A Behind-the-scenes Look at How Your French Toast Gets Made

The Brunch Elves

Stefan Bowers frying Jamaican bammies at Rebelle.
Stefan Bowers frying Jamaican bammies at Rebelle.

It's a slow stir of a morning. Zeke Cavazos walks quietly, methodically pulling out board mats, turning the sous vide machine to a balmy 160 degrees. Alan Dale Nelson fires up the range and carries over eight fry pans in which he'll start work on crepes. Over on the other side of the kitchen, a stack of thick-cut brioche gets a dip into a large bucket of French toast batter. Dip. Remove. Soak. Fry. Repeat. The crew's been here since 7:30 a.m.

*By the time chef Gary Alsup rolls in with a hefty bag of breakfast tacos, and by the time chef Stefan Bowers arrives the kitchen's reached a steady hum. It's now 8 a.m. and the staff at Rebelle can really get going on brunch prep..

It's a similar, but slightly more chaotic scene at Feast, Rebelle's big sister eatery, where chef Jared Smith has been pre-searing French toast since 6 a.m.

"I'm usually fine on four or five hours of sleep," Smith says.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, 30 minutes into service, the restaurant that's won Best of San Antonio brunch a few years running, is bustling. Six other souls join Smith in the kitchen, including co-chef Cody Clarke, who along with three others, is busy flipping pancakes, grilling rib eye and frying pancake-wrapped sausage corn dogs. Smith and Clarke alternate command each weekend, with one leading the charge on the expo line. Tickets print, orders are called out, cooks deliver plates, jams and piping hot doses of gravy are ladled onto biscuits, runners are called and it's on to the next ticket (or 30).

"It's like a battle," Clarke says. "They open the doors and it just comes."

But prep for most brunches begins far before most brunch-goers begin to sober up. Clarke, who bakes close to 175 biscuits for Feast's WT breakfast, starts his dry mix and freezes the butter Friday night after service. The dough is mixed and allowed to rise over night on Saturday evening so it's ready for Sunday morning. Saturday night also includes working on the tomato sauce for eggs in hell, grinding the pistachio dukkah, slicing challah/brioche bread for French toast and making compotes.

It's a similar system at Cappy's, a longtime Alamo Heights favorite brunch spot where half the point of going out is to see who you're going to run into a few tables over. During Friday's lunch service, chef Gabriel Ibarra and co. will peel, cook and cut potatoes in advance of Saturday's brunch, clean tenderloin for the best-selling Sunday breakfast and sear prime chuck. Ibarra will usually roll in to brunch at 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

"Brunch is the most difficult because everyone has a different idea of what scrambled or poached eggs should look like," Ibarra says, while giving a shout out to his staff. "Teamwork is the biggest part of it. I'm blessed that the cooks that work with me have been with me for a long time and they understand you don't come to work messed up."

Prep sometime begins as early as Wednesday when it comes to Boiler House, which made the Top 10 brunch spots in America list for Men's Journal in 2015. On a typical Sunday brunch, the restaurant will usually serve 300 people.

"We start making the lasagnas, start cutting the vegetables for hash," chef Jeff White says, "Brunch is fast, there's so many people. It can get chaotic."

It's easy for things to get out of hand when you're cracking more than 1,000 eggs on a Sunday morning.

But White, Bowers, Clarke, Smith and Ibarra know the Sunday staple can be a restaurant's bread and butter — pun intended. Relatively low food costs, matched with a bustling scene can help balance budgets.

"Honestly, it's worth the pain — people love brunch," White said.

Figuring out the brunch groove takes work. Bowers, who hadn't led a brunch before his turn at Feast, says establishing that rhythm was a huge learning curve that included adapting to cooks running late, no-show dishwashers and learning what items worked — all without letting the guests in on the kitchen drama.

"We just need to accommodate. The restaurant is responsible. Of course people are grouchy. Their blood sugar is low, they haven't eaten in 14 hours," Bower says. "We should operate with a sense of urgency."

Feast's reputation for one of the best brunches in town for both its fare and fabulous socializing isn't lost on Clarke and Smith.

"Sometimes we have rough days and it feels like we're not doing good, but they keep coming back," Clarke says. "Stefan's got a great reputation, so does Andrew. We're just trying to do right by them."

Back-breaking, egg-cracking, brunch pandemonium doesn't mean these guys won't have fun. Clarke and Smith blast heavy metal on Sundays, while Ibarra has fun with what he calls over-exaggerated and obnoxious specials. Bowers and the guys at Rebelle work on delivering dishes they're proud of like yucca-based Jamaican bammies (a type of flatbread) that's topped with jerk chicken.

"People don't want to be serious at brunch. They want mimosas, a good laugh. They want to have a good time," White, who's known for his Krispy Kreme David Lee Roth burger says. "We have to make it fun and ridiculous."

*The article has been updated to reflect who really brings the breakfast tacos

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