Three days a week, Theodore Carlat wanders around the Garden Vegan Café with slices of dark, dense bread.
As he lathers these samples with vegan butter, he explains to eager tasters that this bread is special. This bread, he says, is made with ancient grains. Theodore sources uncommon wheat varieties from nearby farmers and uses a natural starter to craft his hefty loaves.
He and his wife, Jenna Bicknell, also run a wholesale food distribution business called REAL FOODS Walla Walla. They seek out the best organic, regional food to bring to consumers. It has been so popular that this spring they plan to open their first retail location at 34 Colville St.
LIFESTYLES: So, REAL FOODS Walla Walla is a business venture you and your wife started — how do you divvy up the responsibilities?
THEODORE: She loves the financial management. She really thrives on doing the behind-the-scenes business. I’m more of the face of it.
LIFESYTLES: How do you two define “real food”?
THEODORE: If it has 27 ingredients and you can’t pronounce them, it’s not real. “Real” means it has a seasonal quality to it, it’s as local as possible, it’s left in its whole, nutritional form, and it’s prepared in such a way that it hasn’t lost all its nutrients.
LIFESTYLES: When did you start your line of Ancient Grains Bread?
THEODORE: At the farmers market in 2010, we sold $400 to $500 of organic-certified artisan bread each Saturday. That proved there was a market here. Later on, we began making 100-mile bread (bread made with ingredients sourced from within a 100-mile radius). Now we are doing 30-mile bread. For me it’s a big victory.
LIFESTYLES: So, what exactly is an ancient grain?
THEODORE: In ancient times in what is known as Europe, they grew a mixed crop. A plot of land would have a mix of einkorn, spelt and emmer. These three grains grew together, and this practice is known in Latin as farro. You could also include amaranth and quinoa from the Mayan and Incan cultures.
LIFESTYLES: Why are they just becoming popular now?
THEODORE: They fell by the wayside because wheat became more productive. These ancient grains were rediscovered in Northern Italy. In the last 30 years, people in the food industry have picked up some of these ancient foods and brought them back. Now we have people in our state growing them.
LIFESTYLES: Are these ancient grains healthier than the standard wheat?
THEODORE: This is naturally leavened bread, which means we use a natural starter. When you make naturally leavened dough, the grain begins to break down, which makes it easier for people to digest. The wheat we have today in regular white loaves was developed for bakers, and that has nothing to with nutrition.
LIFESTYLES: Have people been enjoying the bread?
THEODORE: People usually say “Mmm, that’s interesting!” I describe the bread as having a nutty flavor. Overall, it’s has been flying out of the Garden Vegan Café!