Please help settle a disagreement

valvanite's picture
hey guys, My name is valvanite/reece and ive been a chef for close to 10 years, At this current time im 25 and have been head chef in a very large entertainment centre in NZ for the last 10 months.

Ive done a lot of diff aspects of cooking, A la carte, pastry, bakery and all the rest, and im glad to now have kitchen staff and a menu of my own.

Problem i have is that i have a student chef whos currently working part time in my kitchen, and hes starting to piss me off with his "textbook" ways of doing things and what hes learnt at tech.

not that i mind to be honest, as i dont have 100% of my time to allocate to him to teach him, But im starting to get sick of him starting arguments in the kitchen with the other "experienced, qualified" chefs because there is a HUGE difference between school and the real world of commercial kitchens. and i believe that 70% of what hes learnt at school will not apply once he starts doing the rounds of kitchens in his career.

anyway... the problem im having at the mo is the sourdough argument. Im currently using whats called " a bug" in my kitchen,  what i believe to be a sourdough sponge that i use for my pizza dough, as it gives me instant dough with strong gluten and great elasticity for my pizza dough, It also gives a very crispy, and strong finished product.  It has been growing now since the 20th of June, being topped up and fed daily, and boy o boy does it have strong fumes!!

My bug consists of a kilo of fresh yeast, warm water, flour and a small amount of sugar to begin feeding it.

My polytech student argues with me that this is not correct and i should be making my sourdough with "grapes wrapped in muslin"

so whos right? as i dont want to seem indescisive as his boss, I want to be his practical teacher and let him know that im a fouintain of knowledge and that he will learn more failsafe practical kitchen skills from me than he ever will at school.

Would love help from baking pros, as i feel that even though there are very many diff variations of a sourdough or mother sponge or "bug" But i want to know wether whos right or that we are both right.

thanks in advance,. Reece
175 users have voted.


TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 July 21
Uhm...I'm not a pro, nor have I made my own starter...I thought I'd fill in by pointing you to a good place to start, which is:

1. Dom's tutorial on making a starter from scratch

2. If that hasn't convinced you, check out Dom's experiment with different ways of making a starter.

Note: No baker's yeast (fresh, dried or instant) :P


PaddyL 2008 July 21
I tried a starter with grapes and almost went broke feeding it.  Since then, I've tried various methods, including ones with commercial yeast, and after awhile I think that commercial yeast dies out, can't live long in an acidic environment, or something like that.  I've got a buttermilk starter which had yeast added to it in the beginning, four months ago, and I've also got a very active starter that is simply flour and water which was begun around the same time.  I think you should tell your student that there's more than one way to begin a starter, and that working in a bakery, it's possible for you to have slightly more control using some commercial yeast in your sourdough.  He's there to learn from you, an experienced baker, not to teach you, though there's always more to learn when you're baking.
valvanite's picture
valvanite 2008 July 21
oh nice thanks guys, yeah i was taught by an old sous chef as to how to make this type of bug.

ill have a look at that tutuorial and make onc eand see how it goes,

we dont have many bakery tools in the kitchen , but we do have a stone bottom pizza oven, so that could produce some great breads..

thanks for the help though, Id love more opionions on the matter as well, so keep em coming!
Jeremy's picture
Jeremy 2008 July 21
Hi I am also a chef, and a home baker, kids in school well, that is a problem!
But I think a bug is what it is, squash it!
Seriously though, try looking at this page, he is a pizza guru and knows NY Napolitano pizze
And one thing I know, you can't have a Mr. Christain type telling other cooks different, a kitchen isn't a democracy it's that last feudal workplace!
Remind him that there is a pecking order and your the head rooster.
celia's picture
celia 2008 July 21

Hi Reece!

I think everyone's beating around the bush a bit, but...

The diehards here will say that any starter that has commercial yeast in it isn't real "sourdough".  There has been quite a lot of discussion amongst the "serious" bakers re defining exactly what consistutes sourdough, and the big thing is always the absence of commercial yeast.

That doesn't take anything away from your starter, or your pizza, both of which I'm sure work magnificently.  I'm not making any judgment calls here, because I bake with both yeast and sourdough starters.  And I purchased my sourdough starter from the States, so I've never gone through the process of making one.  Jezza will be able to correct me if I'm wrong here, but I think what you call a "bug" is what the Italians call a "biga".

I'm inclined to agree with the others, though, and I reckon you should put your smart-arsed rookie on washing up detail. :)
Panevino 2008 July 21
I worked with a chef once who used to throw sauce pans at people who disagreed with him.  Just a thought (laughing).


valvanite's picture
valvanite 2008 July 21
haha thanks, yeah ill check out his dough, the only reason im using the bug is because it gives such a stretch to my pizza dough with a very strong gluten content.

he does dishes anyway, theres surely plenty he doesnt know, and even though yes hes smartarsed, its my job to do two things...

teach him the best way i know how, how my teachers have taught me,
and to take the piss out of him at every opp!!!! as shit rolls downhill haha

and to panevino, yeah ive worked for chefs like that as wlel, ive had a few pans thrown at me as well, those were the days of the 90's!!

cant do that in NZ anymore, kitchens are so PC here
valvanite's picture
valvanite 2008 July 23
thanks for your reply.

im in  wellington at the mo, Im not an artisian or sourdough bakery per say, i just use a sourdough sponge as a starter for my pizza doughs. as its developed leavening gives me an instant ready to use dough and its strong strands make for great stretch..

come by anyway and try one of my pizzas, Ive been told that they are better than what they had in Italy, That tells me two things... Either my pizzas are super awsome, Or Italy have dropped there standards substabtially!!!

i would vote on the latter to be honest, but thats cause i dont rate myself all that highly, Im just a chef with a few years experience.

Fire Beard's picture
Fire Beard 2008 July 29

"My bug consists of a kilo of fresh yeast, warm water, flour and a small amount of sugar to begin feeding it. "


What you have made sounds like "biga."

If you want to learn about sourdough here are some links to people who can say it better then I can.

Sourdough Bread…the real thing


Glossary of Baking terms

Edit: Links linked by TP ;)

Justin's picture
Justin 2008 July 29
Sorry to say that if its got commercial yeast in it its not a sourdough. Of course the yeast is why you get the consistency you like. However you can tell your apprentice that you dont need grapes or muslin to make a sour starter, the wild yeasts and bacteria are already present in the flour.
valvanite's picture
valvanite 2008 July 29
ahh well,. doesnt bother me to much anymore, i dont even call it one anymore, I just ask to get them to make a pizza dough batch, they know needs to be done and get onto it.

and yeah, if 1kg blocks of fresh compressed yeast is commercial, then thats whats in it. They give the stuff away at local breweries
Danubian's picture
Danubian 2008 July 29
[quote=Justin]Sorry to say that if its got commercial yeast in it its not a sourdough. Of course the yeast is why you get the consistency you like. However you can tell your apprentice that you dont need grapes or muslin to make a sour starter, the wild yeasts and bacteria are already present in the flour.

Quite correct, Justin.

Fire Beard has some good links there too.
vxpowers 2008 August 17
You seem to be too soft on your student, If he or she is so intent on pestering you with every little useless fact, (afterall does he/she do this during service?) fire their ass as life and service is tooo short to be really putting up with a knowall and I beleive your passion for cooking could be effected, as simple as that.:?

ps;I couldn't eat at your restaurant with the faint hum and atmosphere of knowalleywhinging.;)

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