26 Jan Toast
‘For every crumb of bread you waste, you spend a year in purgatory picking up breadcrumbs with your eyelashes.’
I’ve heard this is a part of Sicilian folklore, and putting aside how one actually picks up crumbs with their eyelashes, it underscores an age-old concern shared by home cooks and restaurants alike. How to minimize waste and maximize deliciousness.
At Bull Valley Roadhouse we get our bread from Acme Bakery in Berkeley. It is delicious, but like everything well made, it isn’t cheap. Cost aside, our job in restaurants (and hopefully at home) is to not waste food for the obvious reasons of food scarcity, honoring the work that brought that food to us and respecting our place in the food chain as purchasers and chefs.
I worked for a bit at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley, with Chef/owner Marsha Mcbride, maybe 20 years ago. She was very adept at using every slice of her bread in a myriad of different, mostly old school, French ways. We used a bunch in the butcher’s area for panade for sausages, pates and terrines. She would also cover a thick slice with a mornay sauce that had pureed kale added, gratin-ing the top before serving next to a grilled or roasted protein. She made a ton of bread salads, weet and savory bread puddings and of course, sandwiches. Today, I’d like to think I have a bit of Marsha in me as I have developed my own repertoire of ways to use up bread. In fact, some of my favorite things to cook and plate are these dishes.
While reading through historical cookbooks I recently saw a recipe for ‘Gentleman’s Relish’. Gentleman’s relish is a spiced (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger) anchovy butter. It is super tasty and, let’s face it, has an awesome name. I have always been a fan of ‘Eggs Eli’, which is a dish of sunny side up eggs, anchovy and ham. Fold into this the fact that my sous chef is named Eli and it only seemed natural to smear some gentleman’s relish on toast, add sliced smoked ham, bake until the ham gets some crisp on it, the bread gets toasty and the thick smear of relish gets into the bread and a little bubbly, add a fried egg, some pickled peppers and a fair amount of chives. Man, just the smell of it while plating makes me happy. The only question was whether to call it ‘Eggs Eli Toast’ or ‘Gentleman’s relish toast’. We went with the latter.
Oftentimes chefs are reluctant to use an ingredient in more than one dish, and on a small menu it can appear disheartening or even lazy. I like to have a larger menu than normal, so I can cover all of the ground of being well rounded and having what people want and expect, but also include enough extras to keep it interesting. In my ideal vision of the restaurant we serve well sourced food that allows those who are conscious of what they eat to splurge with a clear head.
On any given night we have three or six toast items like this on the menu. Sometimes it is a ‘Welsh Rarebit’, which is a cheddar-Guinness beer sauce that we spread on bread, cook in the oven until bubbly and finish with Worcestershire; or the ‘Chicken Liver Mousse’ with some seasonal fruit element, herbs and pepper. Sometimes it’s open face sandwich, or tartine, with egg salad topped with tonnato sauce and cured tuna heart; or butter poached morel mushrooms with fava beans, parmesan and fried egg; or creme de fromage with fermented honey, bee pollen and fennel. We also grill bread for our burrata with pesto, agrodolce vegetables and crispy serrano ham. I can’t help but think I could come here and eat solely things on toast and be very satisfied. Utility turned into deliciousness.
I used to live in Oakland, near Pizzaiolo, and I would go there quite often. The food was so good, it was a shame to fill up on (their also delicious) pizza, so I would order other items and a pizza as my bread. At Bull Valley, we serve acme bread, with Port Costa honey butter, which many guests happily avail themselves of. Maybe the next time you visit one of our toasts can fill that need for you.
(note: Of course we also do bread pudding, seasoned breadcrumbs and, of course, croutons when the moment calls for it. The infinite possibilities of toast.)