The term “hidden gem” is used quite a bit, and it’s a term that I don’t use lightly, so when I say I’ve discovered a hidden gem, I want everyone to know about it. The place I’m referring to is Baker Miller, a whole grain bakery, restaurant, and flour mill which isn’t really that hidden, yet I don’t feel as though enough people know about it and truly understand its significance. Every time I come in, there are always at least some people either by themselves or eating with others, no matter the time or day. Whenever I order something, the staff are always friendly and enthusiastic. In fact, one time as I reached into the small bag containing my pecan oat jammer (a great treat to get because it’s small so you don’t feel too guilty eating it) I ordered to go, I noticed an extra one inside! That thoughtful gesture made my day, as I felt like their most important customer. Now all of this praise could be a product of the atmosphere, neighborhood, staff, or just the food, but this is not what makes this place stand out.
What people may not be aware of is the effort that owners Dave and Megan Miller put into their work as shown by their creation of a great team and paying them significantly above the minimum wage, desire to find the highest quality farms from which they source their grain, commitment to owning their own mills, development of relationships with the right farms in the optimal regions for growing grain by helping these farmers get the best equipment, spending significant amounts of time learning how about milling from experts and how to work with flour, and their vision to change how we eat, all of which allow them to produce the highest quality (in terms of both taste and nutrition) stone-ground bread.
Baker Miller represents the missing link in the farm-to-table movement that focuses on pastured and hormone and antibiotic free meat and locally sourced organic fruits and vegetables, but pays little if any attention to the sourcing of wheat and how bread is milled and baked. As Dave Miller said, “When you buy bread in the grocery store, it’s made from wheat that’s been treated and has been sitting around. It’s been chemically processed and has no nutrients left.”
More specifically, in their research paper on the nutritional characteristics of organic, freshly stone-ground, sourdough, and conventional breads published by Ecological Agriculture Projects, Judy Campbell, Mechtild Hauser, and Stuart Hill point out that “only whole grain stone-ground flour is sure to contain the grain components in their original proportions and to include the germ. The way the stones grind distributes the germ oil evenly and without exposing it to excess heat, so rancidity does not develop as quickly as it would were it ground by steel roller-mills.” The also note that “it is advisable to avoid refined, bleached flour, even if it is enriched, and to chose whole wheat flour. However, store-bought whole wheat flour is likely to be void of the germ and a part of the bran, in which the nutrients are most concentrated. Also, it is usually treated with the same chemical improvers as white flour, and may have been irradiated. Only organic, stone-ground, whole wheat flour can be complete and untreated by chemicals.”
Another great organization that aims to change the way we eat bread is The Bread Lab, “an integral part of the Washington State University-Mount Vernon Plant Breeding Program, which studies the diversity of locally grown grains to determine those that perform well for farmers, and that are most suitable for craft baking, malting, brewing, distilling, and other culinary creations. Professional bakers and chefs analyze and test their whole grain products under the technical guidance of Bread Lab Director and wheat breeder Dr. Stephen Jones and Bread Lab resident baker Jonathan Bethony.
The goal of the Bread Lab is to combine science, art, curiosity, and innovation to explore ways of using regionally available grains to move the craft of whole grain bread baking and other grain usage forward.”
It is hard to believe that in all of Chicago, it is so difficult to find high quality, nutritious stone-ground bread that is produced by farmers, millers, and bakers who maintain the integrity of the entire process. When I bring up stone-ground bread to most people – even health professionals – they say they have never even heard of it. So if you want to gain unique insights into nutrition, ironically you may be more likely to find them in a bakery that produces food with integrity rather than from a health care professional.