Paving The Gluten-Free Way: Melissa Bess Reed Spotlight
When Melissa Bess Reed was diagnosed with celiac disease over 15 years ago, there wasn’t such a thing as a gluten-free section at the usual grocery store and even specialty health food stores like Whole Foods weren’t overflowing with options. The lack of options made a hard situation even more difficult so Melissa set out to create her own gluten-free foods that would not only benefit herself but other people who were going through exactly the same thing. Fast forward 15 years and that interest eventually turned into a business that specializes in salad dressings, salsas, mustards, bruschetta toppings, pasta sauces and much more that give the gluten-intolerant some tasty options. Since her original diagnosis, she has written a number of gluten-free cookbooks, volunteers her time with different celiac-related organizations and continues to develop her culinary skills in different areas, like with the Escoffier Online Healthy Baking program.
We got a chance to sit down with Melissa and talk about her initial struggles with celiac, how she turned her diagnosis into a positive and what her most triumphant gluten-free dish has been so far!
Escoffier Online: You were diagnosed with gluten intolerance over 15 years ago, a time when there weren’t many options for people with the same condition. Is that what fueled your interest in your gluten-free food line and other endeavors?
Melissa Bess Reed: Fifteen years ago was a time of less than enjoyable textures and flavors in gluten-free limited grocery products, and I found that to be unfair for myself and others—especially kids. That is what fueled my interest in gluten-free foods and my other endeavors. During the 90s and early 2000s, there was lack of delicious gluten-free products on the market. A diagnosis of celiac sprue medically requires a gluten-free diet; I could no longer eat wheat, barley, malt and rye. That’s breads, cakes, rolls, buns, cookies, or other baked goods. Gluten additives are in most anything in processed foods like thickeners or flavorings. I learned others that have this or similar restrictive diet disorder have difficulty switching over to this type of gluten-free lifestyle, enjoying the food or feeling satisfied and flourishing. Food should be enjoyed, not tolerated, in my opinion. For example, in 1998 gluten-free cookies on the market were like eating cookies made from beach sand. I saw this as an end result: individuals and families could opt out and never eat any delicious baked goods again… or they could learn how to make them themselves at home with safe ingredients. Imagine a kid never getting a real birthday cake and all the others get parties and cakes or cupcakes? That thought made me determined to make a difference for others. This set my inspiration going.
Escoffier Online: Why do you feel it’s so important to educate people on different food intolerances like celiac disease?
Melissa Bess Reed: I feel it is important to educate people on different food intolerance and celiac because having knowledge of different food intolerances or diets will help bring awareness. Knowing the difference between an allergy, autoimmune disorder and a person’s food preference is a big deal these days. Perhaps awareness will help end the suffering people go through from side effects due to food cross contamination or co-mingling of intolerant food ingredients or having to cut out all their favorite foods. There are strict specialty diets that people must live by or suffer extreme health effects. Some have to live by the diets as the body has an autoimmune reaction to certain types of foods which destroys the person’s body tissue, such as intestine or thyroid. Some have allergic reaction symptoms from certain food which could be life threatening for certain individuals if their airway closes up. When people have knowledge of top 8 allergy foods and specialty diets they can prepare those properly for themselves or others if a chef, culinarian or home-cook. They can also be aware of symptoms from food allergy in themselves or their loved ones.
Escoffier Online: How have you been able to use your medical assistant certification to apply to your food career?
Melissa Bess Reed: I have been able to use the medical assistant certification to apply it to my food career by having skills and in depth education to understand different foods, diets, diseases, health issues, lifestyles, life stages and medical needs that may affect food intake of individuals and families. This has assisted me with the skills and knowledge to help others. I have been able to apply my skills to cook in care-homes, hospices and other similar settings. This enabled me to assist people to have better eating habits and healthy menu options. I love helping others and cooking delicious food for people to enjoy.
Escoffier Online: What drew you to Escoffier Online’s Healthy Baking program?
Melissa Bess Reed: Escoffier has a wonderful program. The online cooking courses offer knowledge and skills I need to move forward. The online courses offer a schedule I can work around for my needs and ease of access. Escoffier has everything I wanted for a culinary program. What really won me over was that I can save gas money by studying at home with the Escoffier Online Healthy Baking Program and earn my certificate!
Escoffier Online: How has it helped you with your gluten-free culinary skills?
Melissa Bess Reed: Escoffier Online courses have helped me with my gluten-free culinary skills by giving me the knowledge and ingredient substitutions for specialty baking that will help me create even better quality foods and baked goods. I want to create delectable baked goods. Escoffier has put together a program that covers all the details of healthy baking, so I can apply it to my everyday life, help others eat better quality food and move forward in my career!
Escoffier Online: Tell me about your gluten-free food line.
Melissa Bess Reed: After creating a few cookbooks I studied FDA rules and guidelines for certified gluten-free food. I wanted to create unique gourmet grocery items for people to enjoy that have to be on specialty diet. I learned gluten must be under 20 parts per million in my products to be certified as gluten-free. I found a great manufacturer in my home state, a few hours from my home office that has testing and certifications I need to feel confident my food line is safe for people that are gluten-free. GLUTEN FREE LIFESTYLE SERIES™ gourmet food products are certified gluten-free and available online at www.glutenfreelifestyleseries.com or select retailers. The food line includes premium organic pasta sauces, apple butter, salad dressings, grill sauces, seafood sauces, marinades, olive oils, bruschetta toppings, organic salsas, seasoning oils, balsamic vinegar, mustards, wing sauce and other gourmet selections! Many of my food products are certified USDA Organic and they’re all manufactured in California.
Escoffier Online: What has been your best gluten-free dish triumph?
Melissa Bess Reed: My best gluten-free dish triumph was the gluten-free pizza I made with Escoffier. It was perfect. I have had a few GF pizzas made from big name gluten-free manufacturers. They were not so good. The gluten-free pizza I made with the Healthy Baking program recipe was the best I have tasted in 15 years! The crust was the right texture and flavor. My second triumph was the gluten-free cream puffs I made for Escoffier’s November Culinary Contest… they were amazing. Last time I had anything close to the cream puff was in high school before I was diagnosed with celiac.
Escoffier Online: What, in your opinion, are the most important elements to keep in mind when chartering new culinary territories?
Melissa Bess Reed: The most important elements to keep in mind when chartering new culinary territories in my opinion; Research it, have fun with it, experiment and explore!
Escoffier Online: What words of advice do you have for other chefs and food enthusiasts?
Melissa Bess Reed: Words of advice I have for other chefs and food enthusiasts: Follow your dreams. If culinary is your passion… follow through and take Escoffier Online courses to expand your knowledge and skills! Life is too short to just daydream; make those daydreams into reality!
Escoffier Online: What do you hope to see in the future for your career?
Melissa Bess Reed: I hope one day to own a restaurant or bakery and in the future of my career be a culinary educator to help inspire others to follow their culinary dreams and make them into reality!