An honest discussion with The GFB’s Chef about gluten-free foods.
Tell us who you are and what you do.
Jeremy Sher. I’m the Chef and a Partner at The GFB, and although our founders Marshall and Elliott are gluten-free by necessity, I’m not.
You’re not gluten-free and you chose to partner up with a dedicated GF company? Explain.
Yeah — an unlikely marriage, I know. I didn’t think I would have anything to offer, having spent two decades as a Pastry Chef. I come from fine dining, not food science. I’m not gonna lie, I used to resent the gluten-free movement — mostly because I was insecure about my ability to create gluten-free versions of my desserts. At first it was a selfish decision to partner with The GFB — I saw this as a challenge and an opportunity for personal growth. Now I understand how much of a difference we make to a lot of people — and that keeps me going every day.
We’ve heard you express frustration with the attitude that gluten-free foods used to be terrible but now they’re pretty good. Why is that a bad thing?
It’s a very low bar, “pretty good.” To me, something has to be amazing — or at least delicious — to bother making or eating it.
The industry has come a long way in the past ten years, to be sure, but to me it’s not really important if something is gluten-free or sugar-free, fat-free, or free of anything else. I’m always asking how we can get more flavor out of fewer ingredients or how we can improve the texture of something — by contrasting the chewy with the crispy, for example. Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean the questions of flavor, texture, contrast and balance don’t need to be answered. When I’m working on a new flavor and someone tells me it’s “pretty good”… I go back to the drawing board. That’s not a high enough standard for regular foods — to me it’s not high enough in the gluten-free world either.
Many chefs view food sensitivities as a hassle, but you see them as an opportunity. How so?
From a pastry perspective I used to think of food sensitivities as limitations, reducing the number of ingredients I could work with. Now I see them as parameters, as structure. And when you know where the boundaries are, there’s a greater incentive to explore mindfully. It’s like being a kid and you’re not allowed to play in the street — but you can explore every bit of your own backyard. So you learn to climb the tree or rummage through the garage or make mud pies (I made lots of mud pies). I see structure as freedom — you just have to get creative.
The GFB says that they make snacks that “don’t taste gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, and vegan — but they are.” What does that mean to you?
I think those claims help consumers to make informed decisions. But if you take all the claims away, along with the packaging and other non-essentials, how does it taste? We don’t usually describe things as tasting gluten-free. “Mmm, this bar tastes delightfully gluten-free, don’t you think? And not a single note of GMO’s on the palette.” That’s silliness. I approach all of this like a child: 1) Can I eat it? and 2) Do I like it? Our bars and bites happen to adhere to all of those claims, but to me they’re just yummy snacks to enjoy.
Just a few more questions…
Your job seems fun. Is it?
Creating new flavor combinations is the BEST. Right now I’m working on seasonal flavors like Ginger Molasses and Pecan Pie. I’m experimenting with cardamom and black pepper and Turkish Coffee. I need a bigger pantry to hold everything!
We know you spend a lot of time directly interacting with the people who actually eat your bars. Got a particularly memorable moment?
We were at a Gluten-Free Expo and a mom came in with her daughter. The daughter looked terrified — not at the crowds or the noise, but at the overwhelming amount of food everywhere. To her, food was a thing to be afraid of. When her mom said “Go ahead, you can eat anything you want. It’s okay,” the girl just lit up. She ran down the aisle as fast as she could. She didn’t even stop to try samples. Just knowing that she could eat if she wanted to was a thrill. That was pretty cool.
What is your vision for the future of gluten-free foods?
I hope we can get to the point where people don’t notice any difference between regular and gluten-free foods. I think we’re on our way. We’ll get there.
GFB owns and operates a sustainable, certified gluten-free facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan. On a day-to-day basis, what does that mean for consumers?
Peace of mind. No issues of cross-contamination, no “shared use” equipment, no outside investors telling us to focus on numbers instead of customer service. We keep things simple: if we like it we sell it, if we don’t we don’t.
My partners (Marshall, Elliott and Ben) are great guys and they’re really good at what they do. We make a really good team. And our crew ROCKS. They work so hard, day in & day out, and there’s no way we could do this without them. We also make products that we really like to eat — I don’t take that for granted. I haven’t always had that luxury. I feel really lucky to be a part of The GFB.
Now that you’ve heard from the brains behind our bars, let’s hear from you. When it comes to GF foods, what matters most to you? Which other companies do you think approach gluten-free as an inspiration instead of simply a restriction? Share your thoughts in the comments below!