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December 21. 2011 8:52AM

Life-changing recipe Family’s celiac disease diagnoses leads dad to switch careers from software to gluten-free baking


Jeff Brockway, owner and baker at Buckwheat’s Gluten Free, slicing a loaf of Everyday Sandwich Bread. Loaves of Dark Whole Grain Bread are also shown in the foreground and both breads cool on the rack in the background. (WALTER SCHNECKER / C1MPP.COM)

Eff Brockway's path to opening a gluten-free bakery began with a challenge: “I really missed eating the good breads and good pizza crusts and a real hamburger,” Brockway said, “so that’s why I started.”

Eight years ago his son was diagnosed with celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that prevents people from eating certain foods, most notably wheat. Brockway, who’s now 40, was diagnosed shortly thereafter.

“I took it has a personal challenge that there must be some other way to make good (gluten-free) things other than just rice and tapioca starch, so I started experimenting.”

In June of this year, Brockway — previously a software engineer with zero professional baking experience — opened Buckwheat’s Gluten Free in Nashua. His goal has always been baked good that are not just good by gluten-free standards, but great by anyone’s palate.

Since then his business has grown each month, he said, reflecting a nationwide trend toward gluten-free diets.

“When I’m putting together my recipes I focus on the whole grains,” Brockway said at his bakery a stone’s throw from the Merrimack River. “What that does is it gives me the best balance of flavor and a good balance of proteins.”

Buckwheat’s, which sells primarily to wholesale customers, offers a big variety.

The breads come from country white to dark whole grain, and there are of baguettes, burger rolls, pizza crusts and seasonal muffins—triple berry, pumpkin spice, chocolate chip, ginger bread, and double chocolate.

Gluten is a protein complex that comes not only from wheat, but also rye, barley, and triticale, a cross between wheat and rye.

One of Buckwheat’s key bread ingredients is the “garvfa flour mix,” a blend of fava and garbanzo beans. The Dark Whole Grain uses a flour blend with buckwheat, garbanzo, sorghum, fava, potato, and teff flour.

According the Mayo Clinic, gluten-free eaters have to be wary of a broad range of foods, from breads, sweets and cereals to soups, sauces, salad dressings and gravy.

Since gluten is also used as an additive for many other foods, the consumer has be constantly on the look out for these invisible pitfalls— the agent used in shredded cheese, for example, is often sprinkled with wheat.

Beer is one of the items celiac patients are often nostalgic for. The Beer Store, which opened in June in Nashua, has dedicated an entire cooler door to gluten-free beers and ciders. Owner Marc Foster said that of the 450 beers and ciders the store offers, six beers and 22 ciders are glutenfree, including some hard-tocome- by imports.

“It’s evolving, the market’s getting bigger, and why not help them help us,” Foster said. “It’s a two-way street.”

Mohamad Shatila of Shatila’s Bakery in Salem said his sugar-free bakery has been offering gluten-free items since 2002. Celiac folks can marvel at an array of cookies, pastries, cheesecakes, ice creams and cakes at Shatila’s.

“A few years ago we saw requests for customers looking for gluten-free,” Shatila said. “We have a small (space) where we do our experiments, so me and my brother decided, ‘why don’t we do some gluten-free, because we’re getting (many) requests.’” Although “gluten free” often refers to harmless levels of gluten, bakers like Brockway maintain there must be no gluten at all. Some people are so sensitive that even minute levels of gluten can cause a serious reaction. Shatila’s Bakery has a second kitchen for gluten-free items, while Buckwheat’s is exclusively gluten-free.

Some critics say the movement is just another fad like the Atkins Diet. But Brockway has staked his livelihood on it, walking away from a career in software development. “I certainly don’t make as much money as I did then,” he said.

“But I look at what I do and I make a lot of people happy.”


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