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The Return of the Bread Basket

bread basket

This year, diners and restaurateurs are once again embracing the humble bread basket—so long as it’s stacked with quality carbs.

As Michael Pollan says in the TV adaptation of his book Cooked, “I would bet that if you took a dozen people who claimed gluten intolerance and you gave them Richard’s bread, they’d be fine.”

The bread in question is sourdough made by Massachusetts baker Richard Bourdon. To make his famous loaves, Bourdon employs a slow fermentation process that allows naturally occurring bacteria to break down gluten, making it easier to digest. It seems he is on to something: A 2010 study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found gluten- intolerant diners could handle naturally fermented sourdough even if other breads made them ill.

In Toronto, bread is front and centre at many of the city’s dining hotspots, including Alo, where executive chef Patrick Kriss has given it its own wine pairing. “We put a bread course on our tasting menu because there’s nothing better than bread and butter. It’s really nice to sit down and have a bread basket at the table, and restaurants don’t offer it as much as they used to.”

At some of the city’s longer-established restaurants, such as Nota Bene, patrons are discovering a love for quality sourdough. “There was a point where we were spending $40,000 a year on our bread basket, and half the time it was coming back to the kitchen uneaten,” says executive chef David Lee. “It was a ridiculous amount of money to be throwing away.” Instead of sacrificing quality to cut costs, Lee started asking clients if they would like bread with their meal.

He has found that avoiding gluten is still a concern for some diners, but more choose to regard Nota Bene’s bread basket as a delicious accoutrement. “I’m glad we didn’t sacrifice our artisanal sourdough. It’s made with a lot of time, love and care, and just like anything, customers can taste the difference.” -CM