I've been away far too long and owe you all an apology, but more important, some stories of the past two months. The last time I logged on I was headed to Texas for five cities in five days. A few weeks later I did a marathon series of classes in California and Arizona. I've finally landed, still feeling good, my back up held up well, and the classes were successful at every stop thanks to the great support I got from the staffs at the various cooking schools. More about that in moment.
Some interesting new developments: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads was nominated last week for an IACP Cookbook Award in the baking, pastry and desserts category, one of three finalists, along with Daniel Leader's Local Breads and Alice Medrich's Pure Flavors. They are both superb books, so I'm thrilled to be in their company. The winners will be announced on April 18th in New Orleans. Tomorrow (Monday) the James Beard Award nominations come out, so we're keeping our fingers crossed for that. We'll know in about twelve hours. One final piece of interesting news is that The Bread Baker's Apprentice was nominated by the World Gourmand Awards as one of three finalists for "The Best Bread Book of the Past Twelve Years" (that is, the best since these annual Gourmand awards first began). The winner of this one will be announced on May 9th in Stockholm, Sweden at the Alfred Nobel home. I really want to attend (who wouldn't?) but it will be impossible with my teaching schedule. As things develop on all the award fronts I will keep you posted.
The Texas tour took me to Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth, all sponsored by Central Market, the great gourmet and natural foods market. They have cooking schools in these five stores, where the average attendance is about 30 people per class, sometimes even 40. I demonstrated four breads as well as the whole grain seed crackers. The breads were: High Extraction Country Miche, Whole Wheat Mash Bread, Spent Grain Bread, and Vollkornbrot (100% rye bread with cocoa and molasses--that is, the Schwartzbrot variation). I sent the prep list ahead to each store and they prepared two soakers, two mashes, and two bigas, which were ready for me when I arrived four hours before each class. I brought my own sourdough starters, both wheat and rye, as well as a ten pound bag of spent grain, just in case they weren't able to get any locally. In most cases the schools were able to get spent grain from local microbreweries, so we were able to give all the attendees a sample bag at the end of each class, along with a piece of starter. I even had a chance to visit some of the microbreweries after one of the classes, which was an added treat. I think the attendees were happy with the classes, as each of the breads illustrated a different variation of the "epoxy" method that is at the heart of the book. Each bread used either a starter or biga, and either a soaker or a mash, so the finished products represented the many variety of flavors that the method can produce. The crackers were a surprise hit also--at least it surprised the attendees, as I've been hooked on them for years.
I love going to Texas. The people are friendly, the Central Market teams at each stop are fabulous, and there are always some unexpected bonuses. This time one of the surprises was a private tour of NASA, including the Command Center, by recipe tester Robert Dempsey, who is, I was thrilled to discover, a Flight Director there. I had no idea there was such bread baking enthusiasm at NASA, as I found out the next night at the Houston class when a carload of other NASA staff came. One of them, when he heard that Robert had given me the tour, told me he was in charge of the space suit program and next time he'd put me in one. That has me pretty enthused about scheduling another swing through Texas as soon as I can carve out the time. Another surprise was in Austin, where two friends from my MFA Writing Program at Queens University, took me first to the Texas Chili House, where I had a sampler of three different types of Big Red. Then, that night after the class ended, I was whisked off to Uchi, a very hot, cutting edge sushi restaurant. We had some amazing dishes that included things I'd never seen at my neighborhood sushi house, plus some great Alsatian wines that one of my friends, who happens to be the sommelier there, was testing for the list. I was happy to be part of his "focus group" and expect that we'll be hearing more about Uchi and their young chef, Tyson Cole in the coming years.
Anyway, the week flew by, we sold lots of books, and started spreading the new "epoxy" techniques to a very passionate group of home bakers. I could only hope the upcoming California trip would go as well.
For now, it's back to Johnson & Wales where we are coming down the homestretch (classes end on May 15th). This Saturday is the Annual Asheville Bread Festival, held at Green Life Grocery. I'll be doing two demos and there will be all sorts of bakery tours and other demos by local bakers throughout the day, and wonderful breads, many of them baked in wood-fired ovens. If you are there please introduce yourself and tell me if you're one of our regular blog readers.
I'm currently working on a travel teaching schedule for the summer and will post it soon. Plus, more on the upcoming awards and a summary of my west coast tour, where I renewed my pizza hunts in search of the perfect pizza, including a return to my all time favorite, Pizzeria Bianco. I hope to be back with another post later this week. Till then, may your bread always rise!
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