Earlier this summer, Mel Darbyshire got a call from the WSU Bread Lab a few hours north of Seattle. Would she be able to come up and bake bread for a special guest?
And that’s how Grand Central’s head baker ended up spending an afternoon with Bill Gates.
This top-secret visit was Gates’ deep dive into innovations by the Bread Lab’s plant breeders, who collaborate with farmers, millers, bakers and maltsters on grain varieties and new flours that thrive west of the Cascades.
Mel and Brian Denning, Grand Central’s Portland head baker, are frequent flyers at the Bread Lab, regularly teaching classes and testing the suitability of these new flours for artisan breads. Some of those new flours find their way into Grand Central’s seasonal loaves, such as the Barley Baguette, Oats and Honey Loaf and the beautiful new Corn Loaf, coming July 28th.
Grand Central’s bread and pastry bakers also teach classes at the Bread Lab’s annual Grain Gathering, which gears up for its annual three -day conference on Friday. The Grain Gathering brings together professional and home bakers, brewers, millers, farmers, wheat breeders, chefs, food writers and food activists from around the world to try to hammer out how to use these use these grains and new flours for better eating and healthier communities.
This time around, Grand Central’s team of Mel, Laura Ohm, Gina Langley and Kelly DeLucco will lead a workshop on hand-pie dough comparing three single-variety westside-grown flours: Edison Wheat, Skagit 1109 Hard Red Winter Wheat and Club Wheat. Mel also brought a Mini-Cooper full of beautiful loaves baked with Purple Karma Barley Berries (flour courtesy of our friends at Camas Country Mill) for the grand opening of the lab’s brand new building.
Gates’ takeaway from his visit in June to the Bread Lab? Everything he ate was delicious, even the whole-grain croissants. Also, some of the new grains and flours might be used to alleviate malnutrition in poorer countries.
Suffice it to say that Bread Lab, which just opened a state-of-the-art new building, is a Northwest treasure. Thanks, Mr. Gates, for paying attention.