A gluten-free, vegan pastry chef: Is that even possible?
Think about it: What are the main ingredients in most desserts? Flour, eggs, butter, cream -- all either gluten or animal products.
But a chef on the Celiac Awareness Tour has proved that not only is it possible to bake without those, but also that there is a growing niche market for it.
Jean-Rene Renusson, who develops gluten-free desserts and breads for Savory Foods in Grand Rapids, Mich., will be one of the featured speakers when the tour kicks off Saturday at the DoubleTree in Monroeville.
Mr. Renusson literally grew up in the kitchen, taking his first steps in the kitchen of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Chicago, where his father was head pastry chef. He followed in his father's footsteps and became a pastry chef, too.
But he became a vegetarian about 12 years ago, and three years ago he narrowed his diet even further to become a vegan.
Through experimentation, he found that he "had a knack for making something that shouldn't be vegan into something vegan."
That sixth sense has allowed him to work with gluten-free products, too, for the last year and a half or so. Savory Foods, which makes baked goods and gourmet popcorns for wholesale, fundraising and corporate gifts, hired Mr. Renusson to develop some gluten-free lines. So far he's invented eight varieties of gluten-free cookies, two cakes and a banana bread that he says is particularly scrumptious.
"It's trial and error," he said of learning to bake gluten-free. "You really have to learn your flours."
In Pittsburgh, Mr. Renusson will take the main stage to demonstrate a vegan pesto to top Savory Foods' gluten-free garlic pizza crust, as well as a tomato tortilla soup recipe.
Other presenters on Saturday include Chef Anna Harouvis, owner of Good to Go Cafe in Cleveland, who will demonstrate raw pasta and macadamia-nut brownies, and "Chef of the Future" Peter Klarman, a food and nutrition researcher from Louisville who will prepare "magic quinoa."
This is the third year the tour has kicked off in Pittsburgh, and director Lou Reyes notes that the tour always welcomes an enthusiastic crowd here.
"I don't know if it's more of a foodie area, but we've found that people in Pittsburgh are very passionate and ask a lot of questions."
Other activities on Saturday include opportunities to meet celiac-disease experts and sample products from more than 30 gluten-free local and national food vendors.
Doors open at 9 a.m. Admission is $10, or free for children under 12. Information: celiacawarenesstour.com or 1-440-799-4344.
In 2007, Peters resident Geri Whalen developed kidney disease following the birth of her third child. A transplant was her only hope of survival.
On Jan. 16, her sister Dana Christner, who lives in North Carolina, donated a kidney to Mrs. Whalen. The sisters are reportedly recovering well, but now the medical bills start to kick in.
Family and friends are hosting a fundraiser starting at 5 p.m. today at Del's Bar & Ristorante in Bloomfield. For a $10 cover charge, there will be a food bar (wings, pizza, appetizers and pasta), silent auction and drinks served by a guest bartender. All proceeds, tips and donations will go to the National Foundation for Transplants for Mrs. Whalen's medical expenses. To contribute, visit patients.transplants.org/geriwhalen.
Romantic dinner for two: Chef Jason Dalling discusses aphrodisiacs and effective preparation of a menu for two, including oysters, asparagus and truffle risotto, pan-seared scallops, champagne, strawberries and chocolate. 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 2 at Habitat in the Fairmont Pittsburgh, Downtown. $65 per person. Reservations required: 412-773-8848.
Valentine's cake decorating workshop: Lessons on making flowers, balloons, streamers, scallops and other cake decorations. 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at Bruster's in Ingomar. Workshop is free with the purchase of a cake or pie. Child care is provided ;412-366-9899.
Farming for the Future
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture hosts its annual "farming for the Future" conference Feb. 8-9 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College.
• Goods from the Woods: This Feb. 7 workshop, offered a day ahead of the main conference, will teach participants to forge, grow and market ramps, wild mushrooms, nettles, fiddlehead ferns and other foraged foods.
• Trade show and benefit auction: The show, starting at 5 p.m. Feb. 7, will feature cheese tasting and a beginning-farmer mixer.
• Featured speakers: The slate, which focuses on sustainability, includes master horticulturist Lee Reich, former researcher with the USDA and Cornell University. He is now a writer, lecturer and consultant who will discuss blueberries, fruit-tree pruning, and uncommon fruits with market potential.
The conference is geared toward farmers, chefs, students and business leaders. Register by Tuesday to avoid extra fees. pasafarming.org/conference.
Uniontown native Richard Rosendale, executive chef of The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and his assistant, Corey Seigel ,will compete in the prestigious international culinary competition on Tuesday and Wednesday in Lyon, France.
The competition can be viewed online at bocusedorusa.org/bdo2013. But you'd better be a very early riser: Mr. Rosendale and Mr. Siegel will cook from about 3:20 to 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
Mr. Rosendale hopes to become the first winner from the U.S. Read the PG's September interview with him by searching his name at post-gazette.com.
You also can follow Team USA on Twitter @BocusedOrUSA during their final days of preparation in Lyon at hashtag #NoSleepTilLyon, live during the competition at #GoForGold, and on Facebook.
Souper Bowl Soup Contest: Submit a soup recipe by Wednesday to any McGinnis Sisters store (Monroeville, Mars or Brentwood). Ten finalists will bring in a pot of soup to be judged by local football coaches, food enthusiasts and restaurateurs on Super Bowl Sunday. Winner gets a $50 store gift card and trophy. Information or to submit recipes: email@example.com.
Pillsbury Bake-Off: It's the creme-de-la-creme, the contest every avid home cook dreams of winning. A million bucks, just for a recipe? Anyway, entries are being accepted for the newly redesigned Bake-Off in three separate categories as follows: Amazing Doable Diners, through Feb. 7; Simple Sweets and Starters, April 4-May 9; and Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts, July 4-Aug. 8. Recipes must include no more than seven ingredients and require 30 minutes or less to prepare. Go to bakeoff.com.
Rebecca Sodergren: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @pgfoodevents. First Published January 24, 2013 5:00 AM