Speaker Bios

The Midwest: How Sweet It Is!

Sweets:  A Journey through Midwestern Dessert Traditions

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Registration 8 – 9 AM

9  AM – 4 PM




Ken Albala: “Almond Cookery from Northern Europe to the Midwest, or how an exotic import retained its status over time and tide”


The roots of almond cookery in both savory and sweet recipes goes back at least 800 years in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Modern recipes are the direct descendants of this long tradition. This paper will examine in detail the extensive uses of almonds on both sides of the Atlantic from medieval to modern cuisine.


Ken Albala, Professor of History at the University of the Pacific, and author of many books including Eating Right in the Renaissance, Food in Early Modern Europe, Cooking in Europe: 1250-1650, The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe and most recently Beans: A History. He is currently completing a textbook for the Culinary Institute of America entitled World Cuisines. He also edits several food series for Greenwood Press – Food Culture Around the World, Food Cultures in America, and Cooking Through History.



Dobra Bielinski: “Clash of cultures. How does a French and American chef create Polish pastries, breads and cakes? What makes a Polish pastry, if I put ganache on top is it still Polish?”


Do the customers train you or do you open up the world to your customers to accustom them to not only ethnic pastries but French and American ones as well.


Dobra Bielinski is a graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago with a Masters in US Foreign Policy. She then went to culinary school to get a Pastry and Baking Degree as well as a Culinary Degree.

Dobra has catered from 20 people to 5000.  She finally opened up her own pastry shop Delightful Pastries. She makes modern European and American pastries. Her products have been featured on WTTW, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader and Chicago Sun Times.



Ray Elliott: “The evolution of the Heath Candy Bar”


This talk will trace the origin of the Heath Candy bar from a small confectionery on the west side of the Crawford County Courthouse square in Robinson, how the company grew and the candy bar became another Hershey Company.


Ray Elliott grew up near Robinson, Illinois, where the Heath candy bar was created. The Marine veteran worked as a prison counselor and taught high school and college English and journalism. He helped Richard Heath write Bittersweet: The History of the Heath Candy Company.Ray has also authored Wild Hands Toward the Sky and Iwo Blasted Again, numerous magazine articles and newsletters. He is a board member of the James Jones Literary Society and the Illinois Center for the Book.



Peter Engler: “Bean Pie: An Iconic African-American-Islamic dessert”


Bean pie: this iconic African-American-Islamic dessert has deep roots in Chicago. We’ll discuss the delicious pie’s uncertain origins, its heyday in the 1960s, and its precarious present-day situation.
Peter Engler, a native of Buffalo (land of the wing and the ‘weck), has lived on Chicago’s South Side for decades. When taking time off from scientific research he enjoys eating the local fare, followed by a slice of pie.



Riva Feshbach“Food for Thought: Culinary History at the Newberry Library”


Ms. Feshbach will give an overview of resources at the Newberry Library of interest to food historians. She will also describe the kinds of supporting research materials that are available there, and provide some helpful hints for using the Newberry’s sometimes quirky catalogue.


Riva Feshbach is the exhibits manager at the Newberry Library, where in addition to mounting exhibitions on a wide range of subjects, she has been able to explore topics of personal interest, from scientific illustration to culinary history. She has a masters degree in art history from the University of Oregon and a masters in library science from the University of Illinois. She has been at the Newberry since 1999.



Herb Fingerhut“What a baker does in his late 40’s when the family bakery closes: experiences that have brought him to the best time in his life!”


Herb Fingerhut is a 7th generation Master Baker (3 in Czech Republic, 4 in Chicago). Herb was practically born into a large multi-location retail baking family whose operations began at 18th & May in Chicago. Working for his family’s business most of his life, Herb decided in his 30’s to take a job as Director of Bakery Operations for Pizitz Bake Shops, a division of Pizitz Department Stores, in Birmingham Alabama. Three short years later due Herb’s father’s ill health he came back to the family business, which had changed drastically while he was gone. In January 2000, Herb’s father closed the 105 year old business. Herb’s regrouped and preparing to reopen a retail Fingerhut’s in 2010 at the encouragement of his son, who also has baking in his blood. Meanwhile he has launched an internet business: www.fingerhutbakery.com.

Herb has lived and worked in Minneapolis while going to school at the University of Minnesota earning a degree in Business and Marketing. He graduated from Dunwoody Institute of Baking as well as the American Institute of Baking (AIB). Herb was class president at both Dunwoody and AIB.

Herb has worked at Charles Fingerhut Bakeries in Cicero Illinois and Fingerhut’s Oven Fresh Bakery in Brookfield Illinois. While in school Herb worked for Lund’s and Byerly’s Food chains in Minneapolis. He was Director of Bakery Operations for Pizitz Department Stores in Birmingham Alabama, Director of Bakery Operations for Red Hen Bread in Chicago and Plant Manager for Imperial Bakery in Niles, Illinois.  He currently works for Kaufman’s Deli and Bakery in Skokie Illinois. Herb has been an independent bakery consultant for many retail and wholesale bakers throughout United States.




Michael Gebert: Pfeffernusse and Pluma Moos: Mennonite Food Traditions in a Kansas Family”


Forget the stereotype of traditional middle-American cooking as Campbell’s mushroom soup casseroles and Jell-O desserts. Mennonite communities throughout the midwest have preserved food traditions and folkways brought over from the parts of Europe where they originated. The Mennonite side of Michael Gebert’s family converted to another faith over 80 years ago and have long since lived thoroughly modern, Americanized lives, yet German and even Russian foods (the result of the sanctuary given one branch of Mennonites by Catherine the Great) have survived at holidays in his Kansas family for over a century.


Michael Gebert, is a freelance writer on food and media subjects and for advertising, having written for publications such as the Reader and for practically every ad agency on this earth. He was a principle strategic and visionary leader in the creation and growth of LTHForum.com, the nationally recognized and widely read Chicago-based culinary discussion site, and he shot and edited the documentary Gorilla Gourmet: Maxwell Street Mexican.



Paula Haney: “From Abundance to Desperation – Pies of Indiana”


Pastry Chef Paula Haney began her baking career at the Runcible Spoon coffee house in Bloomington Indiana while pursuing her degree in Journalism. After a few years working as a reporter and a community radio news director she moved to Chicago to pursue a full time career in pastry. First as a pastry assistant and then as pastry chef Haney has worked in several notable Chicago establishments. From 2000 – 2003 she was the Pastry Chef of Trio Restaurant where she worked with Chefs Shawn McClain and Grant Achatz. In 2005 she left her position as pastry chef of Trotters to Go to start Hoosier Mama Pie Co. Haney hopes the pie company will bring the great tastes and traditions of pie back to Chicago.



Eleanor Hanson: From Recipe Box to Grocery Shelf: The test kitchen and recipe contest origins and lore of iconic everyday desserts”


Toll House cookies? Sure, we all know the story. But what about French Silk Pie, Tunnel of Fudge Cake, or Princess Brownies ? They all began with the test kitchens or recipe contests of Midwestern companies.


Eleanor Hanson was with Kraft Foods for 17 years serving as Manager of Grocery Products and later as Director of their highly regarded Kraft Kitchens. Eleanor is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and Les Dames d’ Escoffier and recently published “Learning to Cook in 1898: A Chicago Culinary Memoir.” Eleanor is co-founder of FoodWatch (www.foodwatchtracker.com) specializing in trend identification and analysis. Ms. Hanson has an undergraduate degree in Foods & Nutrition from the University of Illinois at Urbana and an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School.



Judy Bart Kancigor: Jewish desserts: From poverty to plenty”


Wherever Jews have wandered they have incorporated the foods of their neighbors. Two restrictions have informed much of their cuisine: adherence to the kosher laws and poverty. Judy will discuss how the challenge of these restrictions, in far-flung homelands, have inspired creativity in Jewish desserts.


Judy Bart Kancigor writes for the Orange County Register and Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Judy is a popular teacher of Jewish cooking and family life. She self-published her first cookbook, Melting Pot Memories, just for her family and went on to sell 11,000 copies Workman Publishing published her new book, Cooking Jewish. Judy’s father is the late singer Jan Bart, a celebrated East Coast cantor. Judy lives with her husband, Barry, in Fullerton, California.



Catherine Lambrecht: “Reclaiming the Pecan’s Roots”


The pecan may be considered iconic southern crop.  However, due to the diligence of Edgar Rose’s research, the pecan’s roots will be revealed.


Catherine Lambrecht is founding board member of Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance.  She is program chair of Chicago Foodways Roundtable.  A founder and moderator of LTHforum.com culinary chat site. Former President of Illinois Mycological Society.  President of the Highland Park Historical Society. She was Vice Chair of Advisory Council for University of Illinois Extension at Grayslake and former Vice President of the Lake County Extension Foundation.



Jane P. Marshall: “Cakewalks and bake sales: How women pioneers refined the Midwest and defined community”

Part of the burgeoning fascination with foodways and food history is the role food played in the making of America: the Boston Tea Party and the Molasses Act, slavery and emancipation, cornflakes and the ice machine.


There is no better example than the westward movement.  As the new Americans headed West in search of riches and adventure, men made most of the headlines. However, the women, anchored (and chained) to their kitchens, created and stabilized communities.


Money raised from cakewalks, bake sales and box suppers built schools, paid preachers, established community centers at the turn of the 19th century. Women baked with meager supplies and even more meager equipment. Armed with tenacity and ingenuity, they were determined not only to survive, but also to thrive.


Like nearly all other places in the world, food brought people together to start forming the bonds essential for a community to thrive. But in the Midwest, the table had its own character, dictated by geography, heritage and a sweet tooth that seemed always to whisper “bake and they will come.”

Jane P. Marshall is a food historian and journalist Instructor at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.



Donna Pierce: “Sweet Ride Up the Rails”

We’ll revisit the roots, routes and flavors of soul food desserts that traveled north of the Mason Dixon line after the Civil War.


A national award winning food journalist and test kitchen director for the Chicago Tribune, Donna Pierce grew up with deep roots in Mobile, Alabama, where her family lived for five generations before her family moved to Missouri.


Pierce lived in San Francisco and Los Angeles before returning to Missouri where she was an adjunct assistant professor for the University of Missouri Journalism School, contributing food editor for Upscale Magazine and food editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune. She joined the Chicago Tribune in 2002.


Pierce has traveled to Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean exploring the roots of African-American culinary traditions. She is writing a book about soul food in the Diaspora.

She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, the James Beard Society, the Association of Food Journalists and Les Dames d’Escoffier.



Tom and Amy Wertheim“Small Batch Candy Production”

The trials and tribulations of small batch candy making and family-only based businesses. From the comical beginnings of a humble “candy company” to a “hobby run amok”, Tom & Amy will share stories of what it means to be a member of a family-only business and how they have conquered roadblocks to succeed in the highly competitive market of confections.


R.G.W. Candy Company was founded in 1948 by Robert (Bob) Wertheim as a means to share his knowledge and love of candy making with family and friends. Made primarily at Christmastime, Bob was a beloved character known for trying innovative combinations of flavors and ingredients.

Continuing the tradition started by his father, Tom Wertheim jokingly describes the candy business as a “hobby run amok” with production now a 12-month endeavor. Using a recipe book last printed in 1908, Tom’s specialty is creating candies last found at the turn-of-the century ~ candies that are made without preservatives, colorings, or unnatural flavorings.


Amy Wertheim continues the tradition as the 3rd generation of R.G.W. Candy Company, having learned the trade at her grandfather’s knee beginning at the age of 18 months. With a background in PR & Marketing, there isn’t a candy that Amy can’t justify for consumption! Her life has truly been a love affair with chocolate which she enjoys sharing with others.