I'm still a little stunned that I won the Cookies For Everyone Sweepstakes. The trip to Shiller Park, Illinois, packed more into one day than I thought possible. It began with an introduction to the people behind Enjoy Life, a truly dedicated bunch who are justifiably proud of what they do.
Enjoy Life's CEO, Scott Mandel, graciously gave me a tour of the bakery himself. The primary location is a one story brick building that is much larger inside than it appears. (The chocolate is manufactured in a separate dedicated facility, which busted the remaining shreds of my Willy Wonka fantasies.)
Entering the bakery, a long row of bins of allergen free ingredients lined the wall. After years of scouring grocery store shelves for safe foods, I was a little overwhelmed by the variety and abundance. The company's suppliers all sign contracts that their foods will be produced free of contamination and additional testing is done on some ingredients by Enjoy Life before they are used.
Next I was put into a state of Kitchen Aid envy by three stand mixers, all taller than me. After the ingredients are introduced to each other, they are shaped, squeezed or spread into cookies, bars or granola, distributed on trays and placed in racks that are rolled into ovens. The ovens are in the process of being upgraded to a new conveyor system, where the trays enter the oven on a belt at one end, and reemerge completely baked at the other. (More capacity means more cookies!)
The finished bakery products, as well as goodies from the super secret chocolate location (at least to me), are mechanically packaged in preprinted plastic and paper containers. I believe these cookies are Snickerdoodles bent on world domination. Since we don't have celiac problems in our household, I confess that I didn't know until this trip that gluten and egg free cookies could be as soft and chewy as these babies.
After packaging, the goodies are boxed up and kept in the warehouse until they are shipped out to meet a world full of grateful families with food allergies.
The tour ended at the Enjoy Life test kitchens, where I proceeded to spend most of the day talking and baking and talking some more with my new hero, Betsy Laakso, which will have to wait until the next post about this amazing trip!