Chef Chat, Part 1: Randi Markowitz of Gluten Free Houston

We visited with Randi Markowitz after GFH's (1014 Wirt Road, Suite 230) second Saturday morning bake sale to talk about a home cook's entry into commercial gluten free baking.

EOW: How did you get started?

Markowitz: It all started with a small Kitchen Aid mixer, which is 15 years old (pictured), and I still have it to this day. What drove me [to starting GFH] was I was diagnosed with Celiac disease eight years ago. I had always been a home baker and cook. When all of the sudden they tell you that you can't eat wheat anymore, you're just thinking, "Oh my goodness." It eliminates so much from your diet. So I went out and bought some of the things that were available on the market and grocery stores that were gluten-free and wheat-free. I didn't like any of them - hated all of them, in fact. I thought I could do a better job. So I started making bread, and bread's the hardest thing to make. So I started with the most difficult thing, but that's what I really wanted because that's what I ate all the time.

EOW: How did that go?

Markowitz: It was a total failure for about the first 50 loaves I made. I worked on it for six years before starting the business. It was a real education because once you take out the gluten, which gives baked goods the springiness and fluffiness, you've basically got rocks on your hands. I made bread loaves that were doorstops. They were bricks. Over time, I got better and started developing better recipes and rolls and muffins, and then I got into the pastas. It's such a huge thing to take away all these foods from someone. I continued developing recipes. About two years ago, I realized that there was a market but no one was serving it. So I started selling the stuff that I was making right from my own kitchen and people would come by and pick up orders. Then... I rented a kitchen out in Katy for eight months. Then the location at Wirt Road opened up, and I built that out to be the Gluten Free Houston you know now.

EOW: Did you go about developing your gluten free recipes?

Markowitz: I started out following other recipes and didn't realize that there were some ingredients that were essential. I thought they were optional. I've learned a lot about what not to do. A lot of things in gluten-free baking are about what not to do. I learned over time that combining different flours was the only way to make something taste good. So I... take rice flour or millet flour or sorghum flour or other gluten-free grains and combine them, because each one of them has their own property that contributes to the end product. One of them will hold it together, one will give a certain texture, and one will give it a certain flavor. There isn't one gluten-free grain that has all of those things. I came to find out from using other people's recipes over time -- tweaking them and failing many, many times - which combination of flours worked best and why.

Check back tomorrow to learn the three things you shouldn't do when baking gluten-free, and what it was like for Markowitz learning she has Celiac disease late in life.

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