What with pervasive, anti-gluten fear-mongering (sales of wheat-free products have jumped to almost 15 billion, following since-debunked research on non-celiac sensitivity) bread has faced quite the PR crisis; austerely edited from many restaurant menus, and bodily removed from millions of households; regularly swapped with tortillas, lettuce cups, eggplant rounds and mushroom caps, or even—lord help us—slices of raw red pepper.
But that hasn’t deterred chefs like Adam Leonti, hoping to separate scratch-baked bread made with regionally available grains, from its much maligned and mass-produced brethren. “Pre-milled flour sitting in a bag on the shelf dies after two weeks. The enzymes dissipate into the air and the nutrition is lost,” Leonti explained. “It may not mold in an obvious sense, but it’s stale; which doesn’t do any favors to your body. Mass-produced bread isn’t allowed time enough to ferment either, whereas the stuff I make sits for two or four days. The starch turns into available sugar, the enzymes become digestible, and all the flavor comes out at the same time.”
At his previous post at Vetri in Philadelphia, Leonti spent ages methodically replacing the restaurants’ conventional flour supply — also used for pasta, pizzas and pastries — with self-milled, whole wheat strains, obtained through direct relationships cultivated with farmers. And having just relocated to Brooklyn (as the executive chef at the upcoming The Williamsburg Hotel), has only served to deepen Leonti’s commitment to back-to-basics baking — instead of biding his time during build-out, Leonti has repurposed their Bushwick commissary into a multi-purpose pop-up called Brooklyn Bread Lab.
Taking advantage of a 10,000-pound stone mill and electric deck oven, Leonti’s using the space to tweak established recipes, experiment with different grains, and preach the gospel of gluten through culinary workshops; such as Real Pasta, Bread for Beginners, Pizza for Everyone and Baking for Kids. The enterprising chef has even added a retail arm as well, selling dense filone, potato and onion focaccia, and holiday panettone at a makeshift counter, every Wednesday through Sunday. “Basically, this place is my experience, purchased a la carte. It’s a showcase for everything I’ve learned, and everything I’d like to share,” said Leonti. “Now you can sit down and see what bread tastes like with 100 percent of the grain used, see what pasta tastes like when it’s milled that morning.”
We have a feeling 2016 is going to be an awfully good year for gluten.
201 Moore Street, Bushwick brooklynbreadlab.com