Gettin’ Gourmet with Gluten-Free
The Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro
The timing was right for Susan Fulton and Mary Steiger, founders of the Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro, where everything is gluten-free. “When we started eight years ago, people were developing an increased awareness about gluten and looking for healthy changes in their diet,” Fulton says.
This dynamic duo met at a referral group. Steiger had a bed and breakfast, and Fulton owned a picture framing business. Steiger is a valedictorian graduate of Scottsdale Culinary Institute and has been a pastry chef for 30 years. Fulton came from a family that put food at the top of the pyramid in life. “We clicked with our mutual love of food and that’s how we got started in the catering business,” Fulton recalls.
The catering business quickly led to their gluten-free culinary epiphany. Fulton explains, “We had a customer who had a lot of allergies and needed to eat gluten-free. We thought we would be able to buy the products, but we found there wasn’t much for sale. We started making our own gluten-free food, using the websites and cookbooks that were available.”
“Then we both went gluten-free and saw the benefits,” Fulton relates. In Fulton’s case, her new diet resulted in getting rid of her migraine headaches. “We were in on the ground floor of the gluten-free movement, taking gluten-free to a gourmet level. That’s what we’re all about,” Fulton remarks.
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. It is present in almost all processed food as well as many cosmetic products, and it has become a staple of the American diet. Celiac Disease, a serious autoimmune disorder, affects 1 in 133 people in the U.S. In addition, one third of Americans may be affected by sensitivity to gluten, ranging from mild to severe. According to Fulton, many of these people may not have the slightest idea that gluten is at the root of many of their health problems.
For those who are sensitive to gluten, consuming gluten can cause a myriad of symptoms. It can create inflammation in the body with wide-ranging effects throughout all organ systems, including brain, heart, joints, digestive tract and more. Diseases linked to this sensitivity include many autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and lupus, as well as cancer, psoriasis, osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease and heart problems. Gluten may also be linked to psychiatric and neurological disorders, including depression, dementia, migraines, anxiety and autism. There is an endless list of connections between gluten sensitivity and health issues.
Even though gluten has been around since wheat was introduced into the human diet, Fulton has an enlightening explanation for why the gluten sensitivity problem has become so pervasive. “The wheat we eat now is not your grandmother’s wheat. The gluten we’re fed now has been processed and modified. This affects the way gluten is handled by the body,” she observes.
Since gluten, as its name suggests, acts like glue, it gives texture, stickiness and elasticity to dough. Without it, food can be crumbly and dry. Set aside any preconceived notions that gluten-free food has to taste like cardboard, though. “We’ve worked hard to make our food taste good. We make five blends of flours, utilizing flours like rice, bean, millet, tapioca and potato. We had a lot of experimentation and failures along the way, especially when we first started, before we perfected our method,” Fulton comments.
From catering and selling their gluten-free wares at farmers’ markets, the Gourmet Girls’ journey ultimately resulted in opening their own restaurant. Since opening, the space has doubled in size due to an increase in demand.
The Gourmet Girls Bakery/Bistro has repeatedly been recognized as the best gluten-free restaurant in Tucson by a multitude of publications. Their 24 Carat Gold Margarita is an award-winning concoction of tequila, carrot juice, orange juice, agave nectar and cilantro. Or, guests can try their signature Gourmet Girls margarita, a refreshing mimosa, beer or wine. They also have an enticing array of cupcakes and other sweets, as well as vegan items.
Entertaining can be a breeze with food from the Gourmet Girls. “We create wonderful Christmas cookie boxes and pies. For Thanksgiving, we make everything but the turkey. We will bake custom wedding and birthday cakes. After we close at 3 p.m., we can also have parties,” Fulton notes. For guests with dogs, well-behaved canines are welcome on their outdoor patio.
The Gourmet Girls also participate in a variety of culinary fundraising events benefitting local nonprofit organizations, including Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, ALS Association, The Southern Arizona Humane Society, The Community Food Bank and the YWCA. Additionally, they have created fundraising cupcakes, blue icing for hurricane relief and pink for breast cancer. “We pride ourselves on our efforts to give back to the community,” Fulton advises.
The Gourmet Girls are proud to be able to provide their customers “feel good food” and they are very grateful for the enthusiastic response to their gluten-free culinary skills. “Our caring staff has created a community which makes guests feel comfortable, safe and cared for. How people feel emotionally when they’re eating their food is just as important as how it tastes,” Fulton opines.
Fulton relishes telling a story about what happened one day at the restaurant. “A woman started crying for happiness while eating here. It’s the most gratifying work I’ve ever done. Food is a wonderful expression of nurturing people—especially people who haven’t been able to eat their favorite foods without getting sick. Our motto is ‘Indulge Yourself Again’,” she emphasizes.
Whether it’s simply baked oatmeal or the Bistro Breakfast Sandwich Special—featuring toasted multigrain, two eggs, shaved ham, fried kale and hollandaise—the Gourmet Girls serve their guests fresh, real food that tastes delicious.
Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro is located at 5845 N. Oracle Rd., in Tucson. Connect at 520-408-9000 and GourmetGirlsGlutenFree.com. See ad, page 23.
Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. She focuses on writing on the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. She can be reached at Suzie@ComedyForCharity.org.
Gluten-Free Banana Muffins
- 2 cups all-purpose, gluten-free baking flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 Tbsp baking soda
- ¾ tsp xanthan gum
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 packed cup ripe mashed banana
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup rice bran oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin with cooking spray.
Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add banana and stir.
Combine milk and oil in small bowl, then beat in eggs. Add liquid to banana mixture and stir until blended well.
Fill muffins 2/3 full. Bake 18 to 25 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on rack.