The best country bread you've never heard of: Chris Sy's levain
"I spent 10 to 13 years learning to cook and zero years trying to sell," says Chris Sy. And that's probably why you've never heard of his bread, the best levain on the island.
Sy, an alumnus of The French Laundry, Alinea (he even has a shout-out in the Alinea cookbook*), and most recently, Town restaurant, has recently devoted all his energy into making bread.
"Bread is something that I've always loved," he says. "It's very simple. It's very easy to relate to. It's not serving someone a live ant or something on a pin and expecting them to get it right away. It's somehow very real and visceral, but at the same time, it can satisfy in a very primal way."
He knows, though, that he is fighting against Hawaii's rice-based cuisine. But one bite of his bread, and I don't think it will be much of a fight; I imagine a happy coexistence of our beloved carbs.
His country loaves are a blend of whole wheat flour, dark rye flour and white spelt flour, mixed with just water, salt and the leaven, a portion of the dough that is left to ferment naturally at room temperature. His sourdough starter was built when he started at Town and is now over five years old. The bread is baked in Prima's oven (fueled with kiawe wood), which Sy uses at night after dinner service; he's there from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. at night, kneading, shaping, letting the dough rise and baking it off. This is bread with character—a dark brown crust, bread with chew and heft, and yet soft, with a tangy finish.
Sy sells his bread at The Pig and the Lady's table at farmers' markets (where it once featured Sy's bread in a kimchi, tofu and blue cheese bruschetta), as well as at The Whole Ox Deli. Try slices of it fried in olive oil, topped with an egg; or for the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich; or just slice it and slather it with salted butter.
Sy now sells his bread under the name Breadshop. Visit the website, breadsbybreadshop.com for more info.
*[10/3/12: I just revisited the Alinea cookbook to re-read what it said about Sy. A shout-out? More like a mini tribute. I'm including it in shortened form, as it help illuminates Sy's dedication and passion to his cooking:
"In 2001, twenty-four-year-old Christopher Sy had been fired from a high-end Chicago restaurant after only four days because of his inexperience. A week later, Trio owner Henry Adaniya, a treasure hunter for character, decided to give Sy a shot. Not long after, [Grant] Achatz arrived and, sensing Sy's passion for cooking, kept him on.
Sy, like the rest of the opening team at Trio, was not a Piedmontese grandmother, and Black Truffle Explosion relied on a keen understanding of pasta dough that usually only comes with years of experience…One day…Achatz put [Chris] in charge of it. That evening, Sy had a slightly higher success rate than his predecessor, and he never quit making them. Over the next fifteen months, Sy would make more than ten thousand ravioli, viewing each new batch as an opportunity to learn and perfect…By the time he left the restaurant, Sy's ravioli rarely broke."]