September 2012 – There I was, in this quaint little bakery on North Oracle at Rudasill, munching an open-face turkey sandwich on French bread with a side of potato salad – all gluten-free – and enjoying the meal immensely. This was unexpected.
Like most people who have tried gluten-free bread and other gluten-free foods, my limited experience was that these specialty foods were not tasty and the texture was all wrong. My two table companions were teaching me that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Susan Fulton and Mary Gibson – aka the Gourmet Girls – opened their bakery about a year ago and it has turned out to be quite the sensation among those locals who suffer from the ill-effects of gluten, a molecule in wheat, and some other grains.
For several years, they sold their bakery goods only at the Oro Valley and St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers’ Market, and they still do. In opening their bakery last November, they already had a lot of loyal customers.
Over the past few years, a growing number of people have discovered that if they eliminate gluten from their diet, they feel better almost immediately. Gluten-related illnesses include: eczema, irritated gut, migraines, attention deficit disorders, constipation, diarrhea, autoimmune diseases, and Celiac Disease.
For these sufferers, the remedy is fairly simple. First, get tested for the presence of gluten antibodies. If you test positive, then eliminate gluten from your diet. You will probably feel better in a few days.
Simple? Yes. But there are at least three attendant problems. First, as Susan and Mary were teaching me, gluten is in a lot of other products besides bread, such as some ketchups and salad dressings.
Those who are sensitive to the gluten molecule have to be hyper-aware when they shop for food. It’s even in some medicines. Even some cosmetics have gluten that can be absorbed through the skin. In some people, gluten has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and heart problems.
Chefs Have To Be Aware
Second, in response to growing demand, many restaurants now offer gluten-free items on their menus. But there’s a problem. If the chef prepares gluten-free dishes on the same cutting board, or even the same kitchen, as regular dishes, there’s a likelihood of contamination. The gluten molecule can get mixed in with the supposedly gluten-free dishes. This is why Gourmet Girls Gluten-Free Bakery does not allow any foods from the outside to be brought inside.
Third, gluten-free breads and other processed foods have neither the desired taste nor texture of foods made with gluten. According to Susan, “Gluten makes foods tasty, attractive, longer-lasting, and puffier.” Bakers and food processors have been struggling with this issue for years, mostly without success.
Although neither is gluten-intolerant, Susan & Mary noticed this market niche-not-fulfilled and decided to do something about problem #3. Judging by their growing number of return customers rather than my limited, yet delicious one-meal experience, I’d say they have succeeded. But not without a cost.
To make consistently good breads and other bakery goods that are not the texture of brick and tasteless (or worse), they had to do a lot of experimenting and, by their own admission, had to throw out a lot of failures before getting just the right flavors and texture in a variety of recipes.
A Growing Sensitivity To Gluten
I asked the Gourmet Girls why so many more people today seem to be ultra-sensitive to gluten. “First, gluten is used in a lot more products today than in our parent’s or grandparent’s day,” Susan told me. “Second, chemists have genetically modified wheat. We don’t eat the same wheat that people consumed 50 years ago. Today, we have gluten molecules on steroids.”
New! Gluten-Free Take-Out Meals
There is so much demand for gluten-free foods in Tucson that, in addition to their in-store breakfast and lunch, the Gourmet Girls have started offering take-out meals. This means that, if you’re gluten intolerant, you can call ahead to order a take-out meal, stop by their bakery on your way home, and have a delicious ready-to-eat meal that doesn’t make you sick.
Gourmet Girls Bakery makes all manner of doughy things, including: artisan breads, pizza crusts, pastries, birthday cakes, and cream puffs. I did not try any of their desserts because (a) the sandwich and potato salad was quite satisfying, and (b) their cakes and such are not calorie-free and I’m on a diet. Nevertheless, the next time I’m around Oracle and Rudasill, my love of pastries may get the better of me.
Some of our best restaurants, including Hacienda del Sol and Lodge on the Desert, serve Gourmet Girls products. The bakery / bistro is open Tuesday – Sunday 7AM to 3PM.
Gourmet Girls Gluten-Free Bakery & Bistro: Highly Recommended, even for people who are not gluten intolerant!
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