Award-winning New York chefs experiment at WSU bread lab

By Cathy McKenzie, WSU Mount Vernon

blue-hill-pastry-160MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – Chefs from the 2013 James Beard Most Outstanding Restaurant will experiment and learn this month in the bread lab at the Washington State University Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center.

The lab provides a relaxed atmosphere that professional chefs and bakers are not likely to get in the more frenetic setting of a private restaurant, said Jonathan Bethony McDowell, the lab’s resident baker.

“This is a public place for learning,” he said. “There’s not the maximized pressure of the for-profit business, so experimentation is wide open.

Whole grain goodness

“And it’s rare to find all this equipment and variety of grains at our disposal,” McDowell said. “That’s why we have so many professionals getting in line to work with us.”

Blue Hill at Stone Barns. (Photos from Blue Hill)

In particular, the chefs from New York’s Blue Hill restaurant and Blue Hill at Stone Barns will bake and test pastries created with grains grown and milled in western Washington.

“Among other things, we’ll be utilizing malting and club wheat, which is a very delicate soft wheat suitable for pastry,” McDowell said. “It’s about using local varieties of grains in non-conventional ways to develop new products.”

Farm to table

This philosophy is echoed by Blue Hill co-owner Dan Barber, who has visited the bread lab twice. The goal is not so much an economic finish line as it is to create a “consciousness around everyday food choices,” he said.

His Stone Barns farm educates to promote awareness of the connection between where food comes from and its condition when served. Working with the bread lab will help his chefs “blur the line between the dining experience and the educational, bringing the principles of good farming directly to the table,” he said.

Award-winning chefs

Chefs Adam Kaye and Devin McDavid will be at the lab Feb. 17-19. Kaye is vice president of culinary affairs for Blue Hill. McDavid was voted Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Pastry Chef of 2012 after gaining recognition at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley and Quince and Cotogna restaurants in San Francisco.

Barber was appointed by Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. In 2009, he was named one of the world’s most influential people in Time magazine’s “Time 100.”

Learn more about Blue Hill at



Steve Jones, WSU Mount Vernon NWREC director/wheat breeder,, 360-416-5210

Jonathan Bethony McDowell, WSU bread lab resident baker,, 360-848-6144