Photo Courtesy of VicsjCampbell at the Red Stag Superclub

Big news in the heritage and local grain movement, folks. Red Stag, Pat’s Tap, The Bird, Barbette, and Book Club, are fully on board.

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Friends, have you been watching the heritage grain movement grow? If so, you’re aware that once upon a time locally milled flour was the fresh and ordinary standard. But over decades of industrialization, grain became older, waiting in warehouses for the correct market conditions, and more pesticide-laden, as it was treated with chemicals to prevent pests or molds from destroying it during those long waits. Some people have come to believe that the rise in gluten-sensitivity and an inability for people with Celiac disease to tolerate grain-products has to do with our culture’s current, bad ways with grains.

Kim Bartmann, who has a great number of local restaurants, is one of those people.  “I haven’t been eating wheat for over a decade,” Bartmann told me, on the phone. “If I ate it, I’d have severe heartburn for two days. It’s not like I’m a Celiac, but I’m very gluten-sensitive, I’d actually say wheat and grain-sensitive. I had to quit drinking beer, and that was really hard for me, I love beer—I had the first beer tower in town that was full of micro-brews,” at the Bryant Lake Bowl.

Then, one day, at the Mill City Farmers Market, Bartmann tried a bread made by Jonathan Kaye, who founded Heritage Breads. Kaye’s bread was made with wheat from small and local heritage-grain pioneer Sunrise Flour Mill. “It was so good. And then I realized: Oh my God, I am not sick. I can eat this. You miss bread so much when you can’t eat it—the staff of life, etc. etc. It’s the ultimate comfort food. Noodles. Who doesn’t love noodles! Every culture in the universe!”

It was that ah-ha moment that brought around a real revolution: Bartmann’s various chefs and bakers are now using heritage flour for anything and everything.

Yes, seriously, all the restaurants: Red Stag Supperclub, California-cuisine oriented Book Club, old Bohemian French Café Barbette, pancake-star Tiny Diner, breakfast-forward The Bird, bakery-casual Gigi’s, gastro-burger-bar Pat’s Tap, all of them. There are a few caveats, they’re still buying other bakeries’ buns for some properties, especially the lakeside pavilion Bread & Pickle, but will be trying to transition.

This is a big deal, grain-heads. People have been talking about heritage grains for so long, but I’m not aware of anyone besides visionary bakers like Baker’s Field making a move this significant. The chatter in food-circles has long been that heritage flours are too expensive and too tricky to work with for anyone not playing in elite food spaces.

“We did a study a couple years ago,” Bartmann told me. “A lot of people won’t use this flour because it’s expensive. Let’s say it’s a dollar a pound more—it’s still flour. Can you really not afford to spend an extra quarter on that portion of pasta? We did a study, it would cost X if we used only heritage flour, and to me it seemed like a nominal cost for the benefits. So now we don’t use any outside flour.”

This means the carrot-cake at Gigi, the pasta at Red Stag, the batter on the fried chicken at Pat’s Tap, the crust for the quiche at Café Barbette. All the recipes that use flour had to be changed.

“All we use now is the Turkey Red,” heritage flour from Sunrise Flour Mill, chef Joe Holmes from Red Stag told me. “It works great. We had to make some tweaks with the bread, but it worked out. It makes a big difference in the bread, you can really taste it, and the pasta. But I really like it in the beer batter on the fish-fry, because I keep hearing from people who say they couldn’t eat fried fish with their gluten-sensitivity, and they missed it and now they can.”

Bartmann made a big, impressive, improbable move like this a few years ago, when she started bringing in local-farm full steers for her restaurants’ beef. Today Bread & Pickle goes through 25 or 30 local steers a summer.

Will other restaurants take a similar plunge, now that Bartmann is showing it’s possible? That’s how you build a non-industrial food system, folks, so let’s hope so. Do your part and spread the word: Heritage and heirloom grains are having a large-scale feasibility study, on a plate near you.