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Posted February 4, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Let 'em eat cake: Bakery offers gluten-free products for those with food sensitivities
By Stacey Keenan -- Daily Correspondent
SPERRYVILLE -- Rich, creamy, decadent chocolate cake melts in the mouth like a piece of chocolate perfection. The moist taste of a morsel of a carrot cupcake slathered with cream cheese icing is wondrous. The cream filling overflows the edges of a profiterole, while the chocolate ganache topping drips on the plate.
For most people, these sweet indulgences are just an outstretched hand away. But, for the millions of Americans who suffer from wheat allergies or Celiac disease -- a lifelong, genetic digestive disorder activated by eating gluten, the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley -- the treats are always out of reach.
Now, Triple Oak Bakery in Sperryville specializes in providing gluten-free products to those in the Shenandoah Valley region. Brooke Parkhurst, the bakery's owner, formally opened the business in the fall of 2008.
"I had been [operating] casually out of my kitchen in my home," Parkhurst says. "But with gluten-free, it's sort of a captive audience, a specialized clientele. When people know you know how to bake, and you bake gluten-free, you get lots of calls. Without doing anything, I was getting so much business, so I decided to open this place."
Parkhurst realized there was a market for a gluten-free bakery in the region from speaking with customers at The Natural Marketplace in Warrenton, where she works full time.
"I bet you half of the customers are not eating gluten," she says. "One in 133 people are diagnosed with Celiac disease, but I bet there are twice as many who have it or who are gluten-intolerant and should be limiting [gluten intake]."
According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center Web site, the disorder affects more than 3 million Americans, but 97 percent of them are undiagnosed.
In fact, although she has not been formally diagnosed, Parkhurst knows she and her two children, 16 and 13, suffer from Celiac dise-ase.
Parkhurst discovered her family's inability to eat anything made from gluten in a couple of ways. She first realized it when her family enjoyed cooking and she couldn't eat the things they made.
"I started cooking at a restaurant in Flint Hill as a prep chef, and then became a pastry chef, and I couldn't taste the things I was making," she says. "When my son was a baby and he was nursing, he would scream and [become sick]. I knew it was something I was eating. I stopped eating, ate only brown rice until he got better. Then I added things back in one at a time until I figured it out. Then a few months later, my half sister was diagnosed with it, and I went 'Ding, ding!'"
Parkhurst began baking gluten-free products out of necessity for her family, and by word of mouth, slowly built a business. She has clients from Front Royal, Stephens City, Warrenton, Culpeper and surrounding areas.
She bakes a variety of products, including dinner rolls, biscuits and many different kinds of sweets. Customers can order everything from lemon sponge cake and New York-style cheesecake to Parkhurst's signature chocolate torte. She also offers an applesauce spice teacake and apple or pecan coffeecakes. When it comes to chocolate goodies, there's everything from brownies and blondies to profiteroles, éclairs and cocoa cookies. She's also working on developing a recipe for loaf bread.
Parkhurst uses local products as much as possible, and uses organic ingredients when she feels she can justify the cost, she says.
Because having a storefront is expensive, Parkhurst concentrates on selling her products through health food stores and by special order. Customers can pick up their special orders from Better Thymes in Front Royal and at The Natural Marketplace in Warrenton every Thursday. Parkhurst does ask for four days notice for any special order. If people want to try her products first, she does sell individual portions at the stores, as well.
"But they sell out fast," she says.
In addition to the bakery, Parkhurst also offers her services as a personal chef for people with food sensitivities.
Parkhurst says she wants people with gluten intolerance to realize that even though they can't consume anything with gluten in it, they don't have to settle for less.
"I want the bakery to offer really good food that also happens to be gluten-free," she says. "When I first figured out we couldn't eat gluten, there was nothing. Everything was substandard. I got tired of it. I like to eat. I don't want to eat bad stuff."
For more information or to place an order, call Triple Oak Bakery at 675-3601, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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