes-and-basil. A quick Food Blog Search turned up an interesting tuna, spinach, and aioli brushetta, next up on the appetizer try-this list for me.
  • When making bruschetta, pay attention to the bread crisping in the oven so that it doesn’t burn. It can easily happen.
  • If you forget to rub the bruschetta with a garlic clove prior to adding the rest of your toppings, simply rub the garlic on the bottom of the bread. No worries, tastes great.
  • Salt onions, garlic, shallots while sautéing but salt vegs like mushrooms after they’ve released their liquid and are done cooking.
  • Messy appetizers are great ice-breakers at parties.
  • Don’t just reach for the olive oil when sautéing. It breaks down under high heat. Use it in combination with something like a vegetable oil.
  • Panzanella (bread salad) transforms nicely from the traditional summer tomatoes-and-cucumbers salad to a tasty winter dish where the bread cubes are tossed with roasted butternut squash, celery root, and rutabaga.
  • Next fall, DO NOT CUT DOWN THE SAGE AND ROSEMARY PLANTS. These overwinter and continue producing even with all the snow and freezing temps we’ve had.
  • Bread bakers are notoriously cheap and use lots of water in making their bread “sponge” (24 hours for Companion’s bread), which results in a hearty bread with a tremendous flavor, a crunchy crust, a nice, open airy texture (and cool, uneven holes in the crumb)
  • Cinnamon brown butter croutons are dangerous. They are bread crack, highly addictive. Super easy to make and quite versatile, and a topping for apple crisp.
I made the Brussels sprouts bruschetta on Friday evening, subbing garlicky Boursin for the goat cheese, and no surprise, these with a huge hit with my guys. What’s not to love – all those taste sensations – crunchy, salty, slightly sweet – in a messy, bite-sized nibble. The only problem was that they were SO delicious that we didn’t have an appetite left for the port-braised chicken with figs I made for the entrée.

Small St. Louis world as it is, I ran into Libby yesterday at the St. Louis Community Winter Farmers Market, and she mentioned she was making a crisp using the cinnamon brown butter croutons. Brilliant idea. I tossed a few jars of the apples we canned this summer with some maple syrup and cinnamon, topped with the crumbs, and baked in a 375 degree oven for about 55 minutes. A scrumptious dessert and one of the easiest I’ve made in a long time. I must confess that I had to restrain myself from just picking off the topping.

We’re fortunate that Chef Gerard and bread baker extraordinaire Josh provided us these gorgeous photos and encouraged us to share the recipes with our readers (links above).

Thanks to Companion and Niche for their generosity in putting such a wonderful outreach event together.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for joining us and for blogging about your experience. It means a lot to us.




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