It’s approaching 9pm last night and I’m in the kitchen attempting to saute shredded brussel sprouts while at the same time keeping an eye on my vegetable soup. This is made slightly difficult because I have the front of the stove half-way open so I can keep an eye on the bruschetta that I have on a tray under the broiler. While normally I’m a little nervous trying new recipes, I have a certain amount of confidence about my bruschetta because I saw Chef Gerard Craft make the same dish in person a just a few hours earlier.
As I mentioned yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend an event at Niche along with other local bloggers and food writers. Sponsored by Companion the event was hosted by 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. Companion’s bread is served in more than 100 local restaurants and grocery stores and has cafes in Clayton and Ladue.
From the invitation:
In its ongoing efforts to support fresh, local and sustainable products, Companion consistently teams up with independent restaurants in the St. Louis area, as they have for three seasons of their truly unique program called CollaBREADtive. Their goal is to bring bread to the forefront of the dining experience while helping support local restaurateurs. Since their breads are all natural with no preservatives, Companion also strives to educate consumers with easy, delicious ways to utilize an entire loaf of bread so none goes to waste. At this event, you will have the opportunity to learn some of these recipes and then share them with your followers.
I had only been to Niche once before (for a wonderful dinner in the fall) and I was very excited to see the place in the off hours. Going into a restaurant when it’s not open to the public always feels like you’re doing something illicit. Due to a few cancellations we were a small group, but that meant more food for us and we were able to get up close and personal with Josh and Gerard. The attendees included myself, Libby from Cafe Libby, Denise from Eat, Laugh, Love and Ligaya Figueras, a food writer & spirits columnist for Sauce magazine.
The event was entirely focused around the Companion bread, and consisted of three courses using the same bread as an ingredient. The point was that bread can be used for all parts of the meal (and that it is easy to use up old bread and leftovers as well). As my readers know, I make most of my own bread at home since I don’t like store bought bread but Companion doesn’t fall into the “store bought” category. The Companion Pain Beaucaire loaf used for all of the dishes is made after a 24 hour sponge, has a great crust, a light, airy pocket-filled crumb, and tastes like heaven. Dr. Fiance and I made short work of the loaf that I took home with me last night.
Gerard kicked off the event by demonstrating how to make a lovely little bruschetta with goat cheese and caramelized brussel sprouts. This was the dish that I ended up making later that evening at home. Couple of bruschetta tips that I picked up: 1) Remember not to burn your bread (which is very easy to do when you have other things going on in the kitchen) and 2) If you forget to rub the garlic on the top of the bread before you add the other toppings, just rub it on the bottom and it works just as well. All things being equal this is a super easy dish (assuming you don’t burn the bread) and as the chef pointed out, sometimes a slightly messy-to-eat starter is a good ice breaker in social situations. Turns out I freakin’ love caramelized brussel sprouts. Amazing.
Next up was the bread salad to end all bread salads: Brick Chicken with Root Vegetable Bread Salad. This dish is a take on a traditional panzanella except that instead of tomatoes and cucumbers which aren’t exactly in season at the moment, chef designed the dish using more seasonal root vegetables: squash, rutabagas and celery root. The dish also featured thinly sliced onions marinated in sherry vinegar, which was what made the dish for me I think. The onions were added to the bread salad and the vinegar marinade was used to make the dressing. I could eat the bread salad part of this dish by itself and be completely satisfied. But of course you have to add in the weighted pan fried chicken on top to make it truly over the top amazing.
And last but certainly not least, Josh demonstrated how to make Companion Affogato. Affogato apparently is Italian for “holy shit this is amazing bread drowned in butter, sugar, ice cream, and coffee.” The dish essentially involves making sweet croutons out of browned butter and sugar poured over day old bread that has been torn into smallish pieces. Josh said that by themselves the croutons make a nice snack along with a cup of coffee, similar to biscotti. He mentioned that you could just keep them around to snack on, but lets be honest here, like all of these recipes, they wouldn’t last very long in our house. The ice cream was from Serendipity, which is another outstanding local food find.
What, now you want to know how to make all of the amazing dishes I just talked about? Lucky for you, Companion and Chef Gerard provided us with all of the recipes they made for is beautifully designed pdfs:
There is something special about food being made in front of you, which is why an event like this is so wonderful. Rarely do I get the opportunity to hang out with an amazing baker and chef and have them tell me about their food. While obviously cooking at home is a different experience than cooking in a top-market restaurant kitchen, it was very interesting to see how simple these dishes were. My version of the bruschetta at home came out beautifully and will definitely be part of my repertoire from now on. All in all it was a great experience and many thanks to everyone involved!
Below is a gallery of images from the event. Try not to drool on your computer. Enjoy!