Chef Chat, Part 3: Randi Markowitz of Gluten Free Houston

We finish our chat with Markowitz by discussing her transition from a home kitchen to a commercial one. See parts 1 and 2 here and here.

EOW: How was the transition from being a home cook and baker to a commercial business?

Markowitz: There were a lot of difficulties in building out a commercial kitchen. It's very complicated. It requires engineers, architects, the city's health department, and people who specialize in all sorts of areas of build-out expertise that I didn't know anything about. Also, not having been in the business, I was at a real disadvantage because I didn't have the decades of knowledge of what it takes to be successful in starting a food business. You don't think about things like the waste factor. You also don't think about the difficulty getting into retail locations like grocery stores because they have a zillion things coming at them everyday. For me it was like, "Hey, my bread is good. Everyone loves it and people want to buy it." But to take that from a home kitchen with one mixer to a 3,500-square-foot commercial kitchen, it was a tremendous learning process. I like to pick out the best and worst things that happen every day and try to duplicate the good and learn from the bad.

EOW: What did you learn today?

Markowitz: Today I realized that we should have a pasta dish every week because it's a tedious process to make, and gluten-free lasagna is not available everywhere. So we fill that little niche today with a pasta entree because we sold all of them. Every day there are examples of what not to do, so I won't bore you with the gory details. But the biggest thing is trying to avoid overproduction.

EOW: Tell me about what it was like translating a recipe for a single loaf of bread into dozens?

Markowitz: I thought it was easy. I thought you just multiplied everything by the same number. What I didn't realize was that as a home cook, most of the measurements were by cups and spoons. But in a commercial production everything is measured by weight. I had some luck just doubling, tripling, or quadrupling a regular recipe but, with gluten-free cooking, some ingredients don't need to be scaled in the same amount as the other ingredients. This was true with the xantham gum, which also greatly affected the cost. Not only that, there's so many more ingredients when baking gluten-free. In a regular loaf of bread you might have seven ingredients, whereas a gluten-free bread would have 15.

EOW: Is it your plan to have this bake sale every Saturday?

Markowitz: Yes. This was our second week with the Saturday bake sale. During the week we bake for orders. So people will call up and order what they want and when. The weekdays are when we bake for our customers like Central Market, Rice Epicurean, Whole Foods and others. But yes, we plan to have this bake sale everyday Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. We send email updates about the items available at the bake sale. We also use Facebook and Twitter a lot.

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