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Celebrating the Ingenuity of Bakers and Chefs Across New York City
Annie Moss, co-owner of Seastar Bakery
Let's take a trip to the west coast to meet our next Innovator, Annie Moss. Moss currently co-owns one of the hippest and most forward-thinking bakeries in Portland, Seastar Bakery.
Moss once played an integral role in the development of GRGP. In 2011, while studying environmental policy at the New School in NYC, Moss connected with Heidi Dolnick, then working on a farmland retention project at GrowNYC. Soon after, they both began working with GrowNYC's fledgling grains project, where Moss helped develop promotional materials such as GRGP's "15 Reasons to Eat Locally Grown Grains." After grad school, Annie moved to Portland, OR. She feared she'd have to shift focus due to the narrowness of the field of regional grains, and was pleasantly surprised by Portland's interest in wellness and overall locavore nature. Annie quickly realized that there was interest in local grains in the Pacific Northwest, and she got a job as general manager at Tabor Bread. "In New York, Greenmarket provides a level of coordination and organization that is unrivaled in other parts of the country. Tabor Bread has a different aesthetic than other Portland bakeries, one focused on advocating for local grains and its integral role in the food system."
In addition to Tabor, Moss cites Lane Selman, Founder and Director of the Culinary Breeding Network (CBN), and Lola Milholland, CEO of Umi Organic, as important to the revitalization of grains in the Pacific Northwest. The CBN's mission is to "break down the wall between breeders and eaters to improve agricultural and culinary quality in vegetables and grains." Milholland is dedicated to local grains, and Moss thinks her ramen noodles, expertly crafted with local barley, are "going to explode and take over the world." Moss, with Seastar bakery, fits right in with these ambitious trailblazers.
So how did Seastar Bakery come to be? Moss knew that she wanted to open a business with her grad school friend Katia Bezerra-Clark, who had moved to Portland to help out at Tabor, but she wasn't sure what kind. At the same time, her friends Will Fain and Matt Kedzi were looking to relocate and expand their pizzeria, Handsome Pizza. They decided to join forces and, in August of 2015, Seastar Bakery was born. Each partner has their focus: Annie bakes the pastry items, Katia concentrates on the breakfast selection, while Will and Matt oversee the pizza and bread production. At Seastar they use all local, mostly whole grains, and everything is baked in a wood-fired oven. The response has been "fantastic!" Customers adore the flavorful and complex bread and baked goods that Moss and co. offer.
While Seastar is the kind of bakery that many bakers dream of owning (small, nimble, creative and dedicated to sustainability), the business has faced some challenges by dedicating itself to sourcing local. Local grains are more expensive than commodity grains. However, because Moss and co. are retail-focused and do minimal wholesale, their dedication to regional grains is not prohibitive. Early on, they attempted to mill flour in-house, but that proved to be unrealistic based on the amount of space that milling requires. Distribution can also be problematic at times, since smaller producers do not always have a set delivery schedule and growers tend to run out of products in this nascent sector of agriculture. Lastly, recipe testing can be challenging due to the natural variation of the grains. Still, none of these challenges are insurmountable, and Seastar has set the standard of what a retail-focused artisanal bakery can be.
Moss has some tips for home bakers hoping to incorporate more local, whole grain flour: "Take notes!" It seems obvious, but it's imperative to make notes of any recipe adjustments being made so you'll have them as a reference later. Whole grains can have a bit more tannic flavor, so be wary about cutting back on sugar and or salt. You will also need to increase the liquid or fat to compensate for the thirsty flour. Lastly, take risks and fun!"
Danny Newberg has worked as a chef at some of NYC’s coolest and most delicious restaurants. After 8 years he found the demands of restaurant life were stifling his creativity and left him feeling "disconnected from the food." So he decided to set himself free and start Joint Venture.
It started as a pop-up with the plan to eventually become a restaurant. Yet even as captain of his own ship, Newberg was resistant to go back to the monotony of daily service. So he found a way to stay nimble, moving between catering, throwing pop-ups, and striking new partnerships to satisfy his creative curiosities.
For Newberg, cooking is all about ingredients. Seafood makes its way into many of his most beloved dishes, thanks in no small part to his upbringing on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Lately he's been featuring more and more local grains, and people are taking notice. He made his professional grains debut at a dinner on New Year's Eve with a “bean and grain stew.” Bon Appetit soon called it "The Unexpectedly Vegan Recipe We Can't Stop Talking About." Guests were “surprised the grains were so flavorful,” Newberg told us, and since then he's gotten a ton of requests for this dish. In an email Newberg thanked our sales director Henry Blair for helping make the dish possible: "I have to give you a lot of credit for this recipe. ...Without having you at the market I would have never decided to make this recipe up. Also big thanks to all the farmers!"
So how did Newberg find out about the Grainstand? He credits Norberto “Negro” Piattoni, Executive Chef/Co-owner of METTA and longtime local grains supporter. He would meet up with Piattoni at the Union Square Greenmarket to see what was fresh. Soon he was making regular trips to the Grainstand. Over time Newberg became obsessed. Now local grains are a staple for Joint Venture, and “the response has been amazing,” he said.
If you’d like to taste his cooking for yourself, Newberg will be grilling up squid, “one of [his] favorite sea animals,” at the popular Brooklyn gastropub Achilles Heel, on Tuesday, May 30th. For more you can find them on Instagram: @jointventurenyc.
Author of A Guide to Northeast Grains
Kristina Razon first became interested in local grains while pursuing her MS in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. When it came time for her to do her capstone project, Razon wanted to create something that would enhance her professional skills - she is the assistant kitchen manager at Four & Twenty Blackbirds. She decided that a local grains guide geared towards home chefs and bakers would do the trick.
Razon has often found that when baking, the flour is an afterthought. Her guide, and the local grains movement as a whole, puts more emphasis on the quality of the individual ingredients. In the fall of 2015 she stumbled upon GRGP and asked its founder, June Russell, to advise her with this project. She finished the guide earlier this year and it can be found on several online platforms (Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, OverDrive and Baker & Taylor Axis 360), including Smashwords. A Guide to Northeast Grains includes history, technical information, and recipes focused on wheat, rye, buckwheat, and triticale.
The role of community is woven throughout A Guide to Northeast Grains. While doing research, Kristina found that “everyone knew everyone else,” and that there was a “communal spirit” surrounding the grains movement, she told GRGP. Take Blair Marvin, co-owner of Elmore Mountain Bread in Wolcott, Vermont. Marvin sources her grains from the farmer “down the road” and uses the mill that her husband built to bake the freshest bread one can find. If there is such a thing as “super local,” this is it. Another baker that has influenced Razon’s approach to baking is Peter Endriss, head baker/co-owner of Runner and Stone in Brooklyn. She credits him with “pushing grains to the forefront,” and finds that he helps and encourages other bakers to focus on the quality of the ingredients. Based on what she’s learned from these trailblazers, Razon’s advice for home bakers: “Grind [the flour] yourself.” This is becoming more possible with the growing availability of at-home mills. If that's not an option, she says, buy it fresh from the local farmers market.
Razon plans to stay at Four and Twenty Blackbirds for now. She hopes to incorporate local flour into production, though she acknowledges that this will take time, and pricing is an issue. Still, she’s developing a crust that’s half buckwheat flour and half all purpose flour, with the hopes that it will be on the menu soon. She also imagines that her guide will expand and evolve over time, and is excited to keep doing her part pushing the Northeast grains movement forward.