Mawa McQueen aims for human connection through new granola line
Mawa’s GrainFreeNola debuts with five handcrafted flavors
If you told Mawa McQueen a year ago that she was going to launch a granola line, she probably wouldn’t have believed you.
“It’s almost like a chef’s nightmare to say ‘OK, I’m going to be in the granola business,’” she said. “It wasn’t something that I ever, ever wanted to do — until COVID.”
The local chef already had her calling as a restauranteur, running Mawa’s Kitchen at the Aspen Business Center and The Crepe Shack in Snowmass Village. Granola was just something she made for herself as a snack, she said; she might give away a batch to someone who wanted it but didn’t see any reason to put the product on the market.
But life (or, in this case, a global pandemic) finds a way. Restaurants have been hit hard by COVID-19, but McQueen wasn’t about to throw in the towel when revenue dipped. She didn’t plan on wallowing, either.
“Oh no, honey, I’m not going down like this,” McQueen said. “I’m a strong, African-French-American woman — I don’t know what charity is. If I don’t have something, I’m going to make something up.”
And thus Mawa’s GrainFreeNola was born. She launched a line of five varieties last year and is now developing CBD-infused versions of each flavor, McQueen said; she’s also working on a nut-free iteration for those with allergies.
Each 8-ounce bag retails for $16.95; the product is available online at grainfreenola.com and in a number of local retailers, including Mawa’s Kitchen; the proceeds help McQueen support her employees and overhead costs at her two restaurants while restrictions limit dining operations.
But this is about more than an extra source of income, McQueen said.
Her ethos of vitality through healthy ingredients and heartfelt cooking is as present in her granola line as any of her other culinary endeavors. McQueen makes every batch of the granola herself — she is the only one with the recipe — and prioritizes fresh, organic ingredients.
“I want something good, something that fuels my body,” McQueen said. “I really, really was careful in how I crafted it, and I was very passionate about it.”
With a focus on nuts, seeds and dried fruits and vegetables, all five flavors are vegan and (true to the name) grain- and gluten-free; dates replace processed sugars as the source of sweetness.
“All of the ingredients are alive,” she said.
Mawa’s GrainFreeNola is now available in five flavors. Clockwise from upper left: Berry Me, Tropical Paradise, Out of Africa, Green Machine and Health Nut. | Kaya Williams/Aspen Times
This is no standard oats-and-raisins fare. Each of the five versions of Mawa’s GrainFreeNola builds upon a base of fresh nuts and seeds with distinct flavor profiles, from subtly sweet to fully savory.
Health Nut is the original GrainFreeNola flavor, with the most familiar profile for regular granola heads — think dates, almonds, cashews, walnuts, coconut and pumpkin seeds with a subtle, gingery bite.
No strawberries or blueberries here. McQueen eschews the standard fruity fare for the tartness of goji berries, golden berries, white mulberries and organic gooseberries. The uncommon flavors are “almost like an education,” McQueen said.
Out of Africa
McQueen said she wanted to honor “the motherland” with this rich, more-bitter-than-sweet cocoa flavor with hints of tangy tamarind; she was born on the Ivory Coast, one of the world’s top producers of cocoa.
Hazelnuts lend a strong nutty body to this variety, which gets its sweetness from Turkish figs. Dried mango, shredded coconut and hibiscus flower add to the tropical theme.
Kale in granola? You bet. This iteration brings the ingredients of a popular smoothie — banana, apple, leafy greens — into a granola form. The crispy texture and earthy flavor of kale make this flavor the most savory variety of the lineup.
The handcrafted nature of the granola creates a “synergy” between McQueen and those who indulge in the product, she said. She sees the granola as a proxy for human connection unencumbered by industrial processing, she said.
“I think people are missing that — the handmade, the hand touch,” she said. “We are so focused on the bottom that we take away the human feel.”
Creating each batch is a “spiritual” experience for McQueen — she called it both her therapy (she talks to the granola as she makes it) and her religion.
“You put your energy, your blessing, your emotion into it,” McQueen said. “I really want people to connect with me.”
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