Richard Bourdon stands in front of a tub of dough

The quest for gluten, part III: Richard the baker

To continue and conclude “The quest for gluten” series is to talk about Richard the Baker.

Our trip to Berkshires was more like a pilgrimage. To the holy baking site where maybe all my problems would go away. But, it’s neither a hospital nor a rehabilitation center, and it’s definitely not a temple. The Berkshire Mountain Bakery is just a normal bakery. A bit more rustic than city ones perhaps, nestled in the tony countryside, in a community of generally liberal-minded intellectuals, artists and foodies.

So bellies full from the lovely breakfast, and after getting a bit sidetracked by the Saturday farmer’s market at Great Barrington,  Alex and I walked finally into the bakery. There were a couple of people in front of us, which gave us time to look around and pick out the things that we wanted to buy. I spotted some gluten free loafs, as well as frozen apple pie; Alex also saw a few things that interested him. When it was our turn, Alex simply asked the lady behind the counter about how long to let sourdough bread proof before baking, which was one of the reasons for us being there in the first place. The lady said she didn’t know, and said that Richard could answer. She disappeared to the back, then came back, and beckoned us to go back there with her.

And then, just like that, there we were, standing in the place where the bread was made, in the inner sanctum of the bakery. And there stood Richard, his silver mane waving about, shirt and apron covered with dusts of flour, saying hello, sounding (naturally) just like he did on Netflix. It’s as if we stepped through our LED screen and into his world.

So that was bizarre. At first, I felt like we were intruding, and felt a bit awkward. But Richard was very accommodating and kind. I suppose he is used to having customers stop by wanting to meet him. He listened to Alex’s story, about how we saw him on Netflix and how we began making our own bread and about my gluten intolerance. And we asked him if he thinks I would be okay eating normal sourdough bread. And then began what ultimately became a two-hour discussion on life, the meaning of food and eating and cooking, and mankind’s relationship to food and the earth. It was fascinating. His interest and passion for food and his philosophy about what we are eating, his beliefs about what is good and not good for us, how not to eat bread and the best way to eat meat, about sprouting seeds or fermenting, it was very educational. I could have listened to him for hours, which actually, I did.

When we discussed whether or not I should be able to eat sourdough bread, in contrast to Michael Pollan who explicitly stated that he believes gluten intolerants should be able to consume such things, Richard himself wasn’t so sure. He gave us a bit of his starter and asked me to cook and eat it like pancake and see how that affects me. The gluten in the batter, which by now had turned into liquid, should have been processed  enough as to render it harmless. But again he wasn’t sure, and didn’t want to make any guarantees, so I said that I was willing to be his guinea pig.

Richard talked about starting his own TV show to share all of his ideas. To start a series wherein he would encourage America, and indeed the world, to bake their own breads and feed themselves properly. To discuss his theories on eating and enzymes and health,  and on the proper ways to prepare the different things that we should eat, like grains, meats, fruits, etc. I’d be totally into something like that, and I do hope that he will follow through on his ideas.

After some time, we excused ourselves, giddy and grateful for having spent so much time together with the master baker. We went back onto the shop floor and bought  loaves of bread for Alex and me, as well as frozen gluten free apple pie, to go.

Later that night, Richard actually followed up and texted us to say that I should add baking soda to the batter to make it less sour. So when we got home, I made glutenous pancakes of sourdough starter with baking soda, and ate them. They tasted pretty good. It helps when you add chocolate. Sourdough and chocolate is a killer combination, btw. And I didn’t die or feel too awful. The scratchy throat that I used to have for years and years did come back, and sometimes my stomach felt discomfort.

Alex also made me bread with einkorn, an ancient form of wheat that contains less gluten, and I actually ate slices of it, as well as some pieces of Richard’s kamut bread, with some side effects, but none too damaging. The simple fact that I ate some pancakes and bread made with glutenous flour  was big. But the fact that I did have symptoms, and when I perspired, it wasn’t the healthiest of aromas, that did worry me a little bit. So I think, though it could have been worse, it’s still not really without consequences, consuming gluten. Which is a bit of a pity. I was also a bit too bold and kept adding to it. I toasted the bread with cheese, which I almost never eat. And at one point, it felt all a bit too much. The problem was, because I was eating both dairy and gluten, I couldn’t figure out which of the two was causing problems.

So I decided to just stop. After just a week or two of experimenting, I went back to my gluten-free diet. I didn’t want to push my luck, and I was afraid of reversing all the good that I’ve done over the last 15 years. I am used to a gluten and dairy-free diet, and I prefer not to have an itchy throat the whole time.

But the story doesn’t end there. When I’m feeling healthy, I will eat slices of sourdough bread to see what happens. Because I still think consuming the bacteria from sourdough fermentation is good for you. I will also try making gluten-free sourdough bread myself one day. And in less than 10 days, we will be going back to the Berkshires, and I will make sure to stop by and buy some gluten free bread and pies from Richard, and tell him how eating gluten has affected me thus far. Maybe he has new insights that he can share with me.

So, that was the meeting with the guru of gluten. Eventful, unexpected, delicious.

Below some pics from our visit. If any of you are in the area, make sure to pay Richard a visit. The bread is good, and good for you. 🙂

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