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Glenn Roberts

Anson Mills founder Glenn Roberts grew up in San Diego, California, the son of a professional singer and photographer, and a former Southern belle from Edisto, South Carolina who became an accomplished scratch cook and occasional restaurateur. Glenn was a restless, curious boy, who, by all accounts, required steady discipline to stay out of mischief. His mother tried to tame him by putting him to work on weekends as a busboy in her restaurant. His father taught him to fly an Aeronca Champ when he was eight years old, using pillows to prop him up and two-by-fours wired to the rudder pedals. His parents required their children to have musical training: Glenn studied French horn throughout his boyhood and adolescence, performing first in the San Diego Youth Symphony, and later occupying fourth chair in the San Diego Symphony. None of this, however, prevented him from pursuing his real passion: chemistry experiments. Working with explosive gas for a national science contest, Glenn blew the door off his parents’ garage on one occasion and decimated his mother’s kitchen on another.

At 17, Glenn entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a music and science scholarship and graduated four years later. A conventional life track, however, was too narrow to contain his energies: he joined the Air Force to feed his love of flying, and later sailed around the world on private yachts as a navigator and a mate. He took up riding and dressage. He drove long-haul trucks.

Somewhere along the road of diversionary adventure, Glenn’s overarching interests distilled into the study of architectural history and the history of food. Settling down into a suit and proper shoes, he backed into historic property restoration through the kitchen, working on space design and adaptive reuse in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. His geographic area ultimately narrowed to South Carolina where Glenn took on broader aspects of redesign projects, carrying those through to the hiring of chefs and marketing staff, and to the planning and execution of celebratory dinners at projects’ end. The menus he helped plan were intended to offer period-authentic dishes. But the ingredients didn’t exist. Local growers did not produce them and would not be persuaded to try. In particular, grains of the era like Carolina Gold rice, linchpin of Carolina cuisine, were nearly impossible to source.

Glenn’s career epiphany came on a hot summer afternoon in the kitchen of an historic Charleston property. An elaborate rice dinner just hours away, a grower in Savannah—the sole source for Carolina Gold rice—delivered a bag of rice writhing with weevils. At 7 o’clock in the evening, Glenn found himself at a prep table with two dishwashers, sweating in his suit and tie, and rousting weevils from Carolina Gold—the dinner swirling by without him. He thought of his mother’s cooking when he was a boy. He looked at the lousy rice. He vowed to put Carolina Gold into serious production so this would not happen again.

For the next several years, Glenn grew small-plot Carolina Gold in Charleston and worked with a rice geneticist in Texas to reinvigorate the seed, which, through neglect and inactivity, had begun to display characteristics of its sister rice, Carolina White. To support his experiments in Carolina Gold, whose resurrection now represented an all-consuming preoccupation, he began to research other regional heirloom grains of the era he could move more quickly into production. The research began with corn. In 1995, Glenn explored rural back roads looking for the famous white Carolina mill corn that was revered for its high mineral and floral characteristics and its creamy mouthfeel. He found this corn in a bootlegger’s field near Dillon, South Carolina in 1997 and planted and harvested his own first crop of 30 acres in 1998. Known as Carolina Gourdseed White, the single-family hand-select dated back to the late 1600s.

Glenn passed Gourdseed grits around to chefs in Charleston and Atlanta, and they all went crazy.

The discovery of Carolina Gourdseed White, and other nearly extinct varieties of Southern mill corn, fueled Glenn’s efforts to preserve nutrition and flavor in heirloom corn. But he knew the corn would have to be milled as carefully as it was grown.

Returning to historic documents, Glenn learned about an heirloom that had been bred to blow down in late fall for hand harvest under snow in deep winter. The corn, an 1850 yellow dent of Appalachian provenance called John Haulk, was known to have made the “finest cornbread and mush.” The fact that it was milled under freezing conditions after full field ripening and drying puzzled Glenn until he froze and milled his own Gourdseed White. The flavors of the cold-milled corn were stunning. With this experiment, Glenn “rediscovered” cold milling and, in so doing, found a way to offset the heat damage grains experience between two stones. He also found a perfect place to store his seed corn: in the freezer. At this point, Glenn possessed a fully realized and madly ambitious plan: to make Carolina Gold rice a viable Southern crop, and to grow, harvest, and mill other nearly extinct varieties of heirloom corn and wheat. In so doing, Glenn hoped to re-create ingredients of the 19th century Southern larder—ingredients that had vanished over time. Grits, cornmeal, Carolina Gold rice, graham and biscuit flour, these ingredients, all milled fresh daily for the table, had helped create a celebrated regional cuisine—America’s first cuisine: the Carolina Rice Kitchen.

Never one for half measures, Glenn, in 1998, sold his worldly possessions, tossed his business card, and rented a sprawling metal warehouse behind a car wash in Columbia, South Carolina. He installed four native granite stone mills. Anson Mills was born.

By 2000, Glenn had his first real harvest of Carolina Gold rice, as well as 10 varieties of Southern dent corn heirlooms. He was milling grits for chefs in Georgia and the Carolinas. Word got around. A handful of ingredient-conscious chefs across the country began to use Anson Mills products and promote them vigorously to their colleagues. The circle widened. In 2001, sustained by the success of Anson Mills’ early efforts, Glenn was able to take on full production of Carolina Gold rice and a “Thirteen Colony” wheat called Red May.

Today, in addition to its collection of native heirloom grains, Anson Mills grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats and Mediterranean wheat, and Italian farro. Glenn continues to be restless and curious. He works tirelessly to manage his old grains, the land, and their growers, as well as chefs and retail customers. It’s a relentless effort. But he never has to wear a suit.

Kay Rentschler

Anson Mills scribe, recipe developer, and photographer Kay Rentschler hails from a Hoosier family of German ancestry. A knack for handwork with dough was a trait shared among women in her family, but it was her maternal grandmother’s hand-rolled egg noodles and brown-sugar baked apple dumplings—both distinctly German and prepared for the holidays—that made a particular impression on Kay.

These early memories may explain, in part, why Kay, at the end of an undergraduate program in English literature, enrolled in Madeleine Kamman’s Modern Chef program in Newton, Massachusetts. Madeleine, whose brilliance was matched only by her taste for controversy, was a uniquely gifted teacher who left each of her students with solid foundations in technique, regional cooking styles of France and Italy, and the mysteries of terroir.

Kay spent the next few years in restaurant kitchens, eventually taking a more sedate job in the test kitchen of the Ladies’ Home Journal in Manhattan. In this decidedly unrestaurant-like environment, where chopped herbs were pressed into a teaspoon measure, not clawed at from a dish near the stove, Kay learned to appreciate a quieter pace and a patience that would steer her away from the stove and toward the oven—and ultimately, into editorial.

A fondness for the German language and its literature took Kay to Berlin in 1988, where she lived and worked for five years in small restaurants, eventually landing a job with Lenôtre Pâtisserie in Berlin’s fabled department store, KaDeWe. There, Kay worked alongside German pastry chefs under the sharp eye of a French master, and struggled to master fine elements of European cakes and pastry work. The potent combination of skill, precision, discipline, and artistry that her superiors and colleagues at KaDeWe possessed worked on Kay like a contact high and is something she has sought ever since to emulate.

In 1994 and back to real life, Kay opened The Storm Café in Middlebury, Vermont. Her stocks, sauces, breads, pasta, pastries, and pâtés were all raised from scratch, and drew an enthusiastic local crowd. The Storm sustained Kay creatively for four years, but the financial rigors of running a seasonal business in a rural town ultimately wore her out. Kay sold the Storm in 1997.

In the late 1990s, Kay began working at Cook’s Illustrated magazine first as test kitchen director and later as food editor. She embraced writing, recipe development, and food styling. After Cook’s, the freelance world drew Kay to Manhattan for several years, where she had the good fortune to write regular contributions to the New York Times dining section. Her articles also appeared in Gourmet and Martha Stewart Living.

In 2004, on assignment for the New York Times, Kay interviewed Glenn Roberts, “that crazy grits guy from South Carolina.” Her subsequent article, “A Grits Revival with the Flavor of the Old South,” brought national attention to Anson Mills and began a collaboration between Kay and Glenn that continues to this day. Her recipes, writing, and photography inform the content at ansonmills.com.

Kay lives in Chilmark, Massachusetts with two Scottish terriers and a chihuahua.

Catherine Horton Schopfer

Catherine Schopfer, Partner, Anson Mills Direct to Chefs Worldwide

The arc of Catherine Schopfer’s career in upscale hospitality does not immediately suggest why she would immerse herself in the competitive fine foods arena to support chefs across the globe. Those reasons lie in her kitchen, farm, and garden experiences growing up in small-town North Carolina.

Catherine’s culinary sensibilities were informed by the traditional maritime foods of the seaside village of Wilmington, as well as by the array of classic Southern ingredients from the Piedmont fields and gardens surrounding her family’s hometown in Salisbury, North Carolina. Wilmington and Salisbury had both been centers of the 19th century Carolina rice trade—and even a hundred years later, the rice culture persisted: each morning, without fail, Catherine’s grandmother steamed a big pot of rice for breakfast. No one in the family questioned why rice rather than grits was served—rice had commanded center stage at their table for generations.

Catherine’s fascination with food eclipsed the Southern larder during her college years at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She fell in love with fine wine and discovered international cuisines. Journalism degree in hand, Catherine continued her culinary pursuits clerking part-time in a gourmet food and wine store. Later, she cooked, tended bar, and became sommelier, and ultimately buyer, for a large restaurant. She then brokered wine before transitioning to hotel foodservice as caterer, corporate sales, and general manager. In 1978, Catherine and Glenn became business partners and worked together on hotel and restaurant projects that involved fine dining and talented chefs. During this time she had the opportunity to work with some of the South’s finest chefs, and discovered a common language in her interaction with them.

By the early 1990s, Catherine and Glenn became alarmed by the decline of traditional Carolina culinary ingredients. They also shared concern for the deteriorating quality of river systems that had given birth to rice as the focal point of Carolina cuisine. Glenn chose to focus on 19th century grains of Carolina for preservation: rice, corn, and wheat. Catherine believed chefs would support this costly but sound research project and the seedsmanship required to preserve and produce heirloom ingredients—providing the resulting flavors were outstanding and unique. It took Glenn nearly six years to achieve this flavor standard and to establish Anson Mills. In 1998, friends of Glenn and Catherine and a handful of America’s finest chefs formed a brigade to conduct tests on Anson Mills’ first ingredients and develop scale-up recipes in their own kitchens. This spirit of camaraderie continues today with Catherine’s chef friends worldwide.

Catherine lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a full partner in Anson Mills Direct to Chefs Worldwide. She is the driving force behind all chef marketing and is liaison for chef custom-ingredient research and development.

Dawn Yanagihara

Editor and Recipe Developer

Dawn Yanagihara grew up in Southern California, the only child of Hawaii-born Japanese-American parents. The foods of her youth—enchiladas, ramen, dim sum, corned beef and cabbage, kalbi, pho, spaghetti with meat sauce—were a smorgasbord of cultural eclecticism, as diverse as SoCal’s population itself. Summers in Hawaii meant fish in various formats (raw, cured, dried, fried), malasadas, pipikaula, “local” foods, and, yes, Spam. Lots of Spam.

Despite being drawn to food from an early age, Dawn did not always gravitate toward the kitchen. But the shock of dining-hall fare in an upstate New York university moved her to begin inexpertly cooking her own dinners. Inspired in part by a apartmentmate who was a fearless cook, Dawn began stir-frying and sautéing with increasing competence and zeal. Bachelor’s degree in hand, she returned to Los Angeles and did a short stint in art school, but she soon returned to the East Coast to attend the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.

In addition to the CSCA’s professional chef’s program, Dawn completed two courses, spéciale patisserie and gateaux individuels, at École Lenôtre in Plaisir, France. Weighing ingredients, monitoring temperatures, and careful selection of ingredients appealed to her sensibilities. She was also thrilled to put her college-level French language skills to work in real life.

Subsequently, Dawn worked for chef Gordon Hamersley in Boston before joining Cook’s Illustrated magazine as a test cook; she remained for the better part of a decade. In her tenure at the magazine she served as interim test kitchen director, senior editor, and culinary producer for the America’s Test Kitchen cooking show. She counts her friendship with Kay Rentschler as one of the best things to come of her time at Cook’s.

When her husband’s work occasioned a move to San Francisco, Dawn took her food and editorial skills into cookbook publication, first as a senior editor at Weldon Owen, and then later at Ten Speed Press. She has edited cookbooks that ultimately won IACP and James Beard awards and she has enjoyed an opportunity to work with talented authors, photographers, and food stylists. Dawn is currently a freelance editor, writer, and recipe developer who counts Ten Speed, Chronicle Books, and, of course, Anson Mills as regular clients.

An avid enthusiast of the foods of Southeast Asia, Dawn has taken cooking classes in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. She's convinced that everything tastes better if deeply browned and that baked goods in the U.S. are much too pale. Dawn, her husband, and their two French bulldogs now live in her old hometown of Los Angeles.