At Food & Wine, we have been discovering the most thrilling up-and-coming chefs in America for 25 years, awarding them the title Best New Chef. In this issue, you’ll read about the latest group of creative cooks (posing with me and F&W publisher Christina Grdovic in the photo). We don’t stop there: In our “Best New Chef All-Stars” blockbuster, we feature an extraordinary chef from each of the past 25 years. Looking back through our winners reveals nothing less than the evolution of American restaurant culture. Twenty-five years ago, serious chefs saved their efforts for special-occasion dinners; today, they’re feeding us phenomenal food from early morning till late at night. And we’re gluttons for deliciousness, whether that means foie gras on toast points or toast with butter. In this age of artisanal everything, even toast has become an object of obsession.
Consider Josey Baker, who used to pedal around San Francisco on a bike delivering handcrafted loaves to members of his CSA. Recently, he set up shop at The Mill, joining forces with Four Barrel Coffee, another cult institution. F&W’s features editor, Michael Endelman, waited on line at The Mill for 20 minutes just to pay $3.50 for a slice of sesame whole-wheat toast with local butter, honey and sea salt. When he and his wife, Nina, couldn’t find a seat (The Mill was still something of a construction site), they ate in their rental car. The toast was inconvenient, expensive and almost mockable—yet five months later, he’s still talking about how good it was. Before Josey settled into the space at The Mill, our executive food editor, Tina Ujlaki, made three failed attempts to find him. When she at last succeeded, she brought four heavy, oversize loaves back for the F&W staff and collected Josey’s best toast-making tips, which I share here.
So, in celebration of all that’s spectacular in the world of food, I’m going to start with a little toast.
Use Good Bread
This may seem obvious, but you’ll never have exceptional toast if you don’t start with exceptional bread.
Think About Thickness
Dense, hearty breads should be sliced thinly, about one centimeter; lighter breads can be sliced nice and thick, two or three centimeters.
Toast Until You Get Some Color
Many a slice of toast has not lived up to its potential for lack of time spent in the toaster. Don’t be scared: Let that slice get good and toasty, on the cusp of being burnt, to develop an array of delicious flavors and great textures.
Remember the Power of Butter
Any sort of nut butter, fruit spread or other sweet topping tastes even better with a little butter underneath. Don’t be shy about covering every corner of toast with toppings; you want bread and spread in each bite.—Josey Baker
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