People who follow my writing (or actually follow me on Facebook or Twitter) know that I eat very well. Because of that, there are very few dinners that I would be upset to miss. The annual pairing of Chef Ciril Hitz, world-renowned baker and department chair of the International Baking and Pastry Institute at Johnson and Wales University, and Gracie’s Executive Chef Matthew Varga is something I put on my personal calendar as soon as a date is announced. It’s honestly that good. The past two years have brought us dishes involving perfectly fire-roasted lamb saddle and beautifully baked vegetables just-kissed with smoke. Then there’s the bread. It should go without saying that one of the best bakers in the world makes some delicious yeasty, wood-baked bread. For the past two Star Chefs dinners Hitz spent the day before and morning of baking scores of several kinds of rolls and loaves. Diners even got to take some home at the end of the night—a highlight that my wife Brenda treasured almost more than the meal itself.
Hitz is also as good a teacher as he is a baker, my own experience being that I never baked bread as good as I could until I learned about it from Ciril. He has two books, Baking Artisan Breads and Baking Artisan Pastries & Breads and teaches classes outside of J&W University at his home in Rehoboth. For his Star Chefs dinners at Gracie’s Hitz brings a mobile wood-fired oven with him and parks it outside the restaurant to prepare the dishes that he and Chef Varga develop together. I’ve become friendly with Hitz as well as many of the staff at Gracie’s, but I’m not exaggerating to say it will be one extraordinary dinner on August 8.
Below are a few of the many photos I’ve made with Chef Hitz over the last few years. Following the photos is the full press release for the Star Chefs dinner. I hope to see you there.
Ciril Hitz, renowned baker and department chair of the International Baking and Pastry Institute at Johnson and Wales University, returns to Gracie’s on Monday, August 8, to partake in the restaurant’s Star Chef Series. Working closely with Gracie’s Executive Chef Matthew Varga, Hitz will deliver unique and savory dishes cooked to perfection in his wood-fired oven.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Hitz has had his award-winning artisan bread and pastry featured on The Today Show and The Food Network and has been nationally and internationally recognized for his mastery of the art of baking. As he typically does when he is baking away from his kitchen, Ciril will bring his wood-fired oven to Gracie’s for the August 8 Star Chef dinner. He will set it up just outside of Gracie’s and cook in the open air, creating dishes with sumptuous, smoky flavors.
Ellen Gracyalny, owner of Gracie’s, eagerly awaits Hitz’s return. “We are so very lucky to have Ciril return to Gracie’s for a third time. He and Matt have developed a strong rapport and have really hit a groove with respect to collaborating on a meal. The fact that Ciril brings his own wood-fired oven to Gracie’s to stay true to his craft is especially exciting and is something that all of our guests get to enjoy.”
Now in its third year, the Star Chef Series combines the talents of extraordinary chefs from across the country with the Gracie’s team. Under direction from Varga, the Star Chef and the Gracie’s team craft an exceptional five-course menu that is expertly paired with wine. The informal and intimate format of Gracie’s Star Chef dinners allow the chefs to step away from the kitchen from time to time and talk with guests about the meal and their experience.
“This year’s event with Ciril is a terrific opportunity for diners to experience the lost art of breadmaking and the unique dishes that we can create in his wood-fired stove,” explained Varga. “The aroma of slow roasted dishes is quite intoxicating and our diners, along with many of our neighbors in Providence, will get to see, smell and taste Ciril’s exceptional work. “I’m also excited that Ciril is bringing his Swiss background to the dinner,” Varga added. “He’ll be incorporating Rillette Cheese into this Star Chef dinner.”
Although the full menu is not announced until the night of the event, Varga has released a sneak peek of the first two courses. Heirloom Tomato Tart will begin the meal, prepared with wood-roasted onions, mozzarella and garden basil. Smoked Duck Ham will follow, offering fig mostarda, spicy greens and a pretzel roll.
The cost for each five-course dinner (paired with wine) is $100. To learn more or to make a reservation (number of participants is limited), visit www.graciesprov.com or call 401-272-7811.