Students from Johnson & Wales University who entered the GF Baking Competition pose for a snapshot with some of the event sponsors (including Expandex, Pamela's, Bob's Red Mill, Deby's Gluten-Free).
This past weekend was the Gluten-Free Culinary Summit, West Edition, held on the campus of Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colorado. I'm going to put myself not too far out on a limb and say that if you weren't there, then you missed a spectacular event. It was two full days of fun, entertainment, inspiration, motivation, and camaraderie. Attendees and presenters alike traveled in from far and wide. There was a local Colorado contingent, of course, but they also came from places as distant as California, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Florida. They were chefs, bloggers, culinary students, company reps, cookbook authors, and passionate gluten-free foodies that made for a wonderfully diverse mix of people.
Kelli and I were there wearing many hats: as gluten-free bloggers, and as gluten-free cookbook coauthors, of course. But I also served as a judge for the GF Baking Invitational competition, and Kelli and I did a demo on Sunday afternoon showing how to make our pie dough/crust. (By the way, "we" did a demo means that I was the mouthpiece, telling our story, and Kelli was the talent, getting her hands dirty and making her as usual beautiful pie dough.)
The session topics covered some good ground. Day One featured a discussion of alternative grains and flours, insights into bread baking, breakfast porridges, cookies, imaginative desserts, and more. Day Two covered quickbreads, chocolates, Italian (bread and polenta), GF flour blends, savory dishes (including potato-based lasagna), and more. (Of course, in the interest of brevity, I've greatly abbreviated the topics here, and my one- or two-word topics don't nearly do each session and their presenters justice.) And, it must be said, we tasted lots of delicious samples. If I had one criticism (and this one that seemed to be generally shared by many who were there), it is that the sessions on the average trended toward sweet baked goods, and so by the end of the weekend many of us were overdosed on sugar and craving something wholly savory. But that's a minor quibble.
On the GF baking competition side of things, the judges' scores were tallied and counted along with a popular vote submitted by the attendees. We tackled foods entered in four categories: quick breads, cookies, yeast breads, and brownies. What I found most interesting, and inspiring, was not only the number of JWU students who entered the competition (kudos to them for tackling the challenge, and for perhaps becoming the next generation of GF bakers!), but also the sheer variety of entries within each category. The quick breads ranged from the relatively straightforward (lemon poppy seed muffins, pumpkin scones) to the imaginative and creative (Victorian sponge cake with rasberry filling). Other categories followed suit. For example, yeast breads ranged from a bagel to a kugelhopf to a rosemary focaccia.
I'll be completely honest. A select few entries left a lot to be desired. Many came in down the middle of the road - fair to average to good. But some were truly stunning. As the judges chatted in the back room after independently judging the entries and submitting our double blind evaluations (we didn't know the names of the entrants for each recipe, and our names were kept off our score sheets), most of us agreed that certain entries you couldn't tell were gluten-free, and that they could definitely find a place in a cookbook. Despite the fact that we were necessarily highly critical as judges, as a general rule we applauded the full spectrum of entries. As I said during my judge's comments at the event: Even if a recipe doesn't turn out quite as planned, or even if you deem it a failure, don't be discouraged. Kelli and I know from personal experience that you sometimes experience spectacular baking failures before you arrive at success. (Also, the winning submission in each category will have the recipe posted on the GF Culinary Productions website... keep an eye posted for that!)
I could go on and on about the finer details of the weekend, but I'm going to cut myself off here. If you have questions about a particular session, let me know. I'd be happy to answer it as best as I can. And I encourage you to browse the list of presenters...many of them came from restaurants with wonderful GF offerings, and you just might consider popping in to have a bite!