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Nicole Rucker

Nicole Rucker is a pastry chef for the Gjelina group, more specifically, Gjelina Take Away in Venice. At the beginning of her culinary career, Rucker worked in various bakeries and cafes across California, from San Francisco to San Diego. In the quest to create the perfect pie crust, Rucker came up with a recipe that helped her win the KCRW Annual Good Food Pie Contest in Los Angeles, as well as a blue ribbon in the National Pie Championship in Orlando. Fascinatingly, her award-winning apple pie utilizes dried apples and cardamom.

Pastry Chef Nicole Rucker of Gjelina Take Away- Los Angeles, CA

What hooked you on cooking?
In short – Failure. I used to watch a lot of cooking shows as a teenager, and I would try to make the recipes from the shows for my family. I grew up in a single parent household and I made a lot of the meals for myself and my siblings. I wanted to impress a young man one summer and I tried to make a cake from scratch with my best friend, it was a complete mess. So I started from that culinary failure (and the many more to come…) and worked my way to a place of understanding. This is what hooked me, the desire to understand.
The coolest example of science in your food?
The point of doneness and its many indicators. The reactions of methods and applications and ingredients. The scientific method of figuring things out – even down to what tastes good with what. Adding salt to fruit – thats a practical application of a very simple scientific reaction.
The food you find most fascinating?
Fruit and vegetables – Its magical the way nature and man cooperate (or not) to make these things edible. I’ve always been in love with apples and tomatoes and their many varieties.
What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?
The cultivation of produce – I’m not talking about the Monsanto GMO stuff, but the kind of thing my grandpa used to do, tying one citrus plant to another citrus plant, or developing a hotter chile by grafting… this stuff I could hear about all day long.
Your best example of a food that is better because of science?
Not exactly a food but a process – fermentation. My life would be less without cheese/wine/miso/bread…
How do you think science will impact your world of food in the next 5 years?
The more people become interested in their food and food systems, the more people want to understand the world of food. This could lead us to a greater appreciation for quality, sustainability and the science of food. Not the science of creating artificial foods and flavors but the science of keeping a sustainable food system alive that can extend the availability and the appreciation of quality, healthful, interesting food to everyone. Rich or poor. Idealistic but hey…
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
My hands.
Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Mustard, Aged White Cheddar, kale, eggs, BUTTER.
Your all-time favorite ingredient?
Well, salt is the always favorite ingredient… but other ingredients come and go, my favorites change by the week or the season. Currently in heavy use is buckwheat flour. Talk to me in a few weeks and it will probably be lemon verbena and further into summer… elephant heart plums.
Your standard breakfast?
Eggs and bacon in any form with toast, coffee or tea.

Gluten Tolerance

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photo credits (whatsername?/flickr)

It seems that people love to hate gluten. Though it plays an important role in baking, gluten has a bad reputation. The market for gluten-free foods and beverages reached $4.2 billion in 2012; an increase of 28% since 2008.[1] It is actually difficult to go into Whole Foods and find a baking mix with gluten. But gluten isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just misunderstood. Have a heart, and let’s learn to better appreciate gluten for the remarkable protein network that it is.

Gluten is comprised of two proteins; gliadin and glutenin, that are conjoined with starch in the endosperm of various grass-relatedgrains. Endosperms of flowering plants are stored with protein to nourish embryonic plants during germination.[2] True gluten is typically defined as coming only from certain members of the grass family, namely wheat, but gluten may arise from other cereal grains, like barley and rye, as they also contain protein composites of similar proteins. When water and flour mix, glutenin molecules cross-link with gliadin, and form a sub-microscopic gluten network. Stirring and kneading help gluten stretch and organize into a stronger network, turning simple paste into dough. If dough is leavened with yeast, the fermenting microbes produce carbon dioxide bubbles that are trapped within the gluten network and cause the dough to rise. Baking dehydrates the dough as the protein foam structure solidifies.

The development of gluten affects the texture of baked goods. Kneading promotes the formation of gluten strands and cross-links, creating baked products that are chewier the longer you knead the dough, such as pizza crust and bagels. Less developed gluten yields tender pastry products. For this reason, bread flours are high in gluten, while pastry flours have a lower gluten content. When a tender, flaky product is desired, like a pie crust, a fat such as shortening can be used to inhibit cross-link formation, along with less kneading and low moisture content.

photo credits (Andrea_Nguyen/flickr)

photo credits (Andrea_Nguyen/flickr)

Gluten intolerance has recently become a very talked-about condition. The most prominent form of intolerance occurs in people with Celiac disease. When people with this disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system produces antibodies, which damage the intestinal lining, causing inflammation and nutrient malabsorption. The cause of the disease is currently unknown. Some gene mutations seem to increase risk of developing Celiac, but not everyone with the mutation is gluten intolerant. A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology states that the prevalence of Celiac disease in the US is 0.71%. [4] Recently, another potential form of intolerance called non-celiac gluten sensitivity has garnered attention. After consuming gluten, people with gluten sensitivity may experience diarrhea, fatigue and joint pain, but their intestines are not damaged as would be in the case of Celiac. In 2011, this condition was lent credibility by Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and director of the GI Unit at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, who published a study that found gluten to cause gastrointestinal distress in patients without Celiac disease.[5] The experiment was one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a genuine condition. However, his study had not revealed why his subjects reacted adversely to gluten. He resolved to rigorously repeat the trial, ensuring that no confounding factors affected the results.

The study was conducted as follows: A total of 37 subjects, all meeting the criteria for having non-celiac gluten sensitivity were provided every meal for the entire study period. Any and all potential dietary triggers were removed, including lactose, certain preservatives, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs. They were first fed a baseline diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks, then were given one of three diets (high gluten, low gluten, or placebo). Each subject cycled through each diet, and none ever knew what specific diet he or she was eating.

Regardless of which diet they were on, subjects reported similar degrees of worsened gastrointestinal ailments. Their reported pain, bloating, nausea, and gas all increased over the baseline diet. The data clearly indicated that a nocebo effect was occurring – in other words, participants were experiencing an entirely psychological phenomenon in which a harmless substance causes a harmful effect.

"A celiac looking in the window of a Parisian boulangerie." photo credits (justmakeit/flickr)

“A celiac looking in the window of a Parisian boulangerie.” photo credits (justmakeit/flickr)

So whether you eat gluten, cannot eat gluten, or choose to avoid it, it is a scientifically interesting substance that has spurred quite a bit of talk and research. Perhaps gluten is damages us psychologically more than it does health-wise. Despite the possibly nocebic effects of gluten, the booming popularity of gluten-free products has allowed people with Celiac a much greater range of food options, and has encouraged people to examine the ingredients of their foods more closely, though they may be avoiding the wrong substance.

Sources

1. “Gluten-Free Foods and Beverages in the U.S., 4th Edition.” : Market Research Report. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2014.

2. Castro, By Joseph. “What Is Gluten?” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 28 May 2014.

3. “Celiac Disease.” Web log post. Webmd.com. N.p., n.d. Web.Pomeroy, Ross. “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity May Not Exist.” RealClearScience. N.p.,

4. Rubio-Tapia, A., JF Ludvigsson, TL Brantner, JL Murray, and JE Everheart. “The Prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 25 May 2014.

5. Biesiekierski JR, Peters SL, Newnham ED, Rosella O, Muir JG, Gibson PR. “No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates.” Gastroenterology.


Elsbeth SitesAbout the author: Elsbeth Sites is pursuing her B.S. in Biology at UCLA. Her addiction to the Food Network has developed into a love of learning about the science behind food.

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