A Behind-the-Scenes Look at 4 Food Artisans You Don't Want to Miss

Danielle Leoni checks to see how the striped mulled turned out.
Danielle Leoni checks to see how the striped mulled turned out. Chris Malloy
Metro Phoenix is loaded with food artisans who, in pursuit of the best possible flavors, do things the right way. We're talking bread with fermentation time measured not in hours but days, tortillas made from flour milled that morning, a galaxy of homemade pastas, and the list goes on. Here, we pay tribute to four food artisans doing amazing things by going behind the scenes and spotlighting their careful work. If you're hungry this weekend (or week), check out one of these tasty spots.

Raining flour onto sourdough. - CHRIS MALLOY
Raining flour onto sourdough.
Chris Malloy
Crafting Bread the Hard Way at Proof Bread
Last summer, baking wizard Jared Allen sold his brand, Proof Bread, and new owners Jonathan Przybyl and Amanda Abou-Eid are doing Allen proud. The husband-and-wife team have continued to adhere to ancient bread-making traditions. Following the sale, Przybyl spent four weeks at Allen's side, observing and baking. On a recent morning, Przybyl was busy moving from refrigerator to dough to oven, all while overseeing the workings of two other bakers. One was bagging sliced loaves. Another was baking vegan burger buns, putting ciabatta on cooling racks, and shaping a duffel-bag-size mass of dough into raisin-walnut loaf portions. Przybyl eventually moved to his main task: rolling dough for 81-layer chocolate croissants. It was almost 10 o'clock on Thursday morning, and Proof was in the ninth hour of a baking spree that wouldn't end until the next morning, when loaves would arrive at Saturday farmers markets warm from the oven. "This is the way bread was always made," Przybyl says.

Roasted Criollo cacao beans. - CHRIS MALLOY
Roasted Criollo cacao beans.
Chris Malloy
Making Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in a Chandler Backyard
Denae Hostetler crafts chocolate the hard way. Her DNA Chocolate makes the competition taste like candle wax. She sources burlap sacks of Criollo beans through a nonprofit called Singing Rooster that provides Criollo from a group of Haitian farms. The process of unlocking that flavor begins with cleaning the beans. Once they’re clean, Denae roasts them, runs them through a winnowing machine that frees the interior cacao nib from the bean’s shell, stone-grinds the nibs for three days (adding Peruvian cocoa butter and cane sugar before the granite grinders get going), then ages the resulting mixture for two to four weeks. Finally, she tempers the molten mass in a machine and molds it. The roasting happens in a common kitchen oven, the aging on your everyday shelf. It’s the care and cottage approach that make DNA Chocolate divine.

click to enlarge Striped mullet steamed to deliciousness with a heaping portion of various vegetables. - CHRIS MALLOY
Striped mullet steamed to deliciousness with a heaping portion of various vegetables.
Chris Malloy
Steaming Jamaican Fish in a Banana Leaf at The Breadfruit
Danielle Leoni, chef at The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, makes a mean fish cooked in a banana leaf. It's one of The Breadfruit's staples, a paragon of the kind of dish one would eat in Jamaica. Leoni takes pride in using a sustainable but difficult fish like mullet which, in her opinion, is also a choice fish. “It has a beautiful, distinct flavor profile,” Leoni says. She lays two glossy, pork-colored mullet fillets onto a thin stack of banana leaves, scatters salt, pepper, and pimento (Jamaican allspice) onto six ounces of fish, then spreads on red-brown pickapeppa sauce, a culinary staple in Jamaica. After placing vegetables like okra, yellow onion, broccoli, and fennel fronds atop the mullet, Leoni adds three halves of bammy—discs of flatbread made from cassava. Leoni rolls it all in banana leaves and places the dish in the oven. When the fish comes out and Leoni unwraps the leaves, steam coils billow and rise. The striped mullet is simple and deeply satisfying.

click to enlarge Newborn ditalini - CHRIS MALLOY
Newborn ditalini
Chris Malloy
Talking Pasta Extrusion with Walter Sterling of Ocotillo
Chef Walter Sterling helms the pasta program at Ocotillo. He makes his pastas fresh, and for all but ravioli he uses an extruder, a machine that kneads, mixes, and shapes pasta. Ocotillo cuts some interesting ones: reginette (ribbon-like lengths), paccheri (giant rigatoni), casarecce, radiatore, and others. One menu highlight includes a "calamarata" shape dyed black with squid ink. The pasta is shaped like calamari—squid—and it comes with squid. Snail-shaped lumache come with roasted squash, goat cheese, winter greens, and bread crumbs. Another dish, using ditalini, begins with Manila or Littleneck clams roasted in chestnut pans. Sterling puts them in the holes of the pan so they open without spilling their "liquor." These go with the ditalini into a tomato broth flavored with rosemary and black garlic. Sterling shows the kind of range a restaurant can have with an extruder, experience, and imagination. “I have a special thing in my heart for pasta,” he says.
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