Panera Bread has gone full-on kale.

By this fall, over 2000 of the brand's cafes plan to teach their associates how to properly roast kale.

"It's a huge thing for us," said Tom Gumpel, head baker for Panera Bread, on teaching in-house employees to cook up veggies on the spot.

150 artificial additives are leaving Panera Bread's menu by 2016, but there are 100s of wholesome ingredients on view at the chain's pop-up open pantry in SoHo.

Panera is becoming transparent about their all-natural, wholesome ingredients, hence, the open door pantry at 101 Wooster St. this Wednesday.

Replacing and supplementing white flour with whole, ancient and sprouted grains has become Gumpel's mission. These ingredients contain higher fiber than their Wonder Bread counterparts, making a foaccaia with sprouted grains much healthier than your basic white slice.

All of Panera's bread is made fresh, using hand-picked, wholesome ingredients and no preservatives. At the end of the day, leftover, unsold bread is donated to those in need.

"Fiber is the next big discussion in health," said Gumpel. "A way into that discussion is through whole grains-- the bread can be the hero of the meal."

But between the bread, Panera is also working to keep customers healthy and satisfied.

"Taste matters," said Dan Kish, head chef of Panera. "I'm the average of everything I've eaten."

In 2004, Panera opted to commit to only antiobiotic-free chicken, because it tasted better.

Since then, the brand has found more antibiotic-free meats and removed unecessary ingredients like preservatives and high levels of salt. The company plans to be nitrate-free by 2016.

"If you start with good product you don't have to do a lot to it," said Kish on using fresh, wholesome ingredients.

To create recipes for Panera, Kish works out of his home kitchen rather than a corporate test kitchen.

"There's nothing in there I wouldn't feed my family," the former culinary instructor turned corporate chef said. He uses techniques like sous vide to keep the flavor in ingredients without extra salt.

Once Kish creates a successful recipe, Panera will help convert the dish to scale for thousands of cafes to prepare.

To assist with Panera's pledge to remove artificial ingredients by next year, Kish looked at everything on the menu and singled out ingredients that seemed unnecessary.

For example, Kish noticed that there was titanium dioxide in Panera's mozzerella cheese, an ingredient that didn't sound tasty at all. He learned that titanium dioxide, a whitener, kept packaged cheese bright white, but has no purpose as a preservative or flavor enhancer.

Because Panera goes through so much mozzerella quickly, enhancing whiteness seemed unecessary, and Kish deemed that the ingredient should be removed from all of their foods. 149 decisions like this led to the No-No list.

While Kish admits there is still a lot to learn, he is proud of the work Panera is doing, and believes that labeling, transparency and individual choices about what we eat will all help support a better food system.

 

Panera Bread's Pantry will be open to the public on Wednesday, June 17th from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Guests can take a peek at Panera's ingredients, sample kale salad, quinoa and sprouted dinner rolls and chat with the culinary team.