The differences between a savory chef and a pastry chef are enormous. Their professional skill sets are so vastly dissimilar, it's almost like comparing a general contractor to a brain surgeon. While the general contractor possesses many competencies, from understanding blueprints to leveling concrete, a brain surgeon exemplifies exceptional patience and revels in intricate detail. To be competent in either trade, one must have passion and be open to innovation.
In the culinary world, savory chefs are akin to general contractors. Talented, successful savory chefs spend much of their day as facilitators of kitchen staff. They do the scheduling, order supplies, train cooks and supervise myriad other activities in the back of the house.
On the other hand, pastry chefs focus on intricate details like tempering chocolate, pulling sugar, book-folding laminated doughs, and precisely measuring mise en place for batters and sponges. Thus, pastry chefs are very uptight and rarely stray into the savory kitchen where the pace is frenetic, where measurements—much to their horror—are done by eye, taste and touch instead of prissy electronic scales or fussy digital thermometers. Pastry chefs often think of the savory side as a place where uncouth, undisciplined barbarians ply their trade with little grace or skill. They, of course, are wrong! (None of my pastry chef friends reads my column, so I'll say whatever I want.)
Here's the deal: In most kitchens, there may be one pastry chef, who tends to concentrate on complicated desserts, leaving other baking to the savory side. So to have an interesting menu with savory baked items, chefs like me are forced to sharpen our baking skills.
Over time, I've actually learned to enjoy baking-well, 'enjoy' may be too strong a word ... let's say 'tolerate.' As in, I must TOLERATE these damn electronic scales, measuring spoons and timers. Urg!
Throughout these glorious column-filled years, I've shared a few of my prized baking recipes and tips with y'all. Remember to keep your butter very cold when making short doughs and always let your doughs rest before rolling them out, which allows the gluten to relax so it rolls without springing back like a rubber band.
This week I share a gluten-free baking recipe. Yep, I can even Chef-Up gluten-free cornbread! The secret? Lots of bacon and a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. I promise to continue discussing the (superior) savory side of baking in future columns.
Chef Bill's Gluten-Free Skillet Bacon Cornbread
- 1-1/4 cups fine stoneground cornmeal
- 1-1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- 1/3 tsp. salt
- 1-1/4 cups buttermilk
- 4 oz. butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. xanthan gum (if G-F flour doesn't contain any)
- 7 oz. raw bacon, small dice
1. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in a 400˚F oven.
2. Cook bacon until crispy, drain.
3. Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
4. Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
5. Mix wet ingredients and bacon into the dry ingredients.
6. Grease the skillet with bacon fat.
7. Spoon batter into skillet, spreading evenly with a spoon.
8. Bake at 400˚F for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a wooden skewer comes out dry.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina's Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!