Interview: Rianna Turner Photos: Rachel Benavides
What influenced you to begin selling gluten-free goods?
If you lead a gluten-free lifestyle, you know how hard it is to find fresh baked goods that actually taste good. The prepackaged items available in the stores can also be full of preservatives. I saw a need for fresh, soft, sandwich-size bread and began working on recipes that would fill that void. I got tired of either eating burgers, sandwiches and such without a bun or bread, so I started making by own. You can buy gluten-free bread at the local stores, but it is usually frozen, stiff, half the size of a normal sandwich, and quite costly. This is beginning to improve, but there is still a long way to go. I have led a gluten-free lifestyle for over nine years. My three adult daughters and four of my six grandchildren are also gluten-free. It is not a choice for us. Even the slightest amount of gluten ingested can make me miserable for hours. We all have intestinal issues, foggy brains, and fatigue when we eat gluten. The little ones become quite agitated and their behavior deteriorates to meltdowns when they eat gluten. One of my daughters is allergic to dairy, also, and breaks out into hives just touching cheese, so my bread is dairy free also.
Have you experienced a high demand for gluten-free goods that hasn’t necessarily been met in the South Texas area?
Yes, as the medical community, health food industry and “crunchy” community spread the word about the effects of gluten and how a gluten-free lifestyle can help those like me, more people are realizing that they too have gluten “issues.” It has become more acceptable to be gluten-free. Because of this, there has been a huge increase in the amount of gluten-free options available in the grocery stores and on restaurant menus. The problem is, they are still pre-packaged foods which contain preservatives and other added ingredients. There is also a problem with cross-contamination or lack of knowledge in restaurants. You have to go to San Antonio to find a bakery that is exclusively gluten-free.
Have you always been a chef, or did you lean toward the career later in life, when motivated by a larger goal?
I was raised in the kitchen. My parents owned a soul food buffet in Los Angles when I was young. I started working in the kitchen with my step-father when I was 15 years old. He had a scratch kitchen and that is how I learned to cook. From there I worked in a fresh fish market restaurant on Redondo Beach pier. I moved from there to learn the art of high-end, large scale banquets with Marriott Hotels. Since then I have worked in a variety of restaurants, conference centers and colleges creating food from scratch for large volumes of people.
How have you perceived your small business’ impact on the Coastal Bend community?
This is a hard question to answer. While there is still a need for fresh, high quality gluten-free baked goods here in the Coastal Bend, it is hard to maintain a business based solely on gluten-free. I still work full-time at Del Mar College creating food for the students and staff, so I only had one day a week to bake. I also did not have many venues to sell my products. Creating high quality baked goods is expensive, so it costs the customer more to purchase them. But they are worth it. I believe if I brought my experience and knowledge to a restaurant that was willing to adapt its menu, it would be very successful. Wouldn’t it be great to go to a restaurant with your family and not have to worry about everyone’s food allergies?