Sunterra’s kitchens are making a mark this month with pressed paninis. Senior Vice President of Operations Chris Alladin sits down to tell us the four steps to a perfect panini and what new items we can look forward to in April.
“They are just outrageously spectacular,” says Chris with smiling eyes as he tells me about banana bread paninis; classic banana bread layered with Nutella spread, peanut butter and banana slices then grilled until the fillings are warm and oozy. Chris admits to being one of those people that eat dessert first and to be honest, as he zealously describes the caramelization of the banana bread and the layers of flavours inside, I’m just about ready to convert.
We’re in Chris’ bright upstairs office, sat around a dark brown desk overflowing with food magazines, coffee mug samples and piles of paperwork everywhere. His hands move excitedly as he details everything that goes in to making a panini at Sunterra.
The process begins with bread, Chris says without hesitation. You can’t have an amazing panini without amazing bread, so they use a 36-hour process to make eight different breads for paninis. Each dough is made daily by a team of artisan bakers, then left to rest for a full 24 hours before baking. Then the bread is baked, cooled and passed to the kitchen where the chefs start to bring the paninis alive.
The next step is spreads. This often-overlooked layer is essential to the full panini experience, Chris assures me. That’s why the chefs handcraft each spread, from hummus to aioli to pesto. The spreads are paired with specific breads to complement the sugars and salts in the dough. And there are no clumps of sauce here: each spread is smoothed out from edge to edge so you can taste it in every bite, says Chris.
Then it’s on to everyone’s favourite; the fillings. At breakfast that may mean a nicely fried egg on savoury Sunterra bacon with melty cheese. For lunch it could be roasted zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms and some goat cheese, or market-roasted beef that’s been seasoned, slow roasted, cooled and sliced across the grain for tenderness. For dinner maybe that’s authentic Italian prosciutto with smoky Applewood cheddar or tuna with fresh celery, scallions, Worcestershire sauce and sharp cheddar. With 15 different flavours of paninis, there are a lot of fillings to be had.
And while all that makes for an excellent sandwich, the real magic doesn’t happen until the sandwich is grilled, says Chris, a full toothy grin erupting on his face.
“That’s when you really experience the panini,” he says with gusto. “When it’s pressed and it’s nice and hot and crispy at the same time.
”This is where the different combinations of breads, spreads and fillings show their brilliance. The bread must have some texture and crust to it so that it doesn’t get damaged or torn in the panini press. As the sandwich is pressed together, the flavours combine and the cheese has to melt around the other fillings. The spreads need to burst through in every bite to complement the unique flavour and texture of the charred bread. It’s poetry in motion, and it’s no accident.
“We believe in collaborating with our chefs before putting anything on the menu,” says Chris. “For paninis we are tasting multiple sandwiches and looking for that perfect chew, that perfect bite. It takes a real team effort.”
Check out our green power lunch panini recipe!