Kristine M. Kierzek
Timing is everything for Greg Wade. After graduating from New Berlin West in 2006, he went to UW-Milwaukee for a year and a half. It wasn’t quite his thing, but at that time he had heard of a Chicago-based culinary school that his mother contacted when he was researching colleges. He found himself baking bread whenever the opportunity arose. It became his passion project.
He surrounded himself with people willing to support his bread baking goals, and his work at Girl and the Goat led to a bigger role with Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality and a deep dive into bread baking in emphasizing local grains and farmers.
The recipient of a 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker, Wade now oversees production at Publican Quality Bread, which opened a 4,200 square foot production facility with retail space in West Chicago in June. The facility produces all breads for One Off Hospitality and approximately 70 other restaurants and retailers in the Chicagoland area. Retail and Bakery, 1759 W. Grand Ave., Chicago, is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
Wade, the managing partner of Publican Quality Bread, shares his recipes in his first cookbook, “Bread Head: Baking for the Road Less Traveled,” written with Rachel Holtzman (WW Norton, $45), in stores September 27 . find recipes and lessons for breads, pastries and other delicious doughs that have been fermented and shaped by hand for a long time, with troubleshooting tips to make professional-quality breads available at home.
Wade spoke to us on the phone from the bakery in Chicago.
Question: What were your first experiences in pastry?
Answer: My mother was definitely a home cooking enthusiast and she always had a passion for food. It was still very relevant. She always made sure we ate things at home and not outside.
My pastry experience started when I was 4, 5, 6 years old. My grandmother on my mother’s side used to baby-sit. She made easy cookies and cakes. We started making cookies when my parents were out. They were coming home and there was little flour and fingerprints on the cupboards. My parents pretended to be crazy. Oh, I have flour everywhere. It never changed.
As I got older, my dad was looking for a way to connect. I was about 12 or 13 and we had my grandma’s old bread maker. She had been there. My father grew up eating rye bread with butter, grilled with cheese. Let’s try making rye bread.
Q: How did these experiences lead you to a career as a pastry chef?
A: I thought I was going to become a German teacher. My mom when I was first looking for colleges, she signed me up to get a call from a culinary school here (in Chicago). … I’ve been going to UW-Milwaukee for about a year and a half, I realize that’s not what I want. At that time, the culinary school was called…
I was going to culinary school and I was excited, I was doing the savory program, but I always had this passion for bread and baking. Even with that passion, I only took one baking and pastry class, and it was muffins and pastries, not bread. But I would go to those skill labs with some free time in the kitchen where you can work on things. I was going to make bread and other things. If there was bread to be made in world cuisine or in other courses, I would do it.
I got a job at a place called Taxim, where I did assembly line cooking and baking. I met the chef, and he was going to Girl and (the) Goat with Stéphanie Izard. He brought me on the opening team to bake bread full time….
Being able to dive into different techniques, skills and flavors was a great area for me to grow up in. They built Little Goat, I ran that bakery for a while, but my heart was more into naturally fermented sourdough and whole grains. . . .
I was more into the natural and wholesome thing with local farms and whole grains. The future of American bread is in this style. I heard from an old culinary instructor that Paul Kahan (Blackbird, starring and Publican) was opening this bakery wholesale. I interviewed Paul very briefly. It was “Do you know how much the food costs? I ate your bread and it’s good. What do you want to do?”
Q: What are the necessities and tools for making great bread?
A: I suggest investing in a nice baking dish. I’m a personal ambassador for the Challenger Bread Pan, a heavy-duty cast iron pan made in America and built for the purpose of baking bread. It has a shallow base with a domed top and nice handles. Other than that it would be a La Cloche clay baker or a dutch oven or something like that.… For baking bread this is the only equipment you need.
Q: What do we really need to know to buy better flour?
A: In fact, I provide a number of resources in the book so you can research your own area. The Challenger Bakery website maintains a fairly up-to-date catalog of where you can get local organic stone-ground flours, as does Artisan Grain Collaborative. I was a founding member and steering committee member for three years.…
Janie’s Mill, which we use for almost everything, they ship nationwide. Bob’s Red Mill is more stand-up. There are brands that are even better than your commercial bleached and brominated flour.
Q: Why not use standard bread flour or all-purpose flour?
A: The performance you get from other flours will be consistent and desirable. The reason you wouldn’t want to use these other flours is mostly due to health and environmental concerns.
Integrity for me is not there, and it is important. There is a large section in the book devoted to this. It comes down to the growth and transformation processes, all of which involve chemicals and bleaching. It’s not bleach to clean your over-the-counter table, but it is bleach, and there’s not a particularly good reason for that, I think…
The important thing to note, if the only thing you can possibly get is commercially available bleached flour, you’ll still get a better, healthier loaf of bread if you make it yourself and ferment it. Fermentation breaks down much of the complex sugars in flour.
Q: What do I need to know about fermentation and breadmaking?
A: The key is to not get frustrated and to be really patient with yourself, the starter, and your dough. Really be okay with finding your upper and lower limits. Purposely let the dough go where you think it’s too far…
From there, your two controllables with fermentation are time and temperature. So many people, when they start making bread, say the recipe says to make it for two hours and then bake it. They may have the right time but not the temperature. If your environment is warmer the dough will ferment faster, if it is cooler the dough will take longer…
I learned a lot doing side-by-side comparisons. I would make a big batch of dough and divide it into thirds. I formed one after two hours, one after four hours and one after eight hours. Notice the amount of air and how it behaves and the end result. I provide patterns in the book.
Q: What is your best-selling bread?
A: Leaven. Spence Sourdough, named after the farm from which we get most of our grain. The one I always bring home is a loaf of toasted sesame bread.
Q: Do you use Kallas honey from Milwaukee?
A: We have a supplier and an importer here, Tardella Foods. I just told them these are the things I want to bring and I want to source locally and close to home as much as possible, support the right people. They brought honey from Kallas Wisconsin.
Q: Can we find your Publican breads anywhere in Wisconsin?
A: We sell to Produce with Purpose (which delivers to Milwaukee, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Fox Cities). It has an online portal producewithbut.com.
After:With family recipes, cookbook author tries to draw attention to Midwestern cuisine
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