A healthier sweet tooth: Learning to cook gluten- and dairy-free ... doughnuts?

Los Angeles Times | Brand X Daily, January 20th, 2010

Brand X is now defunct, so this link no longer works.


Chef Nicci Bates always suspected she had a problem digesting wheat and dairy products, but she struggled in vain to give them up until two years ago. That's when her children got sick. Her daughter, 4 years old at the time, tested positive for ulcerative colitis and celiac disease, and her son, then 2, was diagnosed with autism. Bates immediately put the entire family on a gluten-free and casein- or milk-protein-free (GFCF) diet.

Two years later, Bates says her children's symptoms have all but disappeared, and she and her husband have bid adieu to their own perpetually upset tummies. How did they spell relief? GFCF. And while there is definitely some controversy around the subject since the scientific verdict is still out, Bates has no doubt the diet changed her family's lives for the better.

Food isn't the only area where things got shaken up in Bates' world, though. The former Starbucks bakery specialist for all of California and Hawaii, Bates had to quit her job and create an entirely new career for herself after the dietary shift.

"All I did was work with flour and butter and milk," Bates said, laughing. "I had a pie company too. I had to shut down shop. It was just a complete and utter transformation."

Bates took a retail day job, launched a website and started teaching healthy cooking classes. She likes to give students her background story because the way she sees it, if she can go gluten- and dairy-free, anyone can.

"I'm not going to lie and paint this rose-colored picture," Bates said. "It's not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But it doesn't have to be miserable. It can be fun and it can taste good."

Bates has become something of a fixture at the Whole Foods Market on Arroyo Parkway as a result of the popularity of the cooking classes she teaches there on a semi-regular basis.

"Seriously, she even has regulars," said Cindy Yamaguchi, the marketing assistant at the store.

Skeptics are encouraged to check out tonight's installment, where the menu will feature a New Orleans theme due to the "obsession" she and her daughter have with the animated film "The Princess and the Frog."

Participants can expect to make and, better yet, sample Jambalaya and other yummy treats from the Big Easy. Bates has a pretty good shot at changing some more lives for the better with her feather-light "Man Catchin' Beignets" - sugar-dusted, deep-fried pastries N'Awlins style (with a nod to Disney).

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Cooking Class with Nicci Bates at Whole Foods Market, 465 South Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena; tonight at 6:30; $10 per person.

--Melissa Henderson

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