Chef Mel, also known as ‘The Happy Chef’, made her name by making everyday dishes as fun and sexy to make as they are to eat. Now she’s tackling everyone’s favorite tangy, yeasty bread.
This month, in honor of Sourdough September — a celebration started in September of 2013 to encourage people to bake their own bread instead of buying it from supermarkets — she’s given bread loaves the love they deserve, making temperatures rise as she slices into perfectly crusty loaves.
The author of the International Book Award-winning Culinary Quickies, Chef Mel Alafaci has been passionate about cooking since childhood and has made it her professional mission to make food — and cooking — sexy, happy and fun.
To her, bread is just as delightful as more complicated and celebrated recipes. “Bread is sensational in every way. When you make bread, you have to knead it and work it with your bare hands; it needs humidity and time to rise, and it creates this wonderfully earthy aroma when the yeast in the starter reacts with the air and other ingredients. And, of course, in the end, you have warm, fresh bread. Smother it with butter and it’s definitely one of the world’s most pleasurable things to eat,” said Chef Mel.
Once the bread has cooled down, sourdough fans love how durable it is. If you love a hearty avocado toast or other bread-based delight, this loaf is able to hold heaps of toppings and make the sturdiest sandwiches. For a lunch or dinner accompaniment to any dish, serve with a whipped truffle/herb butter or a balsamic and extra virgin olive oil blend for dipping. Delish!
Cooking with Passion
Chef Mel recently expanded her business — which includes a virtual live cooking school in Australia, cookbooks, pop-up events, and a YouTube channel — to the US after getting a fantastic reception from American audiences at the events she has hosted here.
She has always been drawn to sharing her knowledge about food, eating, and cooking. Her style focuses on not only teaching fun, easy and impressive recipes but the importance of presentation and plating too. She likes to say that even the most delicious dish will get a lukewarm reaction when presented in a careless way.
Audiences love Chef Mel’s signature kitchen shortcuts, carefree cooking style, and sense of fun. She’s also one of the best pro chefs at explaining complicated food and cooking concepts in ways that even kitchen newbies understand.
For sourdough, that means teaching that sometimes it’s the simplest recipes that shine from using the highest-quality ingredients. “My style often lets inexpensive, simple ingredients get the grand presentation and shine in dishes. I love to celebrate foods like sweet potatoes or green peas. But, certain recipes do taste better with the highest quality stuff inside. So, the best flour you’ve got, a bit of great sourdough starter, and high-quality salt. I promise you, that bread will be a killer!” she said.
If you’re new to sourdough, the word ‘starter’ might be confusing. Unlike many loaves of bread, which use a bit of live yeast to rise, sourdough requires a starter. This mixture is often made of flour, water, and sugar left at room temperature to ferment for a few days or even a few weeks. This mixture can stay alive indefinitely as long as it is fed each week to keep it living and ready for all your bread-baking needs.
But the sourdough starter is used not only for loaves of bread but also as a base for all kinds of indulgent treats. For example, breakfast favorites including sourdough bagels, English muffins, and pancakes can use a sourdough starter. For snack time, you can create crackers, pretzels, or biscuits. And, when dinner rolls around, pizza dough and focaccia bread also employ a sourdough starter.
If your interest is now piqued by this trendy loaf with a history stretching back hundreds of years, here are a few more things you might not know about the bread.
Contrary to popular belief, sourdough is among the healthiest breads since it is one of the least processed. Its fermented starter also means the bread contains the precious prebiotics and probiotics that keep guts healthy.
Using these tips from Chef Mel, it’s easy to see why we should be eating — and baking — more bread, and joining Sourdough September is the perfect place to start.