As an organization comprised of and driven by its Ownership, Willy Street Co-op has long been duty-bound to shape the selection of products to the needs and wants of our Owners. This can take the form of prioritizing a whole category of products (like organics) or specifics, often added through the customer comment process. The Willy Street Co-op Production Kitchen is no exception. From an early focus on vegetarian and vegan dietary needs, we’ve tried to move where our Owners and other customers needed us to, all the while maintaining flavor, texture and from-scratch cooking as the benchmarks of our product development. Recently, this has included a selection in traditional-style bakery made without gluten (also a strong category in the Kitchen’s offerings, though not as emphasized in our signage).

A newer arrival to alternative approaches to eating is the Paleo diet, which emphasizes making choices from the pre-agricultural stage of the human diet as a way to allegedly lower strain on the body’s resources and improve health and well-being. In avoiding refined and processed foods and basing the diet in those food groups consumed for the larger part of human existence, Paleo-style eaters aim to give the body what it is most naturally built for and nourished by. Our Production Kitchen will be focusing on a subset of the Paleo diet, grain-free eating, in a number of new offerings rolling out in November. This initiative was led by Angelika Matthews, our Kitchen Manager, and I spoke with her recently about how she became interested and decided to develop this new section of our menu.

How did you first hear about grain-free cooking?
“I had heard of grain-free diets mainly through Joe Disch, a co-worker who maintains the Paleo-centric website madisonpaleo.com. As the Kitchen Manager, I write quite a few recipes for our catalog. I get a lot of requests for vegan, vegetarian and meat dishes. I really wanted to continue to make our Deli more unique by focusing our catalog in specific areas and dietary needs like the Paleo diet. Joe really helped open my curiosity to this area of cooking.”

Besides flavor, what important elements need consideration when cooking grain-free?
“The  Paleolithic diet or Paleo diet, also called the caveman diet, is a diet that mainly consists of fish, grass-fed pasture-raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, fungi, roots, and nuts. This diet excludes grains, legumes (including peanuts) and dairy products (grass-fed butter is allowed), potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, beer, soft-drinks, energy drinks, and processed oils. The biggest challenge in the Paleo diet is the elimination of grains, dairy products and processed oils. Oils like olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil and grass-fed butters are allowed according to ‘The Ultimate Paleo Diet Website.’ Replacing items like pasta with spaghetti squash and rice with cauliflower is a good way to add the flavor back in, and increase the nutritional value of the dish.”

What’s coming up next?
“I am really excited to continue to experiment with this dietary category. I am not currently practicing a Paleo lifestyle myself; however, I have begun to experiment with cauliflower as a grain substitute. It seems so simple, yet cauliflower, when processed correctly, can look and act just like rice in a dish. Making these dishes attractive and tasty is not difficult. The Paleo diet could be easily followed by those who follow the gluten-free diet. I believe in making dishes taste good not only to our mouth but our eyes as well.

“I’ll continue more recipe development for this category. I would like to see at least 10 new recipes added to our catalog by the end of 2013. I want to make the Paleo diet just as accessible to our customers as the gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and meat-friendly dishes we already carry. My goal is to make our Deli the most diverse in the Madison area and expand our offerings to include a wide variety of dietary needs and restrictions and tasty recipes.”

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