Chef of the Month: Karen Morgan

In an effort to shine more light on the hard working chefs who work tirelessly to raise our gastronomic experiences in gluten-free cuisine, I've started a new Chef of the Month series. There are so many talented people in the gluten-free space, and each of our Chefs has something special and unique to offer. I'm excited to help you get to know them better.

Our first Chef of the Month, is Karen Morgan, the illustrious beauty and talent behind the virtual gluten-free bakeshop, Blackbird Bakery. Her gourmet gluten-free baked goods rise far above the standard gluten-free fare, which as most of us know, has always had a reputation for falling flat in quality, consistency and taste. But Karen’s passion and persistence has led her to perfect gluten-free baking,  and has elevated gluten-free to a higher standard of cuisine. The proof is in the pudding, as most of her products taste even better than their gluteny predecessors. Just take a look at this stunning array of breads, pies, tarts, cakes and more…

Karen’s success has been proven time and again. From a standing ovation from French gourmands, to the fourth printing of her cookbook, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-free, its clear that she has a talent for what she’s doing, and people want more. In addition to these accomplishments, she is also the star of Whole Foods’ new cooking show, Gluten Morgan, and their official gluten-free expert, with more projects on the way. Karen lives in Austin, Texas with her son, Leo, where she continues to be innovative in her pursuits and her brand, baking toward perfection, every day.

I’m so honored to have Karen as a Star Chef on Stuffed Pepper. Let’s find out a little more about her personality, work and goals:

How long have you been gluten-free and how did you end up on the path?

I have been gluten-free for 11 years now. It all began with my diagnosis of celiac disease in 2002; a moment that proved to be providential.  I went through the ugliness of acceptance but soon realized that the available foods at the time were not going to keep my friends around the table, so I pulled on my bootstraps and spent the next 4 years teaching myself how to bake gluten-free. I was very shy with my work initially, but when I saw how my recipes were positively improving the lives of others, I devoted myself to making gluten-free better than what came before with total abandon. 

I love the name of your virtual bakeshop: Blackbird Bakery. What inspired the name?

The inspiration for the name of my bakeshop came from the Beatles song “Blackbird,” because it’s all about discovery, renewal, and rebirth and I couldn’t think of a more fitting name for a gluten-free bakery.

That’s one of my favorite songs in the whole world!

I know—it’s a song that you don’t really ever get tired of.

What projects are you currently working on?

Ugh, that’s an embarrassing question. I’m all over the reservation so I know I’m going to sound crazy, but I’m finishing up my second book, which is all about converting your childhood recipes to gluten-free—and I’m looking for a location so I can open a flesh and blood bakery.  It’s time to go from virtual to actual!

Ha ha. There’s nothing embarrassing about being prolific! And actually, I think you forgot to mention your recently-launched line of new flour blends, something I’m very excited about. Plus, isn’t there a bakery in Austin that will now be carrying some of your goodies?

Oh my god, I did totally forget to mention those—see what I mean about just a little all over the reservation?  At least I remembered my underwear today.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment to-date?

Hands down, raising my son, Leo.

That’s a super accomplishment. He’s a very sweet boy.

You’re a phenomenal mother yourself to TWO little angels—honestly two little balls of stardust.

Thank you. smiley

What’s your favorite comfort food?

Well, since I’m an Italian girl, I love homemade pasta, but I’ve also got a rabid sweet tooth, so when I need the comfort of a sugar spoon, I always whip up a coconut cream pie.

What’s your favorite dish to make for Leo?

My grandmother’s pork and veal ravioli (which I converted to gluten-free of course!)

Oh my, you must share that and the coconut cream pie recipe with us soon!

For sure!  They are going to be in my new cookbook, but I’ll share them with you guys first!

What’s your favorite dish to make for company or special occasions?

That always depends on the company. 

Good point! 

What’s the one kitchen gadget you can’t live without?

My kitchen aid mixer.

What’s the one kitchen ingredient you can’t live without?

The eggs from Springdale Farm

I don’t know how I would live without eggs either. Do you pick them up from the farm?

I do-every Wednesday and Saturday.  The owners of the farm are gluten-free as well, so we always have a ton to talk about.

What food (beside gluten and any other allergens) would you never eat?

No eyeballs and no testicles.

Omigod! I’m with you there! Luke loves to watch Chopped on Food Network sometimes, and once they had to make a dish out of “Lamb Fries.” It took me a while to catch on that that was euphemism for testicles. Luckily, Luke never caught on! I’ll let Thomas tell his story of goat eyeballs in Africa, the next time we meet up. surprise

EWWWW!  Was Andrew Zimmerman there?

I cant’ remember. It was hard to watch!

How would you describe your style of cuisine?

Old-school modern.

I love that!

What was the worst kitchen disaster that you’ve experienced?

That would have to be the day my pastry cream melted out from between the layers of three-dozen petits fours I had made for my friend Harper’s bridal shower. The cream just wouldn’t set, so I put the petits fours in the freezer and the cakes “melted” in the freezer. I was running late, so I was rushing around like a mad woman—I still cringe just thinking about it–so I’ll let you use your imagination to fill in the gaps, but let’s just say I now keep my salt in a dark blue box so I never get it confused with the sugar. To this day, I have never said sorry as many times as I did that Sunday.

Oh that story makes me want to cry! I’m sorry you had to go through that!

I cried like a baby I felt so bad and hello-can we say rookie mistake? It was a humbling experience for sure.  Now, I never drink martinis all night before a big order.

Ha ha. Well it makes the rest of us not-so-talented bakers feel a little better, that even the best of us still make mistakes.

Is there a dish out there that you haven’t mastered yet, but are still dying to?

There are so many and that is how I like it.  With cooking or baking, there is always a new discovery waiting to be uncovered, so I will be mastering the craft of gluten-free baking until the day I die.

What celebrity chef (past or present) most influenced you?

Well, I have three: Antonin Careme because he was the absolute first celebrity chef and did so against all odds, Julia Child because she got Americans cooking properly again, and Ferran Adira, for his passionate inventiveness.

Where do you envision gluten-free cuisine heading?

I see gluten-free cuisine is the wave of the future.  It’s absolutely revolutionary—our bodies are literally rejecting the foods we are ingesting and so we are having do to what we humans do best: adapt to these changes by fusing art and science in an exceptionally creative way.  Could Anthony Bourdain whip up a gluten-free tart tartin without looking at a single gluten-free cookbook—or any chef on TV today for that matter? Probably not, but I look forward to showing them how to do it.

And I feel certain that you will one day!

Thanks so much for the interview. I look forward to your upcoming book and choosing something off your bakery store shelves, soon! 

The pleasure was all mine—I absolutely love what you are doing with Stuffed Pepper! It’s an honor to be included.