Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/1/2019 (321 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Pretend your grandmother is the founder of a time-tested Ukrainian bakery specializing in perogies, cabbage rolls and pyryshky pastries.
Now pretend you’re living with food sensitivities, and when you sit down with your family every January for a traditional, 12-dish Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner lovingly prepared by your baba, there’s next to nothing you can eat. Given that scenario, tell us: what the holopchi would you do?
Well, if you’re Amanda DeSutter, the brains behind Amanda Lynn Gluten-free Perogies, you’d roll up your sleeves, throw on your apron and get busy devising new-fangled recipes for those same Ukrainian delicacies you helped your grandmother make when you were a kid growing up in Transcona.
"My baba, who passed away just under a year ago, is Sylvia Beck. She started Sevala’s (Ukrainian Bakery & Catering, 126 Victoria Ave. W.) and I have vivid memories of balancing on a chair in front of her stove when I was five or six, stirring pots of borscht with this big, wooden spoon," DeSutter says, seated in her new store, Amanda Lynn Local Food & Gifts, a six-week-old operation in Anola that stocks her full line of gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan perogies.
"There would be all this steam coming out (of the pots) and my cousins and I would pretend it was a magic potion, and we were all wizards or something silly."
For years, DeSutter, a married mother of one, dealt with a litany of stomach and skin issues. It wasn’t until after her daughter Chelsea was born, however, that she discovered just how many things she was allergic to.
Gluten, dairy, fish, sulfites, green-leaf lettuce… the list goes on and on, she says. So, about six years ago she told herself that’s it, she wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life missing out on what she loved to eat most. She enrolled in a cooking class, not to learn how to cook, per se — at the time she fashioned herself a "fairly decent" chef — but rather to gain confidence with gluten-free baking and cooking methods, which she had zero familiarity with.
"My initial reaction was that the gluten-free recipes I found on the internet were very, uh, scary," she says with a laugh. "Because of that, my approach instead was to take regular recipes and proceed from there. I’d start with basic things such as tapioca starch and make small changes, one ingredient at a time, instead of going with these super involved recipes that told me I needed to buy X, Y and Z, plus a million colours of rice flour. There’s a big difference, I find, between food that frustrates you to prepare versus food you take your time with. When people began liking my stuff and asking what my secret ingredient was I said it was love."
DeSutter’s original goal was to make meals for herself she could bring along to family get-togethers. That changed when some of her relatives gave her gluten-free perogies a shot and declared they were as good, if not better, than the wheat-based variety on the table in front of them.
"My husband, who isn’t allergic to a thing, agreed and said, ‘Amanda, there are probably lots of people in the same boat as you, who haven’t eaten them for years.’ He told me what I should really do is think about marketing them in some manner."
After close to three years of trial and error, during which she ensured her dough had the desired texture and didn’t "fall apart" during the boiling and frying stages (you should always boil perogies in water for five minutes, prior to frying them in butter or oil, she recommends), DeSutter debuted her gluten-free perogies in the fall of 2015 at a downtown farmers’ market at Manitoba Hydro Place. While some passers-by remarked her take on varenyky was "a joke" or "sacrilegious," enough people declared, "Gluten-free perogies? Where have you been all my life?" that she became convinced she had a potential hit on her hands.
Betsy Hiebert is the owner of Cocoabeans Bakeshop, a gluten-free bakery and café located at 774 Corydon Ave. After one of her regular customers mentioned there was a woman in town turning out gluten-free perogies, Hiebert reached out to DeSutter.
"Amanda provided samples of her potato and cheese perogies and we loved them," Hiebert says when reached at her place of work. "Yes, we think they’re the next best thing to wheat-based perogies, but one of the main reasons we chose to carry them is because, as a celiac, Amanda understands cross-contamination and the need to be super careful with ingredients and preparation. This holiday season alone we ordered 300 dozen from her to supply our customers’ needs."
The same way her decision to market gluten-free perogies to the masses was largely unplanned, so was the idea of opening a storefront operation, says DeSutter, a resident of Ste. Anne. For two years, she rented space in a Winnipeg-based commercial kitchen. But after more than her share of 14-hour-shifts preparing perogies followed by white-knuckle, 2 a.m. drives home along a snow-covered Trans-Canada Highway, early last year she started hunting around for a facility a little closer to home.
In September 2018, she took over a vacant space near the intersection of highways 12 and 15 in Anola. Her intent was to use the 750-square-foot facility exclusively as a preparation site. But because she had enough room and she’d been exposed to so many great Manitoba makers through the farmers markets she’d attended, she announced plans to stock the front third of the building with, among other things, locally produced meat, jam, honey and soap.
"We officially opened for business Nov. 20 but my first sale was the day before because so many people in town were curious about what we were all about, and couldn’t wait for us to turn the ‘open’ sign on," DeSutter says, standing near a display of resin-dipped cutting boards crafted by JSW Custom Creations.
As for Ukrainian Christmas, which falls on Jan. 6, no worries, she has that covered, too, she says.
"Besides close to 20 flavours of perogies we do vushka, which are best described as smaller perogies, folded to look like an ear, that have mushrooms and onions on the inside. We also do kutia, a type of pudding, and buckwheat cabbage rolls. Or, if you’re not Ukrainian, we have a gluten-free pizza dough people tell us is really good, too."
As for future plans, DeSutter, whose products are presently in 13 retail locations throughout Manitoba, was recently approached by a representative from Sobeys interested in getting her products into the chain’s Winnipeg stores, for starters.
"That was a compliment for sure," DeSutter says, mentioning she has shipped perogies as far as Australia through her website (www.algf.biz). "The thing is, as it stands right now everything is handmade, right down to the rolling pins, the cutters… there’s zero automation here. Obviously if I’m going to entertain the idea of something like Sobeys that would have to change somewhat. But hey, that’s not the worst problem to have, is it?"
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Updated on Saturday, January 5, 2019 at 9:24 AM CST: Headline fixed.