Holdfast Dining's Cornbread Madeleine: 12 Wonders of Portland Food

"As an American, it was tough to explain that though this bread is really sweet, it’s not a dessert."

Cornbread Madeleine, at Holdfast Dining

Fausse Piste Winery, 537 SE Ash St., Suite 102, holdfastdining.com.

Part of the fun of going out to a hot new restaurant is comparing notes with others who have been. Sadly, most of the pop-up dinner series that have captured the imagination of local foodies don't offer that—the array of dishes is dizzying, and the menus change nightly.

But anyone who's dropped $90 (not including gratuity) for a nine-course prix fixe meal at Holdfast has one dish in common. That dish is the youngest and sweetest icon on this list, a cornbread madeleine tucked between the savory and dessert courses to brilliant effect.

It was developed by chef Will Preisch during a European odyssey that followed his time as the head chef at the Bent Brick. Under his watch, the restaurant was adventurously modern. It just never gelled with the space.

Following Preisch's departure, publications like The Oregonian and Portland Monthly filed obituaries for his Portland cooking career ("it takes some major cojones for a restaurateur to admit defeat," wrote Portland Monthly; "where's the burger?" asked The Oregonian) but quickly hailed his second coming, which finds Preisch and fellow Bent Brick alum Joel Stocks doing everything inside Southeast's dim Fausse Piste urban winery.

As told by Preisch…

"When I left the Bent Brick it was my decision, but obviously I was not having the success I wanted to have there. After I left, I wanted to continue my culinary education. I'm a rather proud culinary school dropout, but I was in a journeyman phase.

I had already been at the Bent Brick and spent a lot of time thinking about what went right and what went wrong. A lot of our food now isn't super-different—it's all about packaging and timing. The city wasn't ready for it, and it was on a macro scale at the Bent Brick. And certainly everything we do is a little more dialed in now. The technique we use isn't super-different, but the food itself is a lot more simple and with the tasting-menu format the food can be more focused.

I came up with that dish in Copenhagen. I was staging at the restaurant Relæ. And at Relæ, when it's your last day in the kitchen, you make a staff meal. I wanted to do something really American that they wouldn't have had before, so I came up with the idea of cornbread and chili, so I made cornbread with honey butter.

They freaked out about the cornbread. That's the same cornbread the madeleine is made of. As an American, it was tough to explain that though this bread is really sweet, it's not a dessert.

It just kinda spiraled as I thought about it. We deconstructed it: cornbread toasted in the oven during service. Once it's crispy, we brush it with brown butter five times, after that we put a layer of lardo and then the honeycomb on top with some salt. I was inspired to cover it in Parmesan cheese by Relæ as well; they had a snack on called the 'Kornly cracker' that was shrouded in so much cheese it was all you could see.

It was on the first Holdfast weekend dinners. I really liked the cornbread madeleine, but I didn't intend to keep it around for every meal.

But it got requested for a photo shoot the following weekend, for Portland Monthly. We ran it again the next weekend. We got another request for it to be in a photo. I thought, 'We've already served it at the first four dinners, maybe we should just keep it around?' It bridges the gap between savory and sweet in a really awesome way.

So it's stuck around—it's the only thing that's been on every menu we've done."


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Holdfast Dining's Cornbread Madeleine

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