Exciting Last Weeks in Atlantic City

 Monday, August 12, 2013

I know I mentioned it months ago, but it's finally time for me to be moving back to NYC this week! As with any NYC restaurant opening, it was pushed back from the original date. The team decided to do dining room and kitchen renovations, which I've heard look great and can't wait to see! This gave me the opportunity though to spend my summer by the beach and work with my AC team longer to get them ready for the transition.

European style loaves
Before I was ready to leave, we had some changes to make. I had been developing a new bread that we could use both in NYC and AC. At first, I was reluctant to tackle the bread program. I had little to no experience with bread baking and knew it is a huge undertaking. There are culinary programs solely devoted to bread, and people study for years to master it. As with most of my baking projects, I completely immersed myself in it. I got full use of my Amazon Prime membership and bought so many cookbooks on the topic. I read all I could, and then just jumped in and started baking loaf after loaf. It really shocked me how much I enjoyed the process of baking bread. It's so nuanced and hands on. Bread has long been one of my favorite things to eat, and now it's one of my favorite things to bake. I'm by no means a bread expert (yet), but I definitely have a deeper understanding of it and was able to create a product for American Cut that I'm happy with. If you have an interest in learning more about bread baking, I definitely recommend Flour Salt Water Yeast and Tartine Bread, both of which really helped me understand the process and make some really great loaves.

New American Cut Bread
I probably went through 15-20 recipe variations in the quest to make the ultimate product. The bread we are going with has a combination of commercial yeast (the standard stuff you buy at the store) and a natural yeast levain (also known as a starter). Having little to no nurturing instincts, I worried about my ability to keep anything, let alone a levain, alive. Levains need to be fed daily. Despite my worries, my team and I have kept Benji (our pet name for our levain) alive for well over two months now. I've even taken a piece of him to start our levain for NYC. In addition to the yeast selection, I opted for a longer fermentation process. The dough is made the night before it's baked and retarded in the refrigerator (retarding means chilling the dough to slow the fermentation and develop more characteristic flavor). This also helps from a production standpoint because as soon as the AM production person comes in, they can start shaping/proofing/baking the bread. It has an everything spice mix rolled into it and then is served with an vegetable cream cheese spread. In my opinion, it's a big improvement over our original bread, and the early opinions agree!

A couple weeks ago, my sous chef Kristen and I decided to turn the American Cut raw bar into a dessert bar. The bar was no longer being utilized as a raw bar and had been sitting empty since the end of last summer. The pastry kitchen is roughly the size of a shoe box, and with the new bread production, we were even more cramped. Moving the PM pastry service team out of the kitchen freed up kitchen space and gave us more dining room visibility. With the whole counter top open for display, we started making a "cake of the day" and "cookies of the day" and displaying them on pretty domed pedestals. Since its launch, the dessert bar has been a big hit, and dessert sales have even increased
. In addition to improved space functionality, we have had so much fun with the dessert bar. I got to make a lot of classic cakes--chocolate malt, grasshopper, peanut butter banana, s'mores--things that I don't ordinarily have a chance to do.

Dessert Bar Cakes
As a parting gift to my American Cut, I made a special double batch of doughssants (also known as cronuts, but that would be a trademarked term by the wonderfully talented Dominique Ansel-- seriously, try the DKA). They were such a hit the first time that I knew it would be a good way to show my appreciation for the people who have been with me through this whole crazy experience. Kristen surprised me with an ice cream cake (my favorite) and cookie cakes. As a treat to myself, I did a day at Bask Spa at Revel, the perfect ending to my time here. Now, time for NYC!


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