In our social circles, there’s often someone adhering to a gluten-free diet, navigating events where dessert is a luxury. In my case, it’s a colleague, Dino, who, despite his Italian roots, abstains from gluten.
Each month, five of my friends and I, known as the Italian Stallions, eat at San Diego’s Godfather restaurant, always seated in the crescent booth.
Last month’s lunch introduced me to the talents of Roanna, an exceptional gluten-free baker and wife to another Stallion colleague, Ken Canete. Ken brought Roanna’s gluten-free tiramisu so Dino could partake in the sweet conclusion of our monthly gathering, prompting my decision to feature Roanna’s Gluten-Free Baking in a column.
It all began in a quiet Parisian side-street pastry shop. The display dazzled with exquisite French pastries. Roanna inquired about which were the gluten-free options, and to her surprise, the man behind the counter assured her, “Mademoiselle, everything. Everything is gluten-free.”
His whispery French accent conveyed a sense of liberation. Almost in tears, she wanted to create the same, allowing her son with a wheat allergy to enjoy as many delicious (gluten-free) desserts as he wished.
In 2015, Roanna extended her gluten-free baking talents to San Diego restaurants and wholesale markets from her home kitchen. By February 2020, she had opened a highly anticipated gluten-free retail location in North Park, listed by the Union-Tribune as the most anticipated opening in 2020.
In May 2022, she expanded production with the GF Collective in Clairemont, a non-gluten-free commercial facility with inherited employees and 11 non-gluten-free wholesale recipes. Roanna faced the challenge of retaining her staff and adapting to the operational shift, acknowledging her expertise in gluten-free flour creation but not in kitchen management, one of her first community opportunities.
“I know how to create gluten-free flour, but I did not know how to run a kitchen,” Roanna said.
Under Roanna’s leadership, the Gluten Free Baking Company underwent a remarkable transformation within six months. All employees remained, and the entire facility, along with 11 recipes, transitioned to gluten-free, with an additional 9 recipes added.
Roanna’s adeptness at crafting gluten-free flours that match the taste and texture of traditional flours impressed her team, while she, in turn, learned the intricacies of operating a commercial baking facility from her employees. Procuring 13 types of flour in 2,000-pound quantities, Roanna combines at least four varieties when creating recipes to achieve optimal results.
During my tour, I observed a harmonious and efficient operation where happy employees collaborated in a lively environment. They were producing cupcakes for a local Girl Scouts project where scouts earned Entrepreneur and Baking badges.
Her involvement earned her the title of honorary scout for her mentoring and leadership in the Girl Scout community, a recognition that holds special significance for Roanna, who couldn’t be a Girl Scout in her youth due to her rural upbringing in Utah.
Additionally, Roanna fosters community by leasing surplus space at the GF Collective to businesses seeking a certified gluten-free facility. Upon entering, I was reminded of the bakery’s commitment to strict conditions for gluten-free operations, as any gluten-containing snacks were not allowed.
This emphasis on adherence to stringent standards reflects Roanna and her team’s dedication to maintaining a certified gluten-free environment.
“There are lots of hurdles in the gluten-free world that are like icebergs that emerge unexpectedly,” Roanna said regarding industry challenges.
One was a cross-contamination incident with one of their two gluten-free chocolate suppliers, resulting in heavy reliance on a single source and strict chocolate rationing. Another was a sudden change in their meringue powder supplier to a gluten facility that demanded swift adaptation and innovation.
Perhaps the best way that Roanna creates community is through a gluten-free school she launched in June, where aspiring bakers become certified gluten-free bakers. Students not only master 60 recipes but are also taught business and operations skills, empowering them to establish their own gluten-free shops. The self-paced program nominally takes 3 to 6 months to complete.
Roanna’s gluten-free creations make it challenging for most to differentiate them from traditional desserts. Her quest to find allergy-friendly options in a Parisian bakery inspired the creation of GF Collective, a retail outlet, a certification program, and mentorship for Girl Scouts.
Gluten Free Baking Company desserts are available for order and pick-up. Treat a gluten-restricted person in your life to a special dessert. Roanna’s dedication is commendable, and her story can be explored further at thegfbakingco.com.
— Story by Rico Cassoni
Rico Cassoni is the executive producer for Taste of Wine and Food. Founder/advisor Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading reviewers on the web. View their columns at tasteofwineandfood.com. Reach them at [email protected].