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chefg
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Trio has been throwing around the idea of eliminating bread service for some time now. We currently serve three rolls, a sour dough, a country white, and a toasted farro sour, all of which we produce onsite and all of which I feel are good, but not in line with the cuisine in terms of inventiveness. And more importantly I challenge the fuction of the bread itself within scope of the food at Trio. Bread rarely compliments the dishes except on rare occasions. The bread service itself has been elevated due to the variety, freshness, and condiments (fresh vermont butter) but I feel it is time to move on, for the sake of the food, the experience , and the movement. So, how do you all feel about bread? Is it expected when dinning? Does the history of bread require it to be present at every meal? Is it habit? Why do you eat bread at a restaurant? Satiation? Boredom? Again, habit? What makes good bread service? What meals have you consumed without bread?

After much conversation we have come up with what we think is a good replacement to bread service. Something that will facilitate satiation, combat boredom, sooth habit, and add a layer of complexity to the dinning experience.

Each course will be served with a snack intended to mimic the flavors present in the dish. This snack will be left on the table while the diner waits for the next course. The idea is the snack will echo the flavors of the previous course. It would be removed just before the next course arrived. Let me give an example.

Our current 4 course menu reads ...

Chilled English Pea Soup eucalyptus ice cube, preserved lemon, melon

with this course we would serve each guest a small bowl of crunchy eucalyptus peas to enjoy with and after they consume their soup.

Wild Striped Bass bee balm, summer squashes, garlic

with this course thin wafers of sweet garlic

Puffed and Poached Elysian Fields Farm Lamb raw peanuts, sasafrass aroma

with this course a savory sasafrass scented peanut brittle

the same format would be followed with the tasting and the tour menu options.

It seems like another avenue for creativity and the layering of complexity to the experinece. Any thoughts?

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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It's a bold and intelligent move.

Thoughts in no particular order:

- Although some restaurants don't give you bread until after you order (a practice I find annoying), for me a key function of bread in a restaurant is as an immediate snack. Not that dining at the highest levels is really about satiety, but some people simply get cranky if they have to sit around for half an hour before they're given anything to eat at a restaurant. Thus, if you're to eliminate bread, perhaps it makes sense nonetheless to hit each table with a "trio of snacks" or some such coincident with menu presentation (as distinct from an amuse). If one of those snacks is a crisp or bread product that allows for incorporation of that Vermont butter, all the better.

- The labor on this could be killer. It effectively doubles the number of plates the kitchen has to put out, and that the servers have to carry and clear, and that the dishwashers have to wash, etc.

- Likewise, on account of the potentially staggering labor situation, the temptation is going to be to have all this stuff produced (and perhaps even portioned) before service. But really, to do it in the best possible way, use of temperature contrasts and last-minute preparations (e.g., freshly popped and seasoned popcorn as the snack accompaniment to a corn dish, deep-fried olives as the snack for a dish with Mediterranean flavors, still-warm potato chips dusted with a given spice, etc.) might be desirable.

- If people ask for bread, give them bread. You don't want to force the FOH to be lecturing guests on why they can't have bread. So make some bread every day and if people specifically ask for it, give it to them.

- When Ducasse opened in New York City, he kicked the meal off with a platter of little crisps -- about the size of a quarter -- each infused with one of four basic flavors (I think it was salty, sweet, sour, bitter, but maybe it was a variant on that). I can hardly express how much crap Ducasse got for that, in the media, from customers, from armchair critics, even though it was such an obviously smart and innovative move.

- Bread is one of those categories of food -- like breakfast -- where people tend to be naturally conservative, even if they're adventurous eaters overall. This may be the one limit up against which some people refuse to be pushed.

- The symbolism of bread -- the staff of life, the loaves and the fishes, the welcoming aromas -- is powerful. If you deprive people of it, you need to be prepared to replace it not only with something that tastes good, but that fulfills whatever psychological need bread fulfills.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I agree with Fat Guy that some more conservative diners might throw a fit. Personally it would make no difference to me, though. We went to Arun's this weekend and he doesn't serve bread. I didn't even notice it until you brought this up.

By the way, your bread is fantastic.

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It may be that what is needed isn't to delete the bread, but to dive deeper into the challenges of what can be done with bread products: quick breads, crisp crackers, yeast dumplings with surprising and course-harmonious fillings, tiny waffles, pretzels to be dipped in who knows what, or filled with who knows what else, or wound around with some other fascinating thing entirely. Unchain the bakery department from the two-rolls-per-plate paradigm, and even you might be surprised at what they come up with.

Me, I vote for the joyride every time.

-- 2/19/2004

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For me it really depends on the type of restaurant whether I eat or even notice the bread. I like some bread while I'm waiting for my food at mid-range restaurants - especially Italian - because I usually arrive hungry. But after the app arrives I pretty much ignore the bread. At high end places I often don't eat the bread (unless it's outrageously exceptional) since there is usually an amuse served right away and there isn't a big lag between courses (if everything is running smoothly). There is usually so much going on in my mouth in terms of flavors and textures that bread just seems pointless.

Which brings me to my initial reaction to your idea about the snacks paired with each course: on paper it sounds really interesting, but I think as a diner I would find them to be a distraction. You are already demanding much of the customer in terms of opening their minds and palates to new flavor combinations and creative presentations, and adding yet another item on the table might make things too complicated. I say don't lose your focus and let the diner concentrate on the main creation. If you must offer something instead of bread, I think it should be very simple in composition and flavor to act as a background, and not try to mimic the ingredients in the dish served. That would be my preference anyway.

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chefg, having dined with you this spring (we had the tdf at the kitchen table-it was before I first posted on egullet, but if I had it would have been a tremendous report), I think your idea is a very good one. I was really ready for our dinner when we arrived and I remember thinking when the bread was put on the table how it didn't really fit in with my expectations for the evening. There is no question in my mind as the dinner progressed that this was the case. I like your idea of something in its place, not just for the sake of a substitute, but to add another layer to the evening, because that is what I enjoy and find so stimulating about the movement in general and Trio in particular. I ate at wd-50 last week and instead of bread they served something lighter, a crisp that served the purpose you alluded to of feeding the habit, combating boredom and satiating the appetite when you sit down, but I think what you are talking about doing adds a new dimension to the meal and is innovative.

I do like good bread at a simpler meal (steak, grilled fish) but I've often wondered about the wisdom of bread for every occasion. I think your creative alternative will be a great addition to the Trio experience. (By the way, I agree with Fat Guy-its probably a good idea to still offer bread to someone who asks for it. Why try and fight the habit, and I think as the new concept becomes more familiar, fewer and fewer will ask for it.)

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Do we serve/expect bread out of habit or is there a reason? When eating Asian, I do not expect nor miss bread. Eating French or Italian-the bread is there for a reason-delicious and ready for sauces, pates and cheese and to absorb the terrific wine. To eat Indian food without naan or paratha or to eat Mexican food without chips would be a sin. But I do not miss pan when eating Latin or South American food. What would Ethopian food be without the injera? With your creative menu I think that you could have fun with bread (or other starch substitute) and the 'trimmings' that may go along as Lady T suggested. Count me in as "pro-pan"!

What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

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interesting. i find bread irrelevant at most meals. i do like the suggestion that you should have a few rolls available for the diehards who insist on having bread with their meal, but i doubt most diners will put up much of a fight.

mike

Edited by mikeczyz (log)
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Just curious, chefg, would you mind giving an example of when bread has complimented one of your dishes?  Thanks.

I find bread complimenting with most braised dishes that contain a high level of sauce or broth.I feel even if the sauce is delicious it is enjoyed more by soaking it up with bread as opposed to taking it straight from a spoon. Examples from past Trio dishes would have to include the lobster with rosemary vapor, rootbeer of beef shortribs and the current dish of rabbit with evergreen vapor. For this reason I believe we will serve a bread with the rabbit dish until it runs its course. Thoughts have been to flavor the bread with mushrooms or juniper to echo flavors in the dish itself.

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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I think someone's priorities may be a bit off if they must have bread at a restaurant like Trio, where the dishes speak for themselves. Thus, bread seems arbitrary.

Kelli

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Chefg, I couldn't agree with you more. One of my favorite things is to finish off the plate of a braised dish or stew with a piece of bread. I think I did just that with your rootbeer of shortribs.

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chefq,

instead of offering courses of "snacks" between each course, why don't you offer those snacks like say a traditional japanese home would offer? you can still start off with the amuse, however, you can also leave a small little platter which could offer a variety of snacks while they wait for their courses to come. i think bread compliments the dishes you speak of, however, as a diner, i typically try the bread just for the sake of trying and leave it at that. why ruin a great meal to come and fill up on all that bread? by the way, say hi to paula for me....call her spanky and she'll know who it is. at least i hope. best of luck!

glomer

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I'm thinking back to my Tour de Force at Trio and the role bread played. It really didn't. It was there and I think I had some with the soup course but that was pretty much it. With 24 courses lurking I didn't want to squander stomach capacity on bread.

A couple of thoughts. At La Ferme de mon Père Marc Veyrat pairs breads with courses. That was neat though when I said I liked it in an earlier post, some found it gimicky.

Don't eliminate bread completely. Serve it where you feel it is the ideal compliment.

Sopping. I like to sop. I really like to sop. I furtively sop in the finest restaurants where eyebrows might be raised if I were spotted sopping. Perhaps there will be courses at Trio where sopping is called for. As a the between course "snack" offer some sauce and a complimentry sopping medium.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Chilled English Pea Soup    eucalyptus ice cube, preserved lemon, melon

with this course we would serve each guest a small bowl of crunchy eucalyptus peas to enjoy with and after they consume their soup.

Wild Striped Bass      bee balm, summer squashes, garlic

with this course thin wafers of sweet garlic

Puffed and Poached Elysian Fields Farm Lamb        raw peanuts, sasafrass aroma

with this course a savory sasafrass scented peanut brittle

Chef, I continue to think replacing bread is not only excellent but inevitable given your cuisine and approach.

Mulling over these examples, however, they strike me as too formulaic. I don't see any good reason to track any particular component of a dish. The snacks could be just as successful, and perhaps more interesting, if they broadened the scope of the meal and reached for far-out contrasts and off-axis relationships. Let your guests wonder what the connection is between the course and the snack -- if there even is one. The important thing is to excite the palate.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Mulling over these examples, however, they strike me as too formulaic. I don't see any good reason to track any particular component of a dish. The snacks could be just as successful, and perhaps more interesting, if they broadened the scope of the meal and reached for far-out contrasts and off-axis relationships. Let your guests wonder what the connection is between the course and the snack -- if there even is one. The important thing is to excite the palate.

Fat Guy:

That is a very valid and insightful thought. When we decided to commit to the end of a traditional bread service my focus was what bread brought to the cuisine. If we eliminated it the replacement should compliment the course like bread would (or wouldn't) An extention of the flavors seemed to to be the obvious method to build layers of complexity horizontally. I find that the thought process behind building vertical complexity is is one that seperates the forward thinking movement. ...a study of apples.....Halibut with braised fennel, fennel salad, and fennel oil....these are examples of the concepulization of dishes used by many of the 90's chefs in the horizontal fashion. Building layers of complexity vertically takes a grasp of the big picture. I feel we do this well at Trio but for some reason our initial approach was a conservative style of forward thinking. Maybe because we were dealing bread, which automatically evokes thougths of familarity, comfort, and grounding. Thank you for the seed.

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Two nights ago I had dinner at Eleven Madison Park and as soon as they hit the table with a basket of warm gougeres I started thinking about this discussion. I made some very tentative notes on an Eleven Madison Park postcard regarding all the ways in which I utilized and perceived bread throughout the meal, which was a fairly standard-issue high-end-French-influenced-New-American experience foodwise (though the space and service make the overall experience more impressive). In any event, these are my unedited (except for expanding my shorthand to full-length words) thoughts:

-- Gougeres: hospitality, warmth (temperature and figurative), take edge off appetite

-- Bread presented: after ordering, satisfied oral fixation gave me something to do wasn't about food per se

-- Butter, yeast/wheat and salty flavors very elemental simple, prepared palate for real flavors like stretching before exercise

-- With appetizer (frisee/lardons/poached-egg) used to dilute on palate strong salty flavor of lardons, made little sandwiches with lardons and poached egg, used to sop up poached egg and dressing at end

-- Wine not happy with poached-egg and vinaigrette, used bread as palate cleanser in order to enjoy wine

-- Also palate cleanser between courses

-- Bread plate useful as share plate

-- Consumed no bread after arrival of entree -- entree had sauce just didn't feel like sopping it, had enough with the dish

-- Petits fours: conceptual mirror-image of bread?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Bread has a long history of association with northern European meals, going back to the days when Trenchers were used as plates. However we no longer eat bread for its filling qualities, but as another flavour/carrier, and something to fiddle with between courses

I do like the vertical snack idea, but could you consider instead, or as well a seperate bread course? Exquisite stuffed miniature rolls, fougasse, chinese flower rolls etc

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I find bread to be an important part of any great restaurant meal. There is one thing I like about bread service that I don't think I would want to do without. I find that it's a great break between courses, flavors, drinks, whatever. Sometimes my mouth needs to relax between the excitement of the new and/or unusual. Thinking about a eucalyptus ice cube and sassafras aroma in the same meal makes me want to stuff my face with something made with flour. Bread allows other flavors to be more exciting. You get a super interesting flavor in one dish, but without something to slow it down the next dish isn't quite as cool. Kind of get used to the taste bud freakout. The freakout is what you're going for, but it's almost impossible to maintain for 24 (holy crap!) courses, I bet. There are ups and downs planned into the meal I imagine, but bread can be so perfect in the 'down' role.

This sounds lame and so behind the times compared with what you're doing and what you're thinking about doing, but we do breads based on the season (more than four, of course). Oven dried tomato bread for some of August, black breads around Christmas, fresh chervil bread in March (that was an expensive one). You've got a hell of a job with all of those courses, but you obviously work seasonally. It seems like you would still need something to go with a ton wild ideas.

I'll get over there someday. Let me know if I should bring a loaf.

If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

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Alice Waters wrote in one of her earlier cookbooks that she tried to provide at least one course -- usually dessert -- to calm diners whose nerves were jangled by "exotic" ingredients like tripe or sea urchins. After a "challenging" main course she would offer a simple, traditional dessert like an apple tart.

My guess is that bread functions in a similar way. At el Bulli, there is a bread service -- and the bread was very good. It was in some way comforting to have something familiar amongst the onslaught of soups-that-were-sauces, sweets-that-were-savouries and the like.

One downside of bread, in a meal of many courses, is that it is often too easy to consume too much of it and end up feeling stuffed rather than satisfied.

In serving multi-course meals at home, I rarely serve bread during the meal service; but with the aperitif we almost invariably offer thin breadsticks, pane carasau (the Italian "music paper" bread), a sheet of lavash: something that is recognisably bread but is light and crisp rather than starchy and filling. People like to nibble something while drinking their champagne or sherry or whatever; and I personally hate preparing canapés and fiddly hors-d'oeuvres. Hence a dish of olives, some large caperberries if they are around -- and some form of bread.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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the replacement should compliment the course like bread would (or wouldn't)

I see it as a decision on several levels.

It's necessary first to decode the role of bread -- list everything it does for people, every way they use it.

Next, decide which of those features of bread you wish to preserve, and which you wish to eradicate as incompatible with or extraneous to the restaurant's mission.

Next, determine whether non-bread items can serve the remaining appropriate purposes (for example, is there a non-bread item that can be used for sopping up sauce, such as, I don't know, some spongy undersea creature?) or whether an avant-garde bread product would be preferable (if only bread can sop up sauce, what unusual flavor, texture, presentation, etc. could be applied to bread to modify the sauce-sopping experience in a positive way?).

Finally, ask what bread can't do for a meal, but that non-bread snacks can do. This is where "(or wouldn't)" becomes extremely relevant.

On another axis of decisionmaking, at what point along the continuum does a non-bread snack become more appropriately a part of the dish itself -- a garnish? If snack X works well with a dish, should it not be part of the dish? Likewise, if bread is particularly integral to a dish, should it not be part of the dish as well, as when a foie gras terrine is accompanied by toast points separate from a restaurant's normal bread service?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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" If people ask for bread, give them bread. You don't want to force the FOH to be lecturing guests on why they can't have bread. So make some bread every day and if people specifically ask for it, give it to them."

Without knowing that bread is served when requested problems will arise because some customers will start complaining that Table A received bread and Table B didn't.

When visiting Australia and New Zealand we quickly learned that bread is only part of the meal if you pay for it. It is an a la carte item. We found this to be disconcerting as we are used to having bread served at a restaurant even if we choose not to eat it.

Like your idea of snacks between meals but think it would could cause problems with getting them to all the tables at the right time.

Rosalie Saferstein, aka "Rosie"

TABLE HOPPING WITH ROSIE

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- If people ask for bread, give them bread. You don't want to force the FOH to be lecturing guests on why they can't have bread. So make some bread every day and if people specifically ask for it, give it to them.

But then you run into the problem of people complaining about the service, i.e. "I had to ask for bread." This may even be contagious to other tables, "how come they got bread and we didn't?"

Edit: Great minds think alike.

Edited by Rachel Perlow (log)
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Personally, I enjoy bread and appreciate it when a restaurant goes to the trouble of serving a good loaf. I like to have a small slice or 2 before the meal with my wine. I don't use butter and I don't find bread particularly filling, but rather palate cleansing and fun to eat.

But I can see how it would be disheartening for a chef to have plates of food returned half eaten because diners have loaded up on bread and butter.

I like the idea of getting rid of the bread basket, but serving something light and crackerish instead -- especially if you are serving wine. The worst thing would be to get rid of the bread and serve nothing. That would just be cheap.

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Sorry I missed this earlier. I think Fat Guy got here first with the most to say the first time around. At this stage there may be little to add and I assume Grant isn't looking for a consensus, but for perspectives on this issue so he can formulate his own solution. In many parts of the world, bread is not a part of the meal. In a Chinese meal, rice is the neutral starch one can use to clean the palate. On the other hand, in a traditional Japanese meal, white rice is not eaten until the end of the meal.

Bread is a traditional accompaniment to traditional western European meals. I have not been to Trio, but it does not appear to be dedicated to reproducing the traditions of its diners. It has already isolated itself from the main body of traditional cooking and seems to have sufficient following to continue to innovate with some assurance that diners will not rebel over rolls. I love bread and eat too much of it. I look forward to bread in great restaurants, but also ruin my appetite on great bread. I am well aware that a is not necessarily good value for my money when I can't finish my last course or have dessert, no matter how outstanding the bread. I get by in all sorts of Asian restaurants without bread. I could do it in a French restaurant or an Italian restaurant and I'm sure I could do it in Trio.

My first thought was similar to one of Fat Guy's. Some wafers or crisps as part of the amuses. It seems to me I've already had that in several top restaurants in France and Spain as well as Ducassse here in NY. The early criticisms of AD/NY were by those who were clueless in terms or culinary experience. My second thought on reading Grant's messages was that it's common enough to present a special bread with a course such as toast, or brioche toast with foie gras and nut bread with cheese. It should be easy enough to work bread into the meal as a limited, but integral part.

Let me add that as a member of this community, I'm personally flattered that Grant is asking for our thoughts on the subject. We should all be pleased by this. I hope we're as helpful in provoking his thoughts and prodding his creativity as he'd hope we would be.

Rosie, it's interesting to read that restaurants in Australia and New Zealand offer bread as an a la carte option. In Spain, many restaurants charge for bread, but I feel it's a cover charge rather than a charge for what you eat in most cases. Two generations ago, it was common in France to charge for bread and tablecloth -- literally bread and cover, which is the origin of cover charge, I believe.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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