Newly-Opened Nopa Works To Perfect The Bialy (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Newly-Opened Nopa Works To Perfect The Bialy

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week we're taking a break from our usual thematic approach to the show, and, instead, we're bringing you a hodgepodge of stories about this, that, and everything in between, really, here in D.C. region. In just a bit, we'll meet a woman who credits her Persian roots for making her a champion of a highly competitive sport you may remember from middle school, and we'll go head to head with her on the court.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:33
But first, to get ourselves ready for that challenge, we probably should fuel up, right? Which brings us to a new restaurant in D.C.'s Penn Quarter neighborhood. All right, here we are at Nopa. Nopa Kitchen and Bar. And helping us to get our carbo load on is Nopa's executive chef Greg McCarty.

MR. GREG MCCARTY

00:00:50
How are you?

SHEIR

00:00:51
Hi. How are you?

MCCARTY

00:00:51
I'm well, thanks. Nice to see you.

SHEIR

00:00:53
Good to see you. And pastry chef Jemil Gadea.

MCCARTY

00:00:56
Jemil, this is Rebecca. Rebecca, this is Jemil.

SHEIR

00:00:59
Hi, nice to meet you. Nopa opened in May, but just started serving brunch this week. And the menu features a type of treat you don't see much of in the District. A crispy, crusty, chewy, doughy roll known as a bialy. For people who don't know what a bialy is, can you describe it?

MCCARTY

00:01:15
It's from Poland: Bialystok. And it's very similar to a bagel, I find. It doesn't have the traditional hole that goes all the way through in the center. It's got, you know, the onions and poppy seed in the center. Sometimes it comes with toast with garlic, as well, which we've played around with. The onions with the fresh thyme and poppy seeds just won over.

SHEIR

00:01:35
Now, chef Greg McCarty is fairly new in town.

MCCARTY

00:01:37
Just moved from New York to open Nopa Kitchen and Bar.

SHEIR

00:01:41
And back in Manhattan, he was pretty much a bialy fiend.

MCCARTY

00:01:44
A bialy was my pick, and if I couldn't get down to Kossar's on the Lower East Side, I went to Tal Bagels on the Upper East Side, where my apartment was, and got them there.

SHEIR

00:01:54
But once he moved to Washington, he wanted bialys here, and ever the culinary adventurer, he wanted to make them himself. And that's where pastry chef Jemil Gadea comes in.

SHEIR

00:02:03
Did you know much about bialys before baking them here?

MS. JEMIL GADEA

00:02:05
No. I've never actually even been to New York and eaten the proper, like, you know, talking to Chef about making bialys, and oh my God, that's such a New York thing. Everybody in the restaurant was excited about it. And I was like, oh my God, now I gotta really -- pressure's on. I gotta nail this.

SHEIR

00:02:23
First step, says Greg McCarty, was to give his pastry chef a firsthand taste of those New York bialys.

MCCARTY

00:02:29
I FedEx'd a bunch from Kossar's in New York, on the Lower East Side, so we could try to mimic them as best we could.

SHEIR

00:02:35
The key was to capture that same crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside je ne sais quoi that makes a bialy, well, a bialy.

MCCARTY

00:02:43
Because, let's be honest, a bialy is about history, so we wanted to pay respect.

SHEIR

00:02:46
But at the same time, McCarty says, they were also trying to make their bialys very much their own.

MCCARTY

00:02:52
We played around with leeks, I said we played around with garlic, and we played around with a lot of different flavorings. We also wanted some of that onion and herb flavor to go throughout the bialy, whereas sometimes a lot of bialys that you get, it's just in the center, you get the onion filling. I thought it would be great if we could have a little bit of the onion filling dispersed throughout the bialy itself.

SHEIR

00:03:12
So, Jemil Gadea would tinker together one recipe.

GADEA

00:03:15
Every day, just constantly, Chef, what do you think? Ok, Chef, what do you think? Chef, what do you think?

SHEIR

00:03:21
And then another.

GADEA

00:03:21
It's not right. It's not right. It's not right. It's not right.

SHEIR

00:03:24
Until finally, says Chef Greg McCarty...

MCCARTY

00:03:25
We're probably 99% of the way there. You're never gonna reach perfection, but it's pretty close.

SHEIR

00:03:31
The recipe Jemil Gadea eventually lit upon is actually pretty simple, though, like a bialy, with its onions and poppy seeds, it's also filled with nuance.

MCCARTY

00:03:39
So, we start out with our pre-ferment, which, we use a natural starter, and just build that up to a poolish. Poolish refers to the typical type of starter from Poland, so it's equal parts water, flour and starter.

SHEIR

00:03:54
You mix those three together.

MCCARTY

00:03:56
Leave it to ferment for four hours.

SHEIR

00:03:58
And once the mixture has developed a nice volume and lightness, you add in...

MCCARTY

00:04:01
The rest of the flour.

SHEIR

00:04:02
A little bit of salt.

MCCARTY

00:04:03
And a little bit of poppy seeds, a little bit of sweated onions and chives.

SHEIR

00:04:07
Then you mix all that together. After a few minutes, you remove the dough from the mixer, portion out however many bialys you want to make.

MCCARTY

00:04:15
And start the shaping process, which, it is a process. Just kind of like, stretching pizza dough. It's tough to do it all in one shot. You're gonna do it a little bit, and then let it rest for five, ten minutes, stretch it a little bit more. Otherwise, what happens when you put them in the oven, all that beautiful onion and poppy seed filling just gets swallowed up. The center just disappears.

SHEIR

00:04:35
After the stretching, you dab on that filling, and then you bake the bialys in the oven. Though, traditionally, says Greg McCarty, you use an actual bialy oven, which Nopa doesn't have.

MCCARTY

00:04:45
We don't have, you know, 100% of the tools that you need, but with our cast iron pans and the ovens we do have, we come pretty close.

SHEIR

00:04:51
And, again, it's all part of the Nopa crew putting their own spin on things, while paying respect to the past. And as a D.C. newcomer, McCarty says it's been a delicious nod to his own past back in New York.

MCCARTY

00:05:02
You know, because everybody wants a little piece of home, no matter where you are.

SHEIR

00:05:20
To see photos of Nopa's bialy, and to get your hands on a recipe for the doughy treat, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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