“The Wine Blog” reviews Chez Nous-Bodegas Francos Espanola Wine Dinner

Alchemy Initiative’s review of Chez Nous’ Gluten-Free Baking Class!

Rachel Portnoy, a pastry chef, and her husband Franck Tessier, a French chef, used to eat a diet filled with gluten. But after learning that Franck’s blood glucose levels were too high and he was at risk of developing diabetes, they cut gluten from their diet. Being chefs and restaurant owners, Rachel and Franck have done lots of research and experimentation to perfect gluten-safe and gluten-free recipes.


Rachel graciously welcomed us into their kitchen and shared three of her recipes and the tricks she has gleaned from the last couple years of serious gluten-free baking experimentation.

mixing macaron

We started out with macarons. Macarons are a classic French confection – a ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two meringue biscuits. They are light and oh-so heavenly!

French baking is notoriously difficult- requiring delicacy, precision and finesse.  Now French gluten-freebaking… that is a real challenge! Luckily Rachel is super passionate about what she does and she seems to like a good challenge. 
whipped macaron

Rachel encouraged everyone to be hands-on… You have to feel it to know if it is just right. Here we are testing the stiffness of the merengue. Looking good!macaron piping4

Piping was a new technique for most of the class and everyone took a turn. While Rachel’s tray was filled with straight lines of perfectly-sized and shaped circles, ours was of a lovely art piece of learning! They did seem to smooth out as they baked…


We filled half with a passionfruit filling and half with chocolate ganache. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside and just the right burst of sweetness. Divine!macaron1

Blondies were up next. The Blondie Sundae (with rum raisin sauce) is the most popular dessert on Chez Nous’ menu- and they have a gluten or gluten-free option. Rachel’s gluten-free blondie recipe is below.blondies-rachelblondie mixblondie1

Our last dish was profiteroles. A profiterole is a cream puff or choux à la crème- a choux pastry ball filled with whipped cream, pastry cream, custard, or ice cream.

We got another chance to test out our piping skills- definite improvement!  piping profiterole2


So Much to Do in the Berkshires,


So Much to Do in Berkshire County

New Edible Berkshires Einkorn Article by Rachel Portnoy


February 14, 2014 · 


By Rachel Portnoy Recipe by Franck Tessier
Chefs and owners of Chez Nous Bistro, Lee

What is einkorn? Why should I eat it? How can I get it? How do I cook with it? These are questions that we are answering over and over again.

Imagine a time when concepts such as slow food, seasonal cooking and farm-to-table didn’t exist. That’s just the way all food was. Can you remember a time before food was sold pre-packaged in dubious plastics, sealed off and cut off from any connection—physical or spiritual—to the nourishing earth that provided it?

I guess it’s this yearning for something real—something nourishing not just physically, but spiritually—that is at the heart of our curiosity about the ancient grain einkorn.

And it is, of course, much more than that: Wheat has been at the heart of Western culinary culture for millennia. The cultivation of wheat was arguably one major factor in early humans shifting from nomadic existence to a domesticated civilization. (Whether the grain was first beloved for brewing alcohol or for baking bread is where the argument lies.) We love products made with wheat; we’ve been raised with them and they are delicious.

li Rogosa holding a sheaf of einkorn.

But modern wheat has been transformed into something unrecognizable to its ancestors. It’s been modified into the category of modern foods that depend on intense agricultural interventions in order to survive, and is largely indigestible to many people now. And, although I never had thought of this until I tasted bread and pastries made with einkorn, modern wheat doesn’t have much flavor anyway.

Enter into the picture local farmer, seed-saver and anthropologist Eli Rogosa, a leading authority on the history and cultivation of ancient grains. Eli grows einkorn and other rare and ancient grains, selecting for strength and adaptability to our Berkshire climate, and educates people about alternatives to modern wheat.

Is einkorn wheat? Genetically speaking, no. All modern wheat evolved from wild emmer, though now it has been so intensively crossbred that, under a microscope, its structure appears far more complicated than that of emmer. Einkorn comes from a distinct species, different from wheat, a wild grass referred to as wild einkorn. Eli calls einkorn a “neolithic grain.”

Our bodies literally evolved with these ancient grains as nourishment, and our bodies still find its simple, unhybridized genetic structure easily digestible. The way that it grows makes its nutrition easily accessible, and its nutty, delicate flavor makes it addictive.

So how does einkorn differ from quinoa—another highprotein ancient grain that has gained popularity? Both grains are delicious alternatives to wheat, high in protein and other minerals, but einkorn has gluten and quinoa doesn’t. Einkorn enables us to produce foods that resemble the things we were raised on and still love: wonderful and sustaining breads and pastries, pastas and pizza bases. You have to really play with any of the gluten-free flours or grains to achieve this.

Einkorn sourdough

Another advantage to einkorn is that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar the way that wheat and many common gluten-free flours do (rice, tapioca, etc.). Unless you bake with teff flour, amaranth, chickpea, quinoa or bean flours, you are using something with a high glycemic index that can encourage sugar cravings and overeating. The healthier glutenfree flours are more complicated to work with than the rice flours, making it hard to achieve something resembling our favorite wheat treats.

Einkorn, while not gluten-free, produces a natural gluten that is considered “gluten-safe” for many people, and therefore is a fantastic alternative for those limiting their consumption of modern wheat.

So many people are curious about einkorn. Maybe they read about it in the book Wheat Belly, by William Davis MD or maybe they’re hungry for new and delicious “real foods.” This wild plant has survived millennia, and though it (like all wheats, in fact) is not native to North America, it adapts brilliantly to our climate: high yielding, resilient in heavy rains, not susceptible to diseases and mildews.

Under Eli’s careful cultivation, selecting the strongest, highestyielding plants and saving their seeds, harvesting by hand with a sickle and meticulously hulling and preparing the grain, we are the lucky benefactors of einkorn, and millennia of farmers’ conscientious and determined work under this principle. It’s about survival, ultimately: The strongest grains, the best producers, are the ones with which humanity will thrive, inspiring us with their resiliency and integrating us with our history and our earth.

We have a seasonal menu at our restaurant, giving us lots of opportunities to develop new recipes using einkorn. The flour is incredible for baking, but we love working with the whole grain, as well. You can use it in a grain salad, as a pasta or barley substitute in a soup, or prepared—as we often do—in the style of a risotto. Though the key ingredient to classic risotto is rice, many cooks have been using the same technique with different grains (I’ve even seen recipes for finely diced potato “risottos”).

Einkorn’s wonderful flavor and texture, as well as its sustaining nutrition, makes it an obvious choice for a risotto-style kind of treatment, endlessly adaptable to seasonal variations.

Just start with einkorn grain that is soaked overnight, and you will find that it cooks up in the same 45 minutes as a traditional risotto.

Rachel Portnoy is a pastry chef and co-owner of Chez Nous Bistro in Lee, Massachusetts, with her husband, Franck Tessier. She arrived in Lee 11 years ago and opened Cakewalk Bakery, which she sold in 2005. She now spends her time running the restaurant and developing recipes for delicious desserts that don’t include modern wheat.


Einkorn “Risotto” with Caramelized Garlic & Oven-Roasted 
Tomatoes Topped with Pan-Seared Scallops and Pesto

Edible Berkshires article, Spring 2013


May 1, 2013 · 

Back to the Future for Heritage Wheat


Photos by Greg Nesbit Photography

Last winter I decided to spend some time looking into what’s going on with wheat. I’ve been a professional baker for over 17 years, and I was quickly tiring of more and more guests coming into our restaurant claiming wheat allergies, gluten intolerance or—even more stressful for food service—full-blown celiac disease.

I spoke with one consultant about creating a separate baking space for working with wheat, in order not to contaminate our kitchen for any highly sensitive guests, but then I thought that this seemed rather extreme. If we’ve gotten to this point, what’s really going on here? Maybe we shouldn’t be using wheat at all?

We discussed the question with our nutritionist, and she recommended the book Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD, which quickly answered a lot of my niggling questions. It seems that just as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced covertly into our food system a few decades ago, extreme hybridization over the last 50 or so years has altered the structure of wheat from its natural state (unbeknownst to us cooks, bakers and eaters).

In order to grow and harvest wheat more cheaply and efficiently, the grains were hybridized to grow much lower to the ground; to have sturdier stalks with heavier, easier-toseparate grain heads; to be more disease-resistant; to have higher gluten content (for fluffier loaves, of course!); and in this way to become completely dependent upon synthetic fertilizers and heavy irrigation.

Modern wheat has basically been stripped of most of its nutrition and rendered relatively indigestible in the process. Though I didn’t personally have any symptoms of illness due to wheat consumption, learning these facts made me feel slightly uncomfortable with my baker’s diet of nearly 100% wheat!

(Start your day in the kitchen early with nothing in your stomach, bake until you can’t go anymore without some food, grab a scone or other pastry to keep cranking, maybe make a sandwich later in the day if you can take a break, a few cookies or a piece of bread to curb the hunger during the late afternoon and then go home and make some superfast (because you’re starving!) pasta for dinner…. The irony of most chefs’ diets is that we eat terribly! Thus the presence of a nutritionist in our lives these days; I basically rode a wheat/carb-high rollercoaster every day for 15 years.)

After giving this background, the book refers to a woman, Eli Rogosa, a food anthropologist who has hand-collected original, untampered-with grains abroad, and a grain she grows, Einkorn, which is an ancient ancestor of modern wheat and a much healthier alternative. I started to get really excited when I realized that Eli Rogosa and her special grain were in fact just up the road from us in Colrain, Massachusetts. I quickly sent her an email and received a very welcoming reply.

With Franck Tessier, my husband and chef at our restaurant Chez Nous in Lee, Massachusetts, I drove up to Eli’s farmhouse in Colrain, where we were enveloped in another world and another time: Sheaves of wheat and grain were propped up all around, each with a tag identifying its origins. There were posters about “landrace wheat’s” and maps of the Middle East and Europe. Eli herself, with her sweet and earnest smile, had baked us a loaf of Einkorn bread to taste. It was delicious and surprisingly light. Franck was immediately transported to his childhood in France, where so often he visited his godfather, a bread-baker, and said he hadn’t tasted bread like this since. Listening to Eli describe her work and the origins of this rare grain, we felt incredibly privileged to have access to something so delicious, nutritious and unique. We loaded up our car with grain and flour and drove back down to Lee completely inspired. Eli’s mission is not only working with safer and more natural foods, but literally saving heritage grains from extinction. She is writing a book about her research and regularly speaks about the many ancient grains that she has collected and cultivated. But she says that of all of the ancient wheats and grains she has acquired from gene banks around the world, Einkorn is her favorite.

Her original grain was collected in Europe, and multiple field trials sponsored by the USDA at UMass resulted in great production from the Einkorn plants in the Berkshire climate. It has twice the protein and minerals as modern commercial wheat and, though it does contain some gluten, is considered “gluten safe” for many people who have been dealing with wheat and gluten sensitivities brought on largely by the hybridization and manipulation of modern mono-crop wheats.

The ancient wheats and grains also have the advantage of a very deep root system, making them much more hardy, though they grow very tall (as we all imagine wheat does and should, but it doesn’t anymore!). These deep roots absorb minerals into the plant, and the tall, leafy stalks photosynthesize more nutrients, as well. On top of all of this, it is easily digestible and organically grown. Are you starting to get excited about Einkorn yet?

But does this grain taste delicious? Is it easy to work with? After trying most of my recipes with Einkorn I can state unequivocally that Yes! you can make French (and other) pastries with ancient grains! Its low gluten content makes it like the softest cake flour for pastries (bread made with it must knead for a very long time, and/or be left to proof 24 hours or more in order to come together in a relatively “normal” way, but it’s worth the effort: completely delicious with no carb-craving-induced rollercoaster. Einkorn doesn’t spike your blood sugar the way that modern wheat does).

Pizza dough, pasta, all are perfect and I’ve been learning to bake all over again with this wonderful flour. At the restaurant we made a clear decision to strictly limit working with commercial wheat and maximize our use of the ancient grain Einkorn (we cook the whole grains with seasonal vegetables into an incredible “risotto”).

After all these years of baking and cooking and putting so much care into the sources of our ingredients, we feel blindsided to never have questioned what was actually in that bucket of wheat flour. It’s so liberating to be able to think and act holistically about what we’re doing as chefs. It feels like a missing link has been supplied in our sourcing of healthier, pesticide-free, not genetically modified REAL FOOD to serve at our restaurant.

Zagat, 2011

Zagat Ratings & Review

“Wonderful all around” declare Lee locals of this “delightful” destination where chef Franck Tessier’s “fantastic” French bistro fare is matched by spouse Rachel Portnoy’s “scrumptious desserts”, not to mention her “charming” greetings; an “impressive”, “well-priced wine list” adds to the “good value”, while “marvelous service” “without hauteur” and a setting in a “historic house” with “quiet, romantic corners” add to the “appeal.” Food “24” Service “24”


Best of Boston, Best New Restaurant in the Berkshires, 2005Yankee Magazine, Editor’s ChoiceWine Spectator Award of Excellence

Berkshire Living

2009In Lee, Massachusetts, Chez Nous has become a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Ingredients—as local and organic, in season, as possible—are painstakingly sourced… Portnoy frequently makes the circuit… amiably chatting… When Tessier takes a break from the kitchen, his jolly energy fills the dining area, and he’s happy to talk for hours about regional recipes and his more contemporary approache to bistro cuisine.

Passport Magazine

They are a study in contrasts. He is happily carnivorous, while she is a dedicated vegetarian. He began studying to be a chef at age 15, while she came to her craft at 26, slightly late for the culinary world. There should be tension, opposition—but instead the gregarious and gifted French chef Franck Tessier and his charming American wife Rachel Portnoy, a superb pastry chef, make magic as the owners of Chez Nous, located in Lee, Mass. And what’s more, they seem to be thoroughly enjoying it.


December 2010My recommendation for Lee or just about anywhere in the Berkshires is the outstanding French restaurant Chez Nous. Fabulous food, lovely service. It will be a memorable meal and you will want to come here whenever you return to the Berkshires for that special dinner.Read the original post…