A new challenger in the Big Apple’s neverending pizza wars is not only making its own pies, breads and pastas — but also grinding up artisanal, “ancient” grains to make the flour that goes into them, Side Dish has learned.
Heritage Restaurant & Pizza Bar near Bryant Park plans to use ancient grains milled at its adjacent Heritage Grand Bakery to create wood-fired pizzas, pastas and breads served with other menu items.
“Their taste is completely different,” Heritage Grand Bakery’s CEO Lou Ramirez told Side Dish. “You don’t feel filled up.”
Ramirez partnered with Luc Boulet, a fourth-generation bread artisan from France, and Alex Garese, founder of the Wolkonsky Bakery chain in Russia and Ukraine to open Heritage Grand Bakery last December.
The new 3,000 square-foot restaurant at 8 West 40th St. – set to open Wednesday – shares the same address as the bakery, which has a modest eight seats. The restaurant and pizza bar will have room for 120 people, plus 60 additional seats in a private dining room.
The ancient and heritage grains come from the south of France, Belgium — and upstate New York’s Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners.
“Ancient grains make everything so much fresher, unadulterated, with no additives. “They are not genetically modified and have only two or three chromosones — compared to others that have 23 to 25 chromosones,” Ramirez said.
With biblical sounding names like emmer, teff and amanith, the grains have “15,000- to 20,000-year-old lineages” said Ramirez, who was previously a partner in Maison Kayser, Fig & Olive and president of Le Pain Quotidien.
Grand Heritage Bakery’s executive head baker Mark Fiorentino, previously the Chef Boulenger at Daniel, trained outside Brussels to learn how to work with the ancient grains.
“Ancient grains are very different from multi-purpose flour. It’s very difficult to work with. Unlike flour you get from big mills that has been fortified and has different additives, these grains are different every time, depending on the soil and climate and weather, so we are constantly tweaking the recipes to create great breads,” Ramirez said.
Boulet added that ancestral bread-making techniques “allow the dough and bread to grow like all living organisms.”
That gives the pizza crusts a “deeper, richer flavor and color than white flour,” Boulet said.
And as a bonus, it doesn’t leave a bloated feeling like pizzas made from white bread.
“The ancient grain flour enables the pizza to be produced with a thinner crust since the dough is more elastic, so it is able to keep its original shape better,” Ramirez explained. “This thin crust pizza doesn’t make you full like other pizzas. You are able to taste the flavor of the dough along with all the ingredients since the crust is not overpowering.”
The bakery is starting with an ancient grain called European Population as well as a rye from upstate. The ancient grains einkorn and spelt will be next, Boulet added.
The milling is done in a closed off room — as it is noisy and messy — that is partly visible from the bakery. The metal, wood and stone machine is over 5 feet tall and the stones are about 18 inches in diameter. The machine shakes the grains, which fall into a funnel tube and the stones separates the grains, resulting in flour that is then sifted.
‘The milling process is very slow, so you get the most nutrition out of the grain,” Boulet said, adding that a 50-pound bag of grains will create around 40 to 45 pounds of flour.
The lack of additives makes the breads easier to digest, and popular with those who seek a gluten-free diet.
“We get the stocks, the seeds, and we mill on site. It’s very specific and sustainable, with no pesticides. Other crops are grown around the fields to keep the insects away,” Ramirez said.
While milling on site is not yet a trend, Heritage Grand Bakery is in good company. Micheline-starred chef Ignacio Mattos is also using the age-old technique at Rockefeller Center’s Lodi.
Restaurant & Pizza Bar’s Patricia Joseph worked with interior designer Silvia Zofio of SZprojects and lighting designer Hervé Descottes of L’Observatoire International “to create a Mediterranean oasis” in one of the city’s busiest areas.
The design includes reclaimed 200 year-old wood beams, stone arches and gray stone from a mountain in Ontario, Canada, along with Venetian plaster and Balinese furniture.
The bakery group is now looking to buy farms to make their own grains in places like Vermont and Connecticut, Ramirez said.
A multi-lingual talent head, Allen is fluent in languages such as Spanish, Russian, Italian, and many more. He has a special curiosity for the events and stories revolving in and around US and caters an uncompromising form of journalistic standard for the audiences.