Small Bites

Baker Aker: Modesto baker, Jennifer Aker, pulls a sourdough boule from one of Modesto’s wood-fired bread ovens. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Modesto gets a bakery

Asheville has a new source for French pastries, breakfast breads, cupcakes and some of the only wood-fired bread in town. Hector Diaz has opened a bakery window on one side of his Grove Arcade Italian eatery, Modesto. Inside the tiny kitchen, Johnson-and-Wales-trained bakerJennifer Aker and Fulton Forde turn out classic desserts and breads in a variety of flavors.

The prices are reasonable too, especially given the restaurant's location and the prevalence of tourist prices in downtown Asheville. Scones in rotating flavors (orange-glazed and lemon poppy seed are the two varieties I've tried so far) and biscotti are only $1, for example. Croissants are made from scratch with European butter and have an amazing exterior crunch and a perfectly fluffy, buttery interior. "The palmiers, the croissants, it's all hand-laminated," says Aker. "Everything's made from scratch."

Bread flavors continuously rotate as well. Aker says the olive-hazelnut bread with lemon and herbs is the most popular. Other breads include a crusty whole-wheat boule ($3), walnut-Pecorino sourdough ($4) and fresh-baked baguettes ($2.50), available daily. A bread schedule is written on a chalkboard over the bakery counter. Fans of a thick, toothsome crust will like the breads, wood-fired in the same oven where Diaz bakes his rustic pizzas.

The bakery also takes special orders, says Aker, who adds that she has an extensive knowledge of traditional desserts owing to her culinary education. "Really traditional methods of cakes — our school is a classic French type of school, so we do a lot of génoise cakes." Aker points to an oven behind her. "I'm making a chiffon-génoise cake right now. It's involved, but it turns out the best."

Modesto bakery also turns out very good tiramisu, cannoli and cheesecake, among other other traditional desserts.

Diaz is definitely excited about his team, he says. "I found the right people to make this happen. They know how to do it and they're passionate about it."

It seems like a good combination — Diaz with his freeform, informal culinary training and good working knowledge of flavors, paired with a classically trained baker. And Diaz agrees.

"My thing is basically that I'm like a street professor," he says. "I come from a whole different way of things. We can learn from each other."

A-B Tech goes big (again)

Ever wonder why we have so many amazing culinary minds in this area? There are plenty of reasons, from the scenery to the agricultural treasures that the region has to offer. Part of the credit goes to the impressive A-B Tech culinary program, which manages to be both affordable and top notch (and also provide talented graduates).

The A-B Tech Hot Food Team is continuously lauded for its efforts in nationwide competitions. Most recently, the team won first place and a gold medal in the American Culinary Federation’s Student Team Southeast regional competition in Atlanta, giving the team a shot at its second national title.

Since 1997, A-B Tech food teams have won 13 state and six regional titles. Team members will advance to the ACF national competition this July in Dallas, Texas.

"This is a very dedicated, hard-working team," says coach and culinary instructor Charles deVries. "They had a short period of time to prepare for this competition. They put in two practice sessions a week since September and the results show. We are very proud of their accomplishment and the level at which they performed, and we look forward to the challenge ahead."

In the competition, the team prepared a seared striped bass with fish consomme, mixed greens with a grilled radicchio roquefort pear tart, poulet sauté a la Catalane and an almond cake with pomegranate gelée and lemon sauce.

Danny Schwalje is team captain, and team members are Jonathon Zetterholm, Stephen Hertz, Tracy Williams and Sidney Ann Caton. Culinary instructor and chef Fred Snyder also serves as coach for the team.

In plain English

Local author Ashley English has added yet another book to her DIY series, Homemade Living. The member of the local chapter of Slow Food, mother and active blogger already has three other books under her belt: Canning and Preserving, Keeping Bees and Keeping Chickens.

It may sound so very Little House on the Prairie, but while the series does exhibit a retro flair, it also manages to stay utterly modern, in keeping with the upswell of self-reliance and interest in projects like urban chickening. 

In English's latest installation, Home Dairy, she walks readers through the process of making butter and simple cheeses. She also wanders into the realm of advanced cheeses, offering recipes for gorgonzola and Swiss, for example. And, should you happen to keep your own cows like English does (or even if you don't), you might be impressed by the series of dairy-centric body care recipes that she offers, including a kefir-based facial cleanser or the buttermilk-bath soak. Why not?

One of the main themes that English emphasizes throughout all of her books is the fact that the projects are for "every person." You don't need to be a milkmaid or trained chef — or even necessarily proficient in the kitchen — to be able to whip up homemade mozzarella or fresh-churned ice cream. As English writes, "If you've got access to fresh milk, a source of heat and a bit of cheesecloth, the pleasures of making your own dairy products are yours for the taking."

Homemade Living books are available locally through Malaprop’s. Visit English's blog at small-measure.blogspot.com.

— Send your food news and story ideas to Mackensy Lunsford at food@mountainx.com.

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