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The Life of Bread…

…According to Ursula Canfield

Ursula Canfield talks about life on the farm, the military and how her background contributes to her success at work.
By Wendy Burch

I sat down with Ursula Canfield, Pastry Chef for Table 3 Restaurant and Market, to discuss her work, her background and what motivates her as a chef. We talked just after she had finished working and she was in her standard uniform of chef pants, golf shirt, and baseball cap.

Heading up the Pastry and Bread Program at Table 3 Restaurant & Market
On a typical day, Canfield arrives at about 4:30 a.m. to bake bread, pastries and desserts for service. She is especially enthusiastic about bread, because it has a life of its own. “It’s a little different process than the detail of pastry, but it’s still creating something from just a bowl of flour and yeast. That’s really the basis of every bread I make – flour, water, yeast, salt. I just change it up a bit to get the six or eight breads that we do.”
“Bread is the basis for a lot of things; it even has a life after I bake it. Today’s loaf can be tomorrow’s crostini. Day old bread is used as bread crumbs, croutons, soup thickener, French toast, bread pudding and gnocchi. It’s more than just a loaf of bread.”

Table 3’s bread program was created under Canfield’s thoughtful supervision, “When I got here (Table 3) we were buying bread.” She thought, “Well, I can do that.” So in addition, to pastries, cookies, and desserts, she started baking a few breads for service, which turned into doing everything for the restaurant including sandwich bread and burger buns. “We don’t buy any bread and I’m pretty proud of that. I enjoy doing it.”

Her favorite bread is Challah, traditional Jewish egg bread. She enjoys the detail of the braiding. “You can do a three strand; you can do a five strand, a six strand. It just depends on how I feel that day. It’s a good day if it’s a six strand day!” On her days off, she indulges with a breakfast of toasted Challah with poached eggs and Sriracha sour cream.

Ursula’s Background Story
Canfield spent her childhood on the family farm. She was up early and the worked hard. She would listen to kids at school complain about taking out the trash; she would think to herself, “I had to clean up the muck (not the exact word she used) of twenty cows; I’ll trade that any day for taking out the trash.” At a young age she started cooking Sunday suppers and in the fall she and her mother would make 60 or more apple pies then freeze them, “that would be dessert for the winter,” she said.

In 1995, Canfield entered the United States Air Force, where she enjoyed cooking for her friends. After she completed her military service in 1999, she applied to New England Culinary Institute (NECI). Although she had no formal training or previous kitchen experience, she loved it, saying “I knew what a chef’s knife was, and that was it. I’d never cooked on a line before.” She continued, “NECI is really hands on, 7 students to 1 instructor.” She cooked for other students, learned table service, as well as non-academic programs. She learned about wines, baking, pastry, charcuterie, meats, garde manager “we did rotations on everything,” she said.

When I asked her if baking first appealed to her at school, I was surprised to learn that it did not, “I was not going to be a sissy baker, I was going to be on the line and be a tough girl.” So how did she end up with her hands in the flour? During her first internship she met Sarah Williams, who asked Canfield if she would consider working for her when she opened her own restaurant. Two years later, Canfield and Williams were reunited at Williams’ new restaurant, Café Sarah in North Creek, New York, a tiny town in the Adirondacks. For six years, Canfield worked with Williams honing her skills in baking, desserts and cake decorating.

But the moose were calling. Canfield’s eyes light up when she talked about her three summers working in a remote fly-in fly-out resort in Alaska, located 350 miles Southwest of Anchorage. “It was by far the funniest job and most beautiful place I’ve ever worked.” There are no roads to the resort, which is why she did not mind working long days with only one day off a week. “It was fine because there was nowhere to go.” On her day off, she did take advantage of the fishing, kayaking and boating.

Another reason for the bright eyes, she met her future husband while working at the lodge. She and her then fiancé moved back to Nashville to be closer to family –lucky for us.

Words of Culinary Wisdom
Canfield’s wisdom is beyond her years, a trait refined by growing up on a farm and serving her nation. She remarked that her time spent in the Air Force helps her to be disciplined in cooking. “There’s no such thing as ‘that’s not my job’ in the military. So for me, there’s no such thing as that here (Table 3 kitchen).”

Her advice to young pastry cooks, “Work hard without expecting a pat on the back. If the pastry or bread does not come out right, do it again. People notice if you let second rate stuff slide.”

Consciously adding, “You put yourself out there every day. If someone does not like what you put your heart and soul into, don’t let it wreck you and it can wreck you. It hurts when somebody doesn’t like it. But it makes you better – it should make you want to be better, try a little harder.” Although she said, “Sometimes it’s hard to want to do it again; to not throw your cookies on the floor and go home.”