Timing is everything for Greg Wade. After graduating from New Berlin West in 2006, he went to UW-Milwaukee for a year and a half. It wasn’t quite his thing, but by then he’d heard from a Chicago-based culinary school his mother had reached out to when he was looking at colleges. He found himself making bread whenever the opportunity arose. It became his passion project. 
He surrounded himself with people willing to support his bread baking goals, and his work at Girl and the Goat led to a larger role with Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality and a deep dive into bread baking with a focus on local grains and farmers. 
The recipient of a 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker, Wade now oversees production at Publican Quality Bread, which opened a 4,200-square-foot production facility with retail space in western Chicago in June. The facility produces all breads for One Off Hospitality and about 70 other restaurants and retailers in Chicagoland area. The retail facility and bakery, 1759 W. Grand Ave., Chicago, is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. 
Wade, the managing partner at Publican Quality Bread, shares his recipes in his first cookbook, “Bread Head: Baking for the Road Less Traveled,” written with Rachel Holtzman (W.W. Norton, $45), in stores Sept. 27. You’ll find recipes and lessons for long-fermented and hand-shaped breads, pastries and other delicious doughs with troubleshooting tips to make professional quality breads available at home.
Wade spoke with us by phone from the bakery in Chicago.
Question: What were your first baking experiences?
Answer: My mom was definitely an avid home cook, and she always had a passion for food. It was always very relevant. She was always making sure we were eating things at home and not out. 
My baking experience started when I was 4, 5, 6. My grandmother on my mom’s side would baby-sit. She’d bake cookies and easy cakes. We started baking cookies when my parents were out. They’d come home and there would be little flour and prints on the cabinets. My parents would pretend to be mad. Oh, I got flour everywhere. That never changed. 
As I got older, my dad was looking for a way to connect. I was about 12 or 13, and we had my grandmother’s old bread machine. She had passed by that point. My dad grew up eating rye bread with butter, toasted with cheese. Let’s try making rye bread. 
Q: How did those experiences bring you to a baking career?
A: I thought I’d go and become a German teacher. My mom when I was first looking at colleges, she signed me up to get a call from a culinary school down here (in Chicago). … I go to UW-Milwaukee for about a year and a half, realize it is not what I want. Right around that time the culinary school called …
I was going to culinary school and excited, going for the savory program, but I always had this passion for bread and baking. Even having that passion, I only took one baking and pastry class, and that was muffins and pastries, not bread. But I’d go to these skill labs with free kitchen time where you can work on things. I’d go and make bread and other things. If there was bread to make in world cuisine or other classes, I’d do it.
I got a job at a place called Taxim, doing line cooking and pastry. I met the chef de cuisine, and he was going to Girl and (the) Goat with Stephanie Izard. He brought me along as part of the opening team to make bread full time….
Being able to dive into different techniques, skills and flavors, it was a great area for me to grow. They built Little Goat, I ran that bakery for a while, but my heart was more into natural fermentation sourdough and whole grains….
I was getting more into the wholesome natural thing with local farms and whole grains. The future of American bread is in this style. I heard through an old culinary instructor that Paul Kahan (Blackbird, avec and Publican) was opening this wholesale bakery. I interviewed very briefly with Paul. It was “Do you know what food cost is? I’ve had your bread and it is tasty. What do you want to do?”
Q: What are the necessities and tools for making good bread?
A: I suggest investing in a nice baking pan. I’m personally an ambassador for the Challenger bread pan, a heavy-duty cast-iron pan made in America and built for the purpose of making bread. It has a shallow base with a domed top and nice handles. Aside from that it would be a La Cloche clay baker or a Dutch oven or something like that.… For bread baking, that’s the one piece of equipment you need. 
Q: What do we really need to know to buy better flour?
A: I actually provide a number of resources in the book for being able to research in your own area. The Challenger breadware website keeps a pretty up to date catalog of where you can get stone-milled local organic flours, so does Artisan Grain Collaborative. I was a founding member of and part of the steering committee there for three years.…
Janie’s Mill, who we use for most everything, they ship nationwide. Bob’s Red Mill is pretty stand-up. There are brands that are still better than your bleached and bromated flour off the shelf. 
Q: Why not use standard bread flour or all-purpose flour?
A: The performance you get out of the other flours is going to be consistent and desirable. The reason you would not want to use these other flours is mainly because of health and environmental issues.
The integrity for me is not there, and that is important. There’s a big section in the book devoted to that. It comes down to growing processes and and processing, all of which involves chemicals and bleaching. It is not over the counter clean your table bleach, but it is bleach, and there is not particularly a great reason for it I think…
The important thing to note, if the only thing you can possibly get is off the shelf bleached flour, you are still going to get a better healthier loaf of bread if you make it yourself and you ferment it. The fermentation breaks down a lot of the complex sugars in the flour. 
Q: What do people need to know about fermentation and bread making?
A: The key is to not get frustrated and to really be patient with yourself and the starter and your dough. Really be OK with finding your top and bottom limits. Purposely let the dough go where you think is too far … 
From there, your two controllables with fermentation are time and temperature. So many people when they start making bread, they say the recipe says do this for two hours and then do this. They may have the time right but not the temperature. If your environment is warmer the dough will ferment more quickly, if it is cooler the dough will take more time …
I did a significant amount of learning doing side by side comparisons. I’d make one big batch of dough and divide it into three. I’d shape one after two hours, one after four, and one after eight. Notice the amount of air and how it is behaving and the end result. I do provide templates in the book. 
Q: What is your bestselling bread?
A: The sourdough. Spence Sourdough, named after the farm we get most of our grain from. The one I always take home is a toasted sesame loaf of bread. 
Q: You use Kallas Honey from Milwaukee? 
A: We’ve got a purveyor and importer down here, Tardella Foods. I just told them these are the things I want to bring in and I want to source local and close to home as possible, support the right people. They brought in Kallas Wisconsin honey.  
Q: Can we find your Publican breads anywhere in Wisconsin? 
A: We do sell to Produce with Purpose (which does deliveries to Milwaukee, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Fox Cities). He’s got an online portal producewithpurpose.com.
More:With family recipes, cookbook author tries to bring attention to Midwestern food
Table Chat features interviews with Wisconsinites, or Wisconsin natives, who work in restaurants or support the restaurant industry; or visiting chefs. To suggest individuals to profile, email psullivan@gannett.com.

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