Robert Nitti knew a few things about the woman he had just started dating. He liked her. That was the first thing. Another was that she couldn’t eat gluten. She mentioned that on date number one, and that what she missed most of all was a butter croissant.
On date number two, she mentioned that her birthday was coming up.
“So when I got home that night, I was thinking well, what can I get her for her birthday?" said Nitti, a divorced father.
"I figured ... diamond rings are probably a little premature — so the idea came to mind to get her butter croissants. I thought it was a good idea. I thought: how hard could it be?”
Nitti had begun a quest involving four cities, two sympathetic food chemists, and dozens of failed attempts at a gluten-free croissant.
Bakers say it's impossible
He started in November by looking up gluten-free bakeries in Montreal on the web. He emailed them and waited for the responses.
“They were all negative,” Nitti said. “Most of them saying they didn’t support it as a product, or that it was even impossible to make.”
His luck was the same with bakeries in Ottawa, New York and Toronto.
As Nitti would discover, gluten is an important element in baking in general, and in croissants specifically, because gluten is what makes them flaky.
Last hope turns into success
Finally, Nitti checked out one last gluten-free bakery in Montreal.
He had ignored the bakery at first because its website was so bad, but with his luck running out, he decided to send an email to the “food chemists” behind Baked2Go.
Ziad Khoury, a food chemist at Baked2Go, said there was something in Nitti’s appeal that was too delicious to resist.
He'd had similar requests in the past, but had refused because the gluten-free croissants are so complicated to bake.
But Nitti's plea convinced the Baked2Go team to try again.
“Sometimes when you read an email, you can kind of feel the emotions through it,” said Diana Valtiera, another food chemist at Baked2Go.
With less than two weeks before the birthday gift was due, the food-chemists (who take a scientific approach to baking) started what they call “research and development,” in the area they call the lab, and others might call the kitchen.
Wearing their standard lab coats, with fleece jackets underneath (because preparing croissants calls for cold temperatures), they baked and baked some more.
Some batches were too lumpy, some didn’t taste right — most ended up in the garbage — and they were getting ready to tell Nitti they had failed.
But after 50 batches and 70 hours of work, they baked a gluten-free butter croissant flaky and tasty enough to give to Robert Nitti.
The perfect birthday gift
“I could not tell the difference,” Nitti said.
The birthday gift was then delivered and devoured to the delighted birthday girl, who told CBC the romantic gesture left her speechless.
In the end, the relationship didn't work out.
“We went on a third date — and texted a bit more, “ Nitti said. “After that, we largely decided to go our own ways, and that was it.”
Still, Nitti is pleased, because people on gluten-free diets have a new option and because Baked2Go now has a new product on its shelves.
As for the failed relationship, Nitti says he's undaunted and he would do it all again.
“I mean what are the odds of having another date whose favourite missed meal is butter croissants? I mean, statistically, it’s not very high — but you never know.”