Walk into any of LA’s hippest eateries and you will likely find bread at the top of every menu. And it’s not just bread, it’s expensive bread. With French butter, pan drippings, cheeses, and vintage balsamic at equally high prices. The very same people who wouldn’t be caught dead with gluten on their lips are now ripping into a sourdough baguette with vigor.
As much as we in Los Angeles like to think of ourselves as the epicenter of the universe, it isn’t just happening here. The artisanal bread scene has been alive and kicking in Europe for a long time, and it’s just in the past few years that North Americans have started to show signs of bypassing their tired ‘gluten sensitive’ routine in favor of a crusty bread with a healthy slab of organic butter. So what happened to make us go from gluten intolerant to totally tolerant?
Part of my journey to cancer recovery was studying a great deal of different diets (spiritual-based and non). I always had a feeling that there was something un-kosher about this gluten avoidance thing. Every time I went to Europe I ate bread and felt fine. In India I lived off chapatti, bloat-free. But sure enough, when I settled back in North America about five years ago I began to experience all kinds of mystery bloating and indigestion. I experimented with everything from Paleo to vegetarian to Paleotarian (lettuce with a side of air anyone?). Not satisfied with simply going ‘gluten free’, I took it a step farther and avoided rice, quinoa and pretty much all grains.
But then I moved to Venice.
A new friend took me to the Tasting Kitchen on Abbot Kinney. She was skinny. I wanted to be skinny! I let her order. Before we even got our water she grabbed the waiter and told him to bring us bread. BREAD! With butter. I balked, but she insisted. I never stood a chance.
Two years later my love affair with bread has grown with every new place that opens and boasts a bakery. I’m talking to you Gjusta, Republique, Rose Café, and that secret place off Washington someone told me about that is only word-of-mouth and open on Tuesdays. LA Magazine published an article listing the top bread spots in the city– the previously mentioned eateries topping that list. I honestly cannot remember the last time I read about or heard anyone mention the words ‘gluten free’.
Now this is by no means to say that gluten allergies are not a real thing. I have many friends who have the real deal, and it is serious. But there were so many of us riding those aggressive bread-free coattails thinking we were protecting ourselves from something horrible when all along, maybe the bread wasn’t the enemy. So what is the beast behind the bloat, and why did it only seem to live on this side of the world?
One of my besties and I went to our favorite new spot, Rose Café in Venice to discuss this very topic. I asked our regular and amazing waiter Jeffry to offer a bit of first hand info into the mix.
He said the reason bread, in France for example, sat well was because they are using natural fermentation, organic flour, and they’re not filling the bread with preservatives– the very things we were probably blaming on the gluten. “Gluten itself is not the enemy. Our bodies have evolved to consume gluten, it’s one of the reasons why we’re still here right now,” he explained.
So what then is the deal with the artisanal bread thing happening right now that is making us all so crazy for carbs? “It’s because it’s not processed. When you have something that is made with only three ingredients, the quality of those ingredients becomes extraordinarily important,” Jeffrey went on.
Yes, that’s right. Only three. Water, yeast, and flour. That’s it.
Rose Café, for example, sources it’s grains from a mill just south of Northern California. It’s all organic wheat flour folded with a bit of white flour. It is technically a sourdough because they use natural yeast. And each loaf takes three days of natural fermentation. Your store-bought bread can’t say that. Expensive bread, you’ve just earned your worth.
As with everything we know about eating well, good food comes down to the quality and quantity of ingredients. The least amount of components and the highest possible quality equals something our bodies can assimilate and digest of. So if you’re determined to go for that bread basket, make sure it’s the good quality, made-with-love, kind of stuff. Not every place will ferment their loaves for three days, and you just might end up with a stale dinner-roll and a plastic square of margarine, which will bloat you to that gluten-free life again. Be smart. Choose your ciabatta wisely.
Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy & Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.