The Importance of Butter: Some Chefs Make Their Own
Some might argue that the integrity of a restaurant can be measured by the quality of its bread and butter. At the best restaurants, bread and butter isn't just a hunger staver--it should present an enticing prelude to a meal, an important first impression. At Marché, Anisette and Palate, butter is handmade. Octavio Becerra uses cream from Straus Family Creamery, and the butter is garnished with sliced radishes and parsley stems. At Suzanne Goin's restaurants, tables are decorated with classic French butter, from Provista, a distributor in Oregon. Church and State gets its butter from a local supplier downtown, but for a few extra bucks you'll get an order of AOC Butter imported from France.
If you ask Gary Menes, executive chef at Marché, he prefers his bread hot and his butter cold. "We care deeply for our butter," says Menes. "Even though it's an amenity." At the Sherman Oaks restaurant, butter-making is part of the restaurant's daily routine -- a seemingly natural process, the restaurant breathing. "If we start making the butter Monday, it's done by Friday or Saturday," explains Menes who makes both fresh and live culture European-style butter. He typically uses Straus' organic pasteurized cream, but sometimes he works with Organic Pastures' raw cream, which Menes describes as "not as predictable, because it's not pasteurized."
Cultured butter takes two days to cure, and one day to solidify in the fridge. Once solid, the mixture is churned and buttermilk is extracted from the solid. Menes then washes it, wraps it in cheesecloth, and hangs it in the fridge. When finished, the butter is salted with fleur de sel. The butter has a definite tang -- a result of the bacteria that once protected butter from spoilage before refrigeration. The fresh, house-churned butter is a luxury for diners, and the restaurant could easily serve up someone else's European-style spread, but Menes makes use of all scraps (buttermilk is reserved for chicken breasts). When asked whether or not diners notice a difference between handmade and store-bought butter, Menes says they often ask for more.
Although Matt Dugan, GM at Lucques, prefers not to disclose the amount of butter consumed at his restaurant each week ("Are you kidding? People will faint!"), Menes admits that Marché goes through 10-20 pounds. Menes' lair may be the last place churning and churning in the widening gyre of Ventura Blvd., and the recent news of its closing means the words "local butter" no longer belong in the San Fernando Valley. Luckily, without too much effort, you can make your own.