“There is a reinvention of things around the world and food is one of them,” says Mr. Dough-It-All Dean Brettschneider, a multi-hyphenate of global baker, TV personality, entrepreneur and author. On our ravenous, pizza-scarfing Little Red Dot where pies by Mario Batali and New York institution Motorino co-exist with great styles from Neapolitan to molecular gastronomy, there’s still room for their sourdough kin, which has just fired up its oven at Plank Sourdough Pizza in Siglap on the East Coast.
Plank (based on a loose translation of Brettschneider to “cutting wood”) is his deliberate move to set up Singapore’s first sourdough pizza parlour – also his first such restaurant – after successfully entrenching Baker & Cook bakery-cafés and their alluring aromas in bucolic neighbourhoods such as Greenwood Avenue and Chip Bee Gardens. That Plank’s sleepy, laid-back Opera Estate surroundings immediately felt right (“If I hadn’t found this site I would still be looking for this site,” says Brettschneider) is testament to the baker’s folksy, artisan approach to his craft and the Plank philosophy.
“People in business forget about neighbourhoods,” Brettschneider said. “People need dinner after they get home from work and we have a vested interested in taking care of people.”
And if by taking care Brettschneider means fermenting white and wholemeal flour with wild yeast for 48 hours at 4C, looking after it “like a child,” then you’re in the right hands. The foundation of six main pies, from the classic Margherita gussied up with a sparkling splay of caramelised garlic to the trophy case pulled chicken with camembert and cranberry compote, a garlic pesto bread appetiser and also two desserts, the Plank sourdough is pillowy, bubbled in myriad shades of pleasing char and laced with an unassuming tang that you’ll now miss in regular pizzas. In other words, you want to be snuggled within this crust comforter and eat your way out of it.
As long as it takes the sourdough to enliven, popping it in and out of the Valoriani oven is a mere 2.5-minute maneuver, but also the trickiest.
“It’s all about oven management,” explains Brettschneider of the 1.2-metre tall brick kiln he personally shopped for in Florence and brought back to its new home. At almost 400C, five to six pies can be baked at a time, but all have to be constantly rotated with the deftest of hands and sturdiest forearms so they are evenly cooked. There is no standard operating procedure for this – the pizzaiolo goes by feel, experience and a gut instinct for knowing when his dough babies have come around. Suffice it to say that pre-opening, a lot of Plank pizzas have gone up in flames before coming full perfect circle to your table.
Once upon a time, pizza was invented as a lowly vessel for transporting tasty ingredients from hand to mouth while on the go, a barely edible plate to facilitate moveable feasts. The crust was secondary, a means to an end. At Plank, take the menu’s advice and live on the edge, because this crust is built to last: douse scraps of it in the beautiful olive oil and chilli-infused olive oil on the table. Its hardy fluff houses aromas that waft about your nose as you airplane it into your mouth, and with each chew, more fragrances and flavours continue to emanate and envelope the palate.
The light, fresh toppings are a great foil, keeping the entire chomp you’ve taken just right, without the unnecessary heft of grease or sodium to set off gut bombs. Ingredients and crust play off each other like the Rockettes, a spectacle of symmetry where there’s no mis-step, no one ingredient out of place. It’s lithe, energetic and a very, very happy place. It has been tried and proven that your long workout the next morning after fueling up at Plank will be a great triumph!
All that’s left to do is enjoy yourself as if at home, and if you’ve ever suspected that Kiwis (Brettschneider was born in New Zealand, where he also apprenticed) are some of the nicest people on earth, Plank will confirm it. Simple substitutions are allowed and although the single red and white wine options are as refreshing and delightful as one would expect a holiday in The Shire to be, BYOB is welcome. (In fact, so is bringing your own wine glasses – “Should be like that, right?” Brettschneider muses. “As long as they don’t bring their own pizza.”)
Although take-out is available, there’s absolutely no reason not to enjoy Plank on its home ground. “Everyone keeps thanking us for being here,” Brettschneider insists, “but we should be thanking them for letting us be here.”