Friday, February 11, 2011

Bread and the City: an interview with Roger Gural, 2010 FCI Outstanding Alumni Awards Recipient for Outstanding Bread

"It was through having worked for Chef Keller that I was asked to participate in the Mondial." —Roger Gural

Roger Gural was born and raised on Staten Island, New York. What started out as a hobby eventually transformed into a professional bread baking career. He began by experimenting with pizza dough, and then moved on to artisan breads after he enrolled in the six-week bread course at The FCI. The pizza bread baking resulted from a case of supply and demand: "One night, I was coming home from work, and I had planned on making pizza, but the market was out of dough. So, I made it myself. It wasn’t very good, so I did some research to figure out why, and from there I started to make my own pizza dough."

It wasn't very long after experimenting with pizza dough that his hobby led him to the SoHo location of the school, and then on to working full-time as a baker for several world-class chefs.

examples of Roger Gural's beautiful artisanal breads

The French Culinary Institute is familiar with career changers in their student body, and Roger is one of them. He worked in the recording industry and television before switching over to bread baking, but when he started classes, he wasn't even thinking about a career in bread baking. So, how did Roger go from amateur baker to becoming one of the best? "My first job was at Bouley Bakery. When I was a student at The FCI, Chef David Bouley came through the school and toured the bread kitchen. [While there, he] mentioned to my instructor David Norman that he was looking for a baker. David encouraged me to go trail. I actually had to trail twice because I think the head baker at Bouley wasn’t too convinced, but thankfully after the second night he offered me the job. I was really lucky, because he was an incredible baker and role model. I immediately had an understanding about how much work goes into learning the craft. Later on he helped me find some places to work in France, so I am just so indebted to his generosity. He really helped introduce me to a network of super talented bakers who feel a professional responsibility to share their knowledge. After working at Bouley, I worked at Amy’s Bread, and from there [I went] to France. It was several years later when a pastry chef who had worked at The French Laundry tasted my breads and suggested that I should go work there. At that moment it wasn’t the right time, but a while later, I saw they were looking for a head baker, and I thought maybe I should go for it. After a tryout in New York City and one in Napa, California, I was offered the job."

And most recently, in 2009, Roger went on to compete in the prestigious Mondial du Pain (the same convention as the Bocuse d’Or), which took place in Lyon, France, representing the United States. "It was through having worked for Chef Keller that I was asked to participate in the Mondial," he says. Competitors traveled to Lyon from all around the world and stayed for two weeks to compete. "We had to make baguettes, decorative baguettes, rolls, a health and nutrition bread, a bread representing our country, sandwiches, four different types of breakfast pastries, and a bread sculpture." Roger and his colleagues were given the chance to practice their skills in a bakery (run by the Pozzoli family). "The hospitality we received there was probably the highlight of the trip. They were incredibly generous and supportive," he says. By the end of the event, Roger was exhausted.

Roger's bread sculpture at Mondial du Pain

After the event, Roger enjoyed dinner with Chef Alain Sailhac (executive vice president and dean emeritus at The FCI) and his wife, Arlene, at the famed Léon de Lyon, a three-Michelin star restaurant, owned and operated by Chef Jean-Paul Lacombe. This dinner was an occasion Roger would always remember as a highlight. Part of the significance of the dinner was that it commemorated an end to the long labor-filled hours of the event and also that it was a finishing marker to the passion for learning something he loved that had brought him to this extraordinary experience of competing in the first place.

Vanilla Baguette with Dried Pear
Recipe created by Roger Gural
This recipe is a favorite of my six-year-old son. The dough is very wet.

150 grams unsulphered dried pears, cut into small slivers
white wine
950 grams all-purpose flour
50 grams buckwheat flour
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
820 grams water
20 grams salt
4 grams fresh yeast
1. Place dried pears in a bowl; add enough wine to cover pears. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain off soaking liquid; reserve.
2. Place flours in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook; add vanilla bean; mix well on level one; gradually add water with motor running; mix to combine;remove bowl from mixer; cover. Let stand 30 minutes.
3. Add the salt and yeast. Return to the mixer, and mix on level one 5 minutes; increase speed to level 2; mix 3 minutes. Add pears, and mix on level one for 45 seconds.
4. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl; cover. Let dough stand in a warm spot 20 minutes.
5. Fold dough to release gases. Cover, and let rise another 20 minutes. Repeat process one more time. Let rise another hour. Place dough in refrigerator; reserve overnight.
6. Heat an oven to 470 F with steam.
7. Divide dough into 400 gram pieces, and preshape into logs. Rest 15 minutes. Shape into short baguettes. Place on lightly floured couche; let rise 30 minutes. Score each baguette with lame or sharp pairing knife; bake until golden brown and crispy (about 25 minutes).

Rina Oh is an evening student in the classic culinary arts program and is a contributing writer on Eat Life FCI, The Hot Plate and Food2. When she's not working as a food writer or stylist, she continues developing content for her gossip blog, dining with outlaws, and illustrating a comic book series called The Gastronomic Chronicles.

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