Interview with James Beard Award Finalist Ken Forkish, Revolutionizing Portland’s Bread Game

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This baker’s second cookbook, The Elements of Pizza, was published in April
Ken Forkish

Ken Forkish

Forkish owns three Portland restaurants and his second book published in April. 

He’s a restaurateur, a baker, and an author living and working in Portland, OR. That’s what I call the culinary triple threat. His name is Ken Forkish and his resume is beyond impressive, first founding Ken’s Artisan Bakery in 2001, then Ken’s Artisan Pizza in in 2006. For Act II, Forkish authored Flour Water Salt Yeast in 2012 and opened Trifecta Tavern & Bakery in 2013, when he was also a finalist for the James Beard Award “Outstanding Pastry Chef.” In April, he published his second book, The Elements of Pizza. We sat down with Forkish to discuss the magic of pizza and homemade bread as well as his favorite menu items at his restaurants.

The Daily Meal: From where did your love of all things culinary develop?
Ken Forkish:
Primarily thanks to the good cooking from my mom and grandma. The trips to Europe have also been a factor. 

What would you say is your overarching food philosophy?  
Simple is key. Great ingredients and proper method equals great food. 

Can you tell readers a bit about the inspiration behind your menus and what you are hoping to achieve with their offerings? 
The things that really drive me are simple and iconic foods, as well as they can be done. A perfect croissant, a steak, a burger, a pizza—these are ideals I strive for with my bakeries and restaurants.

What do guests tell you they love the most about your restaurants, menus, and food? 
That they'll be back! That the food is as flavorful and well made. Guests also comment on the ambiance and level of comfort at my restaurants. I really wanted my restaurants to be places I'd enjoy spending time as a guest, with great food, friendly and professional staff, and a generally happy atmosphere, where guests leave with a smile on their faces. 

What are some of your personal favorite menu items at each restaurant?
At the pizzeria, I love our roasted vegetable plate, which varies depending on what our farmers bring in on a given day. As far as pizzas go, the Arrabbiata (tomato sauce, Calabrian chiles, mozzarella and basil—simple and perfect) is my go-to. At Trifecta, I am very partial to the breads from our adjoining bakery, anything with oysters and our classic martini from our talented bar manager. One of out signature dishes is the Ham and Hot Rolls: a great combination of American ham, house-made rolls, honey, house-made butter and four oysters. Is there anything better than that? At my bakery, the 3-kilo Blonde Boule, our new Raspberry Rose Croissant, our seasonal fruit-filled macarons, and the Croissant Tuna Sandwich are some of my recent favorites. 

What are some of your favorite ingredients and/or cooking styles to experiment with right now?
I'm all about pizza right now. Made with the best mozzarella and tomatoes. And a pretty freaky and awesome pizza dough, which most people forget and is hard to nail down. 

Why do you think sharing food with others is so important in our culture?
I'm not too analytical about pleasure. The pleasure of great food, great drink, great company, in a great place is what drives me. 

How do you explain our national obsession with pizza?
That there is so much to learn about it! In my upcoming book The Elements of Pizza, I write a lot about the new generation of pizzaiolos in both the United States and Italy who are honoring pizza tradition, but also going beyond tradition to make something that's their own and truly special. It's ever-evolving.  

What do you think the magic is when it comes to homemade bread? Both making it and why people adore it.
Long slow fermentation, as I describe in my book Flour Water Salt Yeast. Even bread that's not really awesome smells great when it's baking. That's part of the magic. It's ethereal.  

Anything else you’d like to share with readers about Trifecta and Ken’s Artisan Pizza?It was very important to me when I opened Trifecta that the kitchen, bakery and bar were all-star. It was a financially difficult proposition to staff this trio of restaurant elements with the greatest talent I could find, but I couldn't see doing it any other way. Weak links aren't really possible in a competitive restaurant market like Portland, and I'm very proud of what we've achieved at Trifecta. 

The pizzeria was born out of the popularity of Monday Night Pizza at Ken's Artisan Bakery some ten years ago. It's been very rewarding to see Ken's Artisan Pizza evolve and continue to improve areas that might seem subtle to some (striving for a better tomato sauce with the best Italian tomatoes, making our own mozzarella, etc.) but are monumental to me as a pizza maker.

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