In the beginning, there was potato bread.
When Springfield, Missouri, pop-up sensation Progress opened as a brick-and-mortar restaurant last fall, there was a lot to like. Guests rejoiced over umami-rich shareables, innovative veggie-forward entrees and a solid wine selection. And throughout the buzzy grand opening, there seemed to be one common refrain: “God, that potato bread.”
The restaurant’s introductory bread course was equal parts fluffy and perfectly chewy, with an unmistakable savory flavor that reigned supreme without the assistance of spreads. The potato bread was a simple, well-executed baked good; more than that, it was the greater Springfield dining scene’s introduction to a star baker on the rise: Kyle Davis.
While the potato bread is currently on an extended hiatus, Davis still churns out delicious baked goods in the Progress kitchen on a daily basis. He’s responsible for all things baked, from the evening bread service to flaky brunch pastries – and, of course, the spectacular cakes served by the slice upstairs at Reverie, Progress’s rooftop bar. While Davis never completed formal culinary training, he nails the classics with an easygoing flair. It’s been his approach all along: Davis entered the culinary scene “for the hell of it,” taking a job at the tea room inside Relics Antique Mall, a sprawling antique store on Springfield’s west side. Shortly after, a bakery position opened up at the tea room. “The head chef showed me the ropes,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of talented, cool people who have been willing to share their insight.”
After learning the basics at Relics, Davis worked as a pastry chef for Simply Delicious, a Springfield-based catering company. “I got to experiment a lot,” he says. “I started posting a lot of weird and fun stuff I was working on on Instagram, and that’s when I got an email from chef Daniel [Ernce, the head chef at Progress].” Ernce invited Davis to join the Progress team as head baker for both Progress and Reverie. Since then, Davis has come into his own as one of the area’s most promising bakers.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Lately, I’ve been on a sponge cake kick. They’re traditionally French, and a lot of them don’t have very much fat since you use egg whites and air as a leavener. In my opinion, sponge cakes don’t get a fair rap. When you think of sponge cake, you probably think of an old, stuffy, played-out thing. But it’s really a great vehicle for different flavors. You can soak them in syrups, top them with fresh fruit, things like that.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? Mike [Michael “Jersey” Schmitz, Progress beverage director] is such a cool and knowledgeable guy, and he’s helped me discover my secret weapon: spirits. For example, bourbon is a great thing to cook with, because it leaves you with this rich vanilla, brown sugar, almost molasses flavor. Now, I have access to Mike’s knowledge, and his bar is so well-stocked. I’ll tell him, “Hey, I’m working on this flavor profile,” and he’ll recommend a liqueur to add to it. It’s a really good way to add flavors that people might not be familiar with.
What's your perfect day of eating in Springfield? We serve a lot of The Coffee Ethic’s products, and I love what they do. Still, if it’s me personally, I’d probably start my day at Mudhouse Coffee. I just love the classic coffeehouse vibe that you get there. Then, I might just skip on over to lunch. I don’t go out a lot, but when I get the chance I like to go to Grad School. They’ve been around for a pretty long time, and their Full Ride burger is pretty bomb. If this is a perfect day, I’d probably end it at Harvest Restaurant in Rogersville. That’s the first restaurant I went to as an adult and realized how much thought and effort was put into the meal. Then, I’d probably end that great day at The Golden Girl Rum Club. Their cocktails are just phenomenal, and I love their straight-up daiquiri. I’ve had daiquiris before and they weren’t that great, but then I tried theirs. I was blown away by how simple and perfect it was.
Who are Springfield chefs you admire at the moment? I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working in the Harvest kitchen a few times with Craig [Von Foerster, chef-owner of Harvest]. He’s a traditionally trained chef, and his knowledge is almost endless. I’ve also always had my eye on Rogan [Howitt] and Josh [Widner] with Golden Girl and Best of Luck. They’re marketing to a generation that appreciates a different style of food, and they’re really bringing a new energy and a new vibe to the local scene.
If you could tell home bakers one thing, what would it be? Don’t give up after you fail once. It’s been my experience with baking that you always see a badass recipe, and you’re like, “Oh, this will be great,” and it turns out awful the first time you make it. That’s such a horrible feeling. I’ve met a lot of people who claim they can’t bake, but it turns out they just stopped because it was hard. Just keep going – it’s almost impossible to nail a pastry recipe on the first try. I’ll usually run a recipe at least twice, and it’s not until the third try that I can really nail it.
What are your future plans? I’m just really excited for this summer. We’re a seasonal restaurant, and we haven’t been open for summer yet, so I’m really excited for that. I think we’re really gonna be able to do some cool things with different fruit flavors that people might not know a lot about.
Progress, 2144 E. Republic Road, Suite B101, Springfield, Missouri, 417.799.9388, springfieldprogress.com