Yehuda Sichel baked bread during quarantine just like everybody else.
“It gave me something to do, and I really started getting into it because the more I did it, the better my bread became,” he said.
While sourdough loaves have become a coronavirus cliché, the former executive chef of Abe Fisher is developing signature breads for Huda, the gourmet sandwich shop he plans to open at 32 S. 18th St. in Rittenhouse Square in early September. It will be open for takeout, delivery and outdoor dining.
Sichel worked at CookNSolo restaurants for 10 years before striking out on his own, and his former colleagues are thrilled for him.
“We could not be more proud of Chef Yehuda. Our family at CookNSolo cannot wait to support him on his new venture. We love him, and know his menu at Huda is going to be amazing,” owners Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook said in an email.
Sichel was inspired by a love for sandwiches dating to his first restaurant job at The Brasserie, a kosher eatery in Baltimore where he worked from ages 15-17.
One side was a fine dining restaurant, and the other side served deli sandwiches. He fell in love with it.
Sichel also wants to fill a gap he has identified in the Philadelphia sandwich market. While cheesesteaks and hoagies are part of the city’s culture, he doesn’t think people want to eat them every day.
On the other side of the spectrum, premade gourmet sandwiches served in cafes are often expensive. The endless renditions of tomato and mozzarella on focaccia can get old after a while, he said.
“They’re on good bread, but there’s no love there,” he said.
Huda’s menu will feature sandwiches drawing from a variety of influences, including the lox and brisket of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. Sichel is especially excited about the nut butter and caramelized peaches on sourdough (his own twist on peanut butter and jelly) and the crispy maitake mushroom sandwich, which is inspired by tortas.
“We’re taking maitake mushrooms that are grown right outside of Philadelphia near Kennett Square, where a lot of mushrooms come from, and we’re going to be tempura frying that,” he said.
The fried mushrooms are topped with avocado crema, chipotle paste and fresh mozzarella. The sandwich is served on milk buns, a hybrid of brioche and milk bread Sichel developed.
Sichel decided to use mozzarella because it retains its texture and flavor at room temperature and holds up well during takeout and delivery, the new normal during coronavirus dining restrictions.
He knows that the experience of fine dining doesn’t always translate when food has to be transported between restaurants and customers’ dining rooms.
“I always give the example of ordering a crudo to go. And it’s two slices of raw fish, the sauces have been moved around because the delivery guy went all over the place, and all you’re left with is a pile of two pieces of fish that you paid $15 for. It’s just not the same as literally that same exact food on a nice plate delivered by a server in a nice restaurant,” he said.
He plans to channel his background in fine dining into a more accessible culinary experience.
“I wanted to deliver that same, almost euphoric experience when you bite into something that’s delicious at a really nice restaurant by using the same ingredients and the bread that I bake in house,” he continued.
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