Treasured: Bill Telepan’s Sourdough Starter
Interview and Photos by Melanie Dunea / CPi / My Last Supper
Bill Telepan: “My treasure is a sourdough starter that is now entering its 18th year in existence. We started it when I was a chef at a restaurant called Ansonia, because I wanted to try to make these onion rings I remembered eating as a kid from the Peterpank Diner in New Jersey.
“The guy who owns the restaurant would never give me the recipe, so I bought one of Nancy Silverton’s La Brea cookbooks and in the back there was a recipe for sourdough onion rings.”
“One of my sous-chefs left to go to work at another restaurant, so as a parting gift I gave him some of the starter. When we closed Ansonia the original starter got lost, and when I went to Judson Grill I got some from that sous-chef and started to build it up again. When Judson Grill closed, one guy threw the starter out! Luckily, two other sous-chefs had it by that point and gave it back to me when I opened Telepan, where we used it for onion rings and in various breads.
“When I opened Telepan Local, lo and behold, there was a wood–stone pizza oven! So we took the pizza dough recipe from uptown; when we got the gas and fired up the wood-stone oven, we started testing and making pizzas.”
“The starter is fed every day like a human. We feed it flour and water. Every day before we make some dough, we take equal amounts of flour and water and just feed it to the starter. At that point it’s already active, but it just makes it a little more alive. The texture of the starter should be thick but not too thick. Paint was a good description of it; or like a thick soup.”
“I have shared this starter with other chefs. Mitch SuDock who has a restaurant out in Long Island called Mitch & Toni’s has some; Mark Slutsky who had a restaurant called Hickory in upstate New York has some. Charles Rodriguez had some at Print restaurant; and recently, Marco Canora from Hearth came in for dinner, so I gave him a piece.”
“I like this one with bacon, red onion, jalapeño and mozzarella; it’s my wife’s favorite. It’s called The Beverly, in her honor.”
3 Ways to Use Sourdough Starter
1. Bread. If you think about ways people used to live, they had to make bread this way. You couldn’t run to the store or buy packaged yeast or Wonder Bread. If you wanted bread, you had to have a starter and you needed all these ingredients. I felt I needed to do that. It makes the process and the bread more precious.
2. Pizza. It’s important to note that as the pizza dough sits in the refrigerator it develops more flavor. When you have yeast you make the pizza dough and it’s ready in about three hours. With starter you need a minimum of 24 hours in a bowl covered with plastic in the refrigerator. It’s worth the wait.
3. Onion rings. A little sourdough starter, flour and seltzer water will get you the onion rings of my youth!