While I am not generally one for hyping the cause of vegetarian-this or vegan-that, there has always been something about the art (yes, art) of vegan and gluten-free baking that has tickled my geek bone. It's the same instinct that makes me love the molecular gastronomy menu done by Ian Kleinman at O's -- the notion of taking something that ought to be impossible (like brulee-ing balsamic vinegar) and finding a way to make it happen.
By all rational measures, being a baker who works exclusively with vegan or gluten-free ingredients translates to a baker who works with...nothing at all. Eggs (mean to chickens), flour (all that gluten...) and butter (mean, apparently, to cows) are the three essential building blocks of the baker's trade. And yet, there are bakers who somehow make it work. A couple of years back, I wrote a total crush-note to one of them, Deanna Scimio, who, at the time, was running the bakery next door to the old WaterCourse Foods location (currently the location of WaterCourse's sister restaurant, City, O' City). She was just flat-out amazing -- a mad scientist in chef's whites who'd somehow figured out how to make excellent breads and cookies and pastries out of, essentially, nothing. Or at least nothing that would've ever been found in any of Payard's pastry books.
In this economy, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to not let all you culinary students and unemployed bakers out there know that, over the past few years, the niche-career of vegan and gluten-free baking has exploded. The demand is huge, the rewards (potentially) great. Plus, you get hang it all out there on the edge, working in a field that's not based on several hundred years of rigid tradition, basically making it all up as you go along.
For those of you who might be interested in this sort of thing, Johnson & Wales will be holding its fourth Annual Gluten-Free Baking Culinary Summit this weekend. There'll be lectures. There'll be demonstrations. There'll even be contests for who can turn out the best gluten-free cookies, breads, brownies and god only knows what else.
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For information (and a schedule of events), check out this website. If you're interested in dedicating your life to the noble pursuit of providing bread for people who can't eat bread, this is definitely the event for you.