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Bread Programs At NAHA And Brindille Rise Above The Rest

By Staff in Food on Jun 4, 2013 5:40PM

Photo by Penny Sokody.

NAHA and Brindille are rolling in dough, and not just from moneyed customers with deep wallets. The two restaurants are actually a hub for house-baked breads, with 14 different varieties on deck between the two. This is all thanks to pastry chef Craig Harzewski, a man who fell into bread-baking by happenstance and has gradually increased his bread production over the years to make for one of the most all-encompassing bread programs in Chicago restaurants.

Harzewski wasn’t born with a bread peel in his hand. He started as a line cook making savory food to help pay his way through college in central New York. Baking bread came about more as a hobby than anything else. “I was always interested in bread-baking, before the artisan bread movement,” he says. So he began making bread at home in his spare time, testing different recipes out and learning from some misfires. He eventually apprenticed with a bread-baker and cake-maker at a classic American-style bakery. The man was a gruff old man who spent his own youth working in German bakeries. After working with the man for a year, Harzewski says he benefitted from learning some of those old-school German bakery philosophies, instilling in him a drive to bake as a profession. He made his way to New York City to evolve his career, but says it was hard finding reputable places at the time making their own bread. Eventually, it was time for a fresh slate, and after fortuitously responding to a Craigslist ad, he interviewed with Carrie Nahabedian at NAHA and moved to Chicago in 2007 to take over as pastry chef.

The bread program began to "rise" shortly after Harzewski started at NAHA. Nahabedian was looking at the high prices for outsourced brioche, and decided it was an unnecessary expense. Harzewski started making brioche in-house. Gradually, he started adding more breads to his repertoire to accommodate the kitchen’s needs, such as raisin-pecan bread to serve with the cheese course, burger buns, English muffins to outfit a duck egg sandwich, and pita. “I’ve always had the capabilities,” says Harzewski of his bread-baking prowess. “But I’m working with what the kitchen wants, and that means more breads.” Other varieties include whole-wheat pretzel bread, pullman loaf (used to make dessert paninis to pair with sundaes) and cherry-fennel seed-cornmeal and Moroccan spice bread, two items he began making in-house after the bakery they were sourcing from dwindled in quality. After a trip to Istanbul last year, Harzewski came back inspired to recreate lahmajoon, a kind of thin, yeasted Middle Eastern pizza.

Brindille was a different process entirely. Wherein at NAHA he was able to gradually implement new breads over the years, he had to start with a completely blank slate for the new restaurant. While in development, Harzewski was making two to three different breads per day, experimenting with new flavors and varieties. “I was over-carbed out, after a month and a half of bread tasting every day,” he says. He had fun, though, and got to play around with different ideas, such as a sour rye, which he describes as very sour and a nice compliment to the steak tartare it adjoins. He bakes a sunflower seed-golden raisin ficelle to accompany the cheese course, with each thin, nine-inch bread baked à la minute. He also bakes a different kind of brioche for Brindille, one studded with Greek olives, candied orange zest, fennel seed, and ground cardamom, to serve as the base for seared foie gras.

Harzewski’s days start with baking all the breads at 7:30 a.m. As the first one in every morning, this is a time of bread tranquility for him, saying it sets the tone for his day and allows him to quietly think about his schedule. For the first four hours of every workday, he's concentrated on his bread-baking. Over the years, as the baking program evolved, Harzewski says it has been a natural progression. “My duration here and the consistency of the restaurant has allowed the growth of the bread program,” he explains, adding that his experience and time at NAHA prepared him to be responsible for both restaurants. “I fit so well with this place,” muses Harzewski while sitting in NAHA, explaining how well he and Nahabedian and the whole culinary team work together. “I’d be really challenged to find a place that would take better care of me than here.”

By Matt Kirouac