Granola, long touted as a healthy snack, consists mostly of oats, seeds, raisins and nuts epoxied together with honey. Healthful doesn’t always translate into tasty, so commercial versions can be overly sweetened, thus sending blood sugars through the roof. But in Lesley Powers’ kitchen, granola is undergoing a makeover as this former restaurateur and chef transforms the breakfast staple into a healthy gourmand’s delight.
Powers sits in her dining room amidst various bins of granola bags, ready for delivery to local shops, such as the Bibelot stores in the Twin Cities. “I use mostly local ingredients,” she said. “But what’s different about my approach is that the granola is totally seasonally focused.”
Powers was born in Canada and came to St. Anthony Park via Toronto, the Caribbean and Australia. “My dad worked for UNESCO, so we moved around a lot,” she said.
When she was 14, her family moved to Australia where she mostly remained until adulthood. She worked as a chef in some of Australia’s finest hotels and restaurants and eventually opened her own restaurant in Sydney. Long before the local food movement was popular, Powers was using fresh regional foods in her restaurant. “Being connected to what is locally grown in your biosphere has been part of me for a very long time,” she said. “My basic philosophy during my restaurant years was simple food done really well with glorious fresh ingredients in season.”
Powers came to the United States after marrying a St. Paul native. “Michael walked into my restaurant. That’s how we met,” she said.
They lived in Australia during the first 10 years of their marriage where their three children were born. Powers eventually sold the restaurant to raise her family. They moved to St. Paul in 1996 so their children would know their Minnesota relatives. They hadn’t heard of the St. Anthony Park but fell in love with the neighborhood and the house in which they still live. “We looked at the house and then we walked down to Milton Square and the whole vibe of it felt really neighborly,” she said.
They returned to Australia briefly. “We were living in Melbourne, which has a vibrant food culture with its fresh food and great markets,” she said. “Since Melbourne had a well-known pastry school, I took classes to refresh my pastry skills.” Upon returning to St. Paul in 2006, Powers was filled with inspiration and ideas for a new business. “I came back with the notion that I wanted to develop a gourmet cookie tin that would fit nicely in the gourmet gift-giving niche, and it was then I launched my company, Bliss. My kids were teenagers, and I didn’t want to work full-time, so it was really a great fit and a step into coming back into the food world.”
Powers sold her cookie tins to both corporations and via small local gourmet shops, and they quickly became popular. “After I sent two of my kids off to college, I was ready to do something more and I thought of granola. Granola, even from the beginning, was all about nourishing my family. I was tired of the excess honey and sweeteners in granola – if you use less sweetener, you rely on granola’s natural goodness and it’s pretty much a healthy treat.” She asked the owners of the shops that had bought her cookie tins if they’d be interested in granola and they acquiesced. “I started developing this line of four seasons granola and it immediately became successful,” Powers said. “When you eat seasonally, it helps you harmonize with nature. We know instinctively that we want to eat lighter in spring and summer, and in autumn and winter we seek food that provides warmth and energy.”
Bliss’s four seasonal granola flavors are pumpkin spice (fall), pecan cinnamon (winter), cherry almond (spring) and macadamia crunch (summer). “This is my nod to the tropics,” Powers said. “Macadamias are grown in the region I’m from in Australia.” She’s also developed a new line called “sweet and salty” that’s more of a snack or treat and has two flavors: chocolate hazelnut and butterscotch pecan.
“What’s unique about my granola is that it’s made weekly – very small batch production – nothing is mechanized. Everything is handmade, hand-turned and hand-packaged. That ensures the freshest, most delicious product possible. If I could make 100 percent Minnesota granola, I would, but to that end as much of the ingredients as possible are local.” Each weekend from May through October, Powers sells her granola at the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis.
“I love it when I’m at Mill City Farmers Market and kids of return customers come up to me and say, ‘Guess what flavor we’re getting this week?’ “
Powers’ success helps the businesses of other local food producers, too. “I know my maple syrup guy, I know my honey supplier, and I know the farmer that produces my oats and seeds. I love knowing the people that grow the food that I use to make my granola. That’s a pretty rare connection.”
Rich and eloquent are normally not terms used to describe granola, but Bliss Granola is all that and more. “My returning customers sometimes use the granola to augment their oatmeal, just give it a little sprinkling of granola and that gives it a little crunch,” she said. “The possibilities are endless. What I love about the granola is that it’s healthy. I’m very proud of that.”
For more information, contact Lesley Powers at 651- 642-1545 or firstname.lastname@example.org.