Willow chefs’ next venture: Wheatless by Willow, featuring gluten-free bread

It’s taken almost two years, but Willow chef/owner Tracy O’Grady and pastry chef/owner Kate Jansen think they’ve nearly perfected their gluten-free bread.

“To try to get it anywhere close to regular bread is crazy challenging,” O’Grady said this week. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was harder than cooking in France.”

The two started thinking about gluten-free baking a couple of years ago when more and more people began asking for them in their Ballston restaurant, Willow. Then, a close friend and early Willow investor’s husband was diagnosed with Celiac disease, which prompted them to start working more with gluten alternatives.

They launched a line of gluten-free baked goods and other foods called Wheatless by Willow during a pop-up last winter at the Dupont Circle farmers market, and now they’re a permanent vendor there.

They’re making the aforementioned bread, as well as scones, cookies, tarts and pasta, and taking cues from shoppers at the market as to what’s working and what’s not. The ultimate goal, Jansen said, could be to sell the line, along with all the research and development O’Grady and Jansen have done.

“When we first started, we couldn’t get it to rise,” O’Grady said. “Then the color was off … it was that ‘gluten-free beige’ that looks really off-putting. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect yet, but we’re continually working on it.”

Right now, other than at the Sunday farmers market, the only way to get your hands on some of that bread is to special order it through Willow.

Another part of the business has been to make savory, prepared foods to sell at the farmers market. O’Grady was shocked how much of those they sold.

“We did a crab and smoked cheddar, gluten-free tater tots that I was frying right there. I had 100 portions, and I sold out,” she said. “Our version of falafel, completely sold out. People were going crazy for them.”


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