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Dish R&D: Chile-Thyme Flatbread

09 November 2006

Crisp, heat-tinged flatbread makes the breadbasket a standout at Atlanta's Canoe.

This article first appeared in the 15 August 2006 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >> http://www.foodservice411.com
By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

DISH: Chile-Thyme Flatbread
COMPOSITION: High-gluten flour, salt, cold water, fresh thyme, red-chile oil and shallots
CONVENIENCE PRODUCTS: Red-chile oil can be purchased
MENU PRICE: Complimentary in restaurant; $3 per sheet to take home
FOOD COST: 25¢/serving

Diners love the sense that they've gotten something extra, whether it's an amuse bouche, plate of petits fours or basket of house-made bread. These complimentary tastes often call for a strategic approach to recipe development, one that capitalizes on available resources while maintaining quality. At Atlanta's Canoe, Pastry Chef Robyn Mayo's chile-thyme flatbread delivers on three important counts: quick preparation time, low food cost and flavors that grab attention.

"We wanted to include a lighter option," Mayo says of the flatbread's place among cranberry-walnut bread, sourdough and rosemary focaccia that comprise the operation's breadbasket selections. "You don't want guests to get filled up before their meals, but people still want to snack when they sit down."

Ease of assembly also helped win the cracker-thin flatbread a place in the baked-daily lineup. Requiring no yeast nor rising time, the simple dough is quickly mixed the day before service and portioned into 11-ounce balls that are then wrapped and refrigerated. The next morning, dough is rolled out in a sheeter and baked on sheet pans.

The flatbread's core recipe belongs to opening chef Gary Mennie, but Mayo hit on the idea of a chile-spiked adaptation based on the kitchen staff's proclivity for spicy foods. She simmers crushed red-chile flakes in olive oil for 20 minutes, cools and then strains the mixture. The infused oil is brushed over dough about halfway through baking, imparting more flavor than heat. Finely minced shallots are scattered on the chile oil; in the oven, they crisp to add a slight caramelized sweetness to the finished product.

For the elasticity necessary to roll the dough paper-thin, high-gluten flour is used. Mayo says rosemary, chives or dill also make fitting accents to stir into the flour, but she chose thyme for its universal appeal. The chopped fresh herb is mixed into the dough to infuse its aromatic essence throughout.

While many top restaurants today buy fresh-baked bread from local bakeries, the house-made products crafted by Mayo and her team of three bakers serve as a point of pride and differentiation for Canoe. The bread is so popular that regular guests often ask to purchase their favorite varieties for dinner parties or to keep in their freezers, with the flatbread selling at $3 per sheet.

"Making our own bread also gives us the ability to switch things," Mayo says. "We can try out a new flavor and see how it goes with the guests."

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