Grains Innovators

Celebrating the Ingenuity of Bakers and Chefs Across the Region

Blair Marvin, co-owner of Elmore Mountain Bread

Blair Marvin and her husband Andrew Heyn were seasoned food industry professionals long before their current roles as owners of Elmore Mountain Bread (EMB). They knew that they wanted to be involved in the local food scene, but were not sure in what capacity. So when the opportunity to take over a bakery close to home (in the town of Elmore, VT) presented itself, they jumped at it—despite not having any formal baking experience. This required a hurried education, and Marvin credits the early success of EMB on “incredible books, each other, and lots of trial and error.” Now entering their 14th year of bakery ownership, the couple was right to take the leap of faith.

The first major hurdle Marvin and Heyn faced was how to increase production while maintaining a sustainable quality of life. Rather than bulk up staffing, they found that acquiring a larger and more efficient oven was key. Now they produce approximately 1800 loaves (as opposed to 600-850 using their original oven) with just the help of one “mostly fulltime” assistant baker. Once their production problems were remedied, they were looking for a new challenge. The goal was to grow in a way beyond simply increasing sales. They wanted to become more knowledgeable about their primary ingredient: flour. So six years ago they began transitioning away from the Quebecois organic flour they were using towards sourcing grains in their own community and milling it in house.

This endeavor presented several major issues. First, there was the issue of sourcing the grains. Vermont has a long-established history of grain growing with trailblazing farmers Ben Gleason and Jack Lazor. But getting local wheat in its whole kernel form, not pre-milled, was “nuts at the time.” Marvin caught wind of a farmer just 30 miles away from the bakery, Nate Rogers of Rogers Farmstead, who was beginning to dabble in growing wheat. Marvin cold-called Rogers to inquire about the harvest, and a handshake agreement later he agreed to sell the entire harvest of his “Redeemer” hard red winter wheat to Marvin and Heyn.

After securing the untested variety, they needed to source a mill that would allow them to maintain a consistent product for their customers, despite the overhaul of their main ingredient. They researched in-house mills being used by the few commercial bakeries. Ultimately they decided to take pieces of these mills and build their own, tailored to their specific needs. The mill they built allowed them to maintain the bread aesthetics their customers had come to know, but the taste was on a different level. Each grain being used had distinguishing characteristics, and the fermentation process was not just creating flavor but enhancing the existing flavor of this fresh flour.

Using fresh flour has demanded that Marvin and Heyn be more intuitive bakers. Each harvest presents different hydration and fermentation needs. But the customers have been incredibly receptive to their hyper-local approach to baking, and this model is beginning to take hold nationwide. Bakers milling their own flour include David Bauer, of Farm and Sparrow in Ashville, NC, who was a major influence on the couple in their early days.  Heyn and Marvin have even built mills for a few ambitious bakers such as Jonathan Bethany, of Seylou in DC, and Grayson Gill, of Bellegarde in NOLA. Blair Marvin believes that bakeries using fresh flour and sourcing local grains can have a major impact on the grains economy, and that it’s possible for urban bakeries to have an impact along with their rural counterparts. “Even if [urban bakers] are only milling 30% of their own flour, they are able to reach and educate thousands of consumers.”

Peter Endriss, chef/owner of Runner & Stone

Peter Endriss, head baker and co-owner of Runner & Stone, did not set out to become a bread baker. He studied environmental science in college and transitioned into the field of civil engineering after graduation. Endriss felt that being an engineer was the sensible career path but found himself drawn to kitchen life, something he was familiar with from his school days when he worked in food service. In 2001, Endriss fully transitioned into a career in the food business, first as a savory chef. Eventually he found his way to bread baking.

One of his earliest baking experiences was at Amy’s Bread. He joined the team when they were developing an organic line of breads. At the time, this set Amy’s apart from most bakeries since very few were using organic flour. (It would still be at least a decade before local flour was readily available.) After several stints in Europe, as well as assisting with the development of Per Se’s bread program, Peter decided to take the leap and launch his own project.

In 2012, Peter joined forces with Chef Chris Pizzulli to open Runner & Stone, a seasonal restaurant and bakery in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. “I always wanted a retail bakery, but it doesn’t make economic sense in New York,” said Endriss. Combining his dream with Pizzuli‘s has allowed him to keep the bakery at a sustainable size and “adds a level of interest” to the restaurant. Endriss is fortunate that he has always worked with high quality flour. In 2010 he connected with GRGP and Hot Bread Kitchen at a Slow Food event and has been at the forefront of the local grains movement in the Northeast ever since. He is very comfortable using local flour and knows how to adjust for subtle changes that can be expected from flours that have not been homogenized to commodity standards. That said, Farmer Ground Flour, (which he has been using since the early days of the mill’s existence), has proven to be quite consistent. Peter has also found ways to integrate an assortment of local grains in his line of exquisite baked goods, where you will find spelt pretzels, buckwheat baguettes and a miche made with spelt, rye and whole wheat.

Something he may not have expected was the warm and supportive community he’s found in the Gowanus neighborhood. Runner & Stone opened within months of Littleneck and, the now defunct, The Pines. Since then, Gowanus has developed into a considerable food and drink destination with the arrival of Ample Hills Creamery, The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, and Givers and Takers, just to name a few. Beyond the ‘hood, Endriss has found that New York’s burgeoning community of “micro-bakeries” has grown into a “convivial and friendly” scene. And though “there could always be more” artisanal bakeries, dedicated to using regional grains, great strides have been made to elevate the quality of the bread being offered in the city. And the positive feedback from customers, both at the restaurant and at his Union Square Greenmarket stand, supports these efforts. Next time you’re at the market, check out Peter’s legendary croissants, or make your way through his plentiful offerings of local, artisan breads.

Negro Piattoni, chef/owner of METTA

Not every kid is fortunate to grow up with an intimate understanding of the food system. Even fewer are able to turn that experience into a successful cooking career. Chef Norberto "Negro" Piattoni grew up in Argentina and learned to cook at a young age.  He also learned slow food agricultural practices on his grandfather's farm.

It was while studying chemical engineering at university that he discovered the other, darker, side of the food system: large scale food production techniques that wreak havoc on the environment and the dangers of pesticides and other food additives. From these experiences, Piattoni has gained a strong belief in sustainability and avoids highly processed food and industrial agriculture. "Cooking local is the healthiest way to eat, and the best way to support the community of people preparing the food at every step in the system. It's also a great way to stay away from food gimmicks. There is a lot of information out there that is manipulated by businesses with their own agenda, and it can be confusing to the consumer. Fish is a classic example of this: wild caught vs. farmed? Depends on the species! By working with small farms and producers one can avoid this misinformation. The key is to find people you trust."

Negro thinks another example of this confusion surrounding our food is with grains. In recent years, there has been so much conversation, largely negative, surrounding grains that one's impulse might be to stay away from it all together. However, Chef Negro is a big fan of grains and a huge supporter of GRGP. His interest in grains also hearkens back to his childhood. "In Argentina, due to a strong Italian influence, we eat a lot of flour in various forms, bread, cakes and of course pasta. Last summer, Piattoni got to know the Greenmarket well and was thrilled to discover the Grainstand. In preparation for opening his restaurant he would host dinner parties with friends, and over time grains became an integral part of the meal. Now that METTA is open, one can find lots of grains and beans on the menu. Some highlights are charred beets with pickled rye berries and freekeh risotto with mushrooms and celery root puree. The sourdough flatbread is made in-house using 85% half white flour and 15% red fife flour, both from Farmer Ground Flour

Chef Negro Piattoni continues to stay true to his upbringing with his cooking style. There is no gas-fueled equipment at METTA, just one electric oven and an open-fire pit from which most of the dishes are cooked. "Fire cooking" is something that he learned growing up in Argentina and perfected while working under celebrity chef, Francis Mallman. Negro has brought this expertise to Brooklyn, and the response from guests has been positive. For those who want to experience this unique style up close, they can dine at the chef's counter. He also uses preservation and fermentation techniques to add depth and increase the health benefits of his dishes. Often people believe they do not have time to shop at the Greenmarket or properly source their ingredients. But Chef Negro advises home cooks: "Don't be lazy with your food. Know where your food comes from, and eat well." 

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,
Chef/Owner of

Joint Venture

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.

Kristina Razon 
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.

Inclement weather in the city or in the greater region does affect markets;  markets may close early, or farmers may not be able to make it into the city.

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