Visiting chef leaves a gift of spicy artisanal crackers

Times Staff Writer

IT’S a beautifully flamboyant cracker -- a big square of a cracker, almost the size of a sheet of paper, topped with swaths of white sesame seeds, fiery-russet Japanese shichimi pepper and black-green nori powder. And it’s elegant too -- thin and super-crisp and light.

This dashing cracker, based on L.A. bakery Breadbar’s lavash, sprang out of a collaboration between chef Noriyuki Sugie and Breadbar head baker Nicolas Lauge. Sugie, formerly of Tetsuya in Sydney and Asiate in New York, created the crudo menu for Breadbar that is being served until mid-July (Sugie was a guest chef until May 15 but will continue to consult on the menu) -- dishes such as yellowtail with grated lemon grass, hijiki and hibiscus ponzu, or cherry leaf-cured Tai snapper with green papaya, pomelo salad and cherry blossom emulsion.

Sugie, who is working on opening a San Francisco ryokan (a Japanese inn) that will be a forum for dining events, is a man of many details. As guest chef at Breadbar, he brought his own sommelier, his own DJ and his own tableware, which he designed for a Japanese china company. “I like paying attention to the little things, I like designing everything,” Sugie says. Including crackers. “I wanted something light, with a lot of flavor and texture. I like the cracking, the touching, the sound” of it when you break off a piece.

He calls nori powder (finely ground seaweed) and shichimi (a “seven flavor” blend of ground chile pepper, orange peel, sesame seed, poppy seed, hemp seed, nori and sansho pepper) his “secret ingredients” -- mixing nori powder with salt or mayonnaise or mashed potatoes, adding a little shichimi to a beurre blanc.


They’re fantastic on the lavash; the shichimi is spicy and the nori is minerally rich and tastes of the ocean. The lavash itself is easy to make -- yeast, sugar, a little olive oil, flour and salt. Once the dough is rolled out, brush it with olive oil and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds, nori and shichimi. In the oven, the crackers turn crisp and golden, and they bubble slightly to glorious effect. You might be tempted to hang one on the wall.