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With a title like Queen of Gluten Free, Rowie Dillon sure knows what she's talking about when it comes to eating with gluten intolerance and food allergies. And she proves it doesn't have to be boring or bland at all, but on the contrary, rather quite delicious...
On Rowie's Cakes...
Tell us about how Rowie's Cakes came about and how you earned the title of "Queen of Gluten-Free".
Rowie’s Cakes – a kitchen that bakes wheat, yeast, dairy and gluten free was something that I conceived nearly eleven years ago. It came from a thought I had – because I could see that there was a gap in the market place for a wicked ‘normal’ tasting allergy free product. Basically the idea was founded by my own curiosity and my own need. I wanted to create a wow in the box factor so I concentrated on making sure that all flavours were different in taste, tone and texture and that when you opened the box you would scramble like we used to do as kids with a box of quality street chocolates – and go – I want that one.
My first customer was Greengrocer.com (which is now Woolworths home shop); the second David Jones Food Hall. I wouldn’t let my Rowie’s Cakes go out without our signature point of sale “Rowie’s Wicked Chocolate Paneggforte” and “Rowie’s Rich Orange and Almond Cake” - and it worked. I branded my product within a cake cabinet. I guess being labelled the Queen of Gluten Free came from my vigilance and my passion to create and voice a difference for people who suffer allergies and intolerances. I am very driven, focused and passionate about what I do. It’s who I am. Recently I received the most amazing compliment that was very special - I was told I am a pioneer in my category and that I guess sums it up.
Are there health benefits to eating gluten-free food even for those who don’t need to eat gluten-free food?
I am not a medic but I think there are. For people that have food intolerances and allergies – yes there are benefits. The consequences of not eating completely free are not exactly that wonderful. I personally feel a balanced diet fruit, vegetable and protein is actually incredibly important – our bodies are our engines for existence and the fuel we put in to them is something that we really should ensue is perfectly right for each of us, otherwise we won’t ‘run’ properly.
Your mantra is to "Bump the bland from Gluten-Free" - can gluten-free food really taste as yummy as other non gluten-free foods?
Oh, course it can! It is possible for naughty tasting treats and desserts to be good for you! And personally, it’s achievable. Look at my cookbook INDULGE! Then look and taste what I cook and how I do things and you will be convinced. Gluten free isn’t dull or boring and it’s time that gluten free went mainstream. There is no reason, in my world, for anyone to believe that gluten free is dull, bland or boring and it’s my mission to turn that notion of dull, bland and boring on it’s head forever.
As someone who is gluten-intolerant, is it still hard to find products on the market that cater for this?
Yes, it is. But it is a lot easier to access products these days. Personally, the different leaf flours and grains available today are really wonderful in comparison to even what was available four years ago. Now all we have to do is get ‘everything’ in the category to taste good. This is where Rowie’s Cakes comes in. It’s really difficult to find wonderful tasting gluten free product that really stands out from the crowd.
Where the magic happens…
What's the reaction you've had from people since opening your shop in Marrickville?
My little wonky retail – buy from the factory door shop at Rowie’s Cakes has a wonky, clunky, Willy Wonka meets Moulin Rouge feel to it – it’s a little naive in many ways. But customers love it. They enjoy coming in and buying from the factory door and because Marrickville is really coming of age with lots of young families and, because the park is across the road (for when the sun does shine) – it’s really nice to share a cake with the kids and have a play.
I have a lot of customers collecting birthday cakes each day and they travel to us to get their cakes. I also have a lot of regular customers that have been with the business for the past ten years - and that is amazing. One of the most amazing things in my business at Rowie’s Cakes is the gratitude you receive from parents and kids when they come in to collect a birthday cake. A gorgeous Rowie’s Cake – that anyone can eat – that isn’t bland or boring and that won’t single out that poor child as the one with the allergies. It’s really amazing to see these customers smile – I have shed many a happy tear making many children and families happy! Sometimes their child has never had a birthday – imagine the frustration and the grief at never having had a proper birthday party or cake treat at any celebration; let alone their own. That’s why I say Indulge and enjoy and stay healthy!
About the range…
What's personally your favourite cake in your range and why?
Oh! How did I know you were going to ask me this? Many people do and I have to admit I eat one of my cakes every day! My favourite flavour – well I love them all because I created them – but my flavour changes seasonally or by mood as such. And because I am always working on ‘new’ Rowie’s treats my favourite change again and again – at the moment I’m in a brownie mood – like I bake brownies every morning. And as for my favourite Rowie’s treat at present - well in the rain - it’s Rowie’s Sexy Choc L'Orange.
Your range is dessert-focused - do you hope to extend the range to other meals in the future?
I have a plan and I have a vision. INDULGE my first cookbook published at Christmas time and available at all good book stores, is part of that. There are 100 sweet and savoury recipes that are all gluten free and all wonderfully awesome. It is my mission and my dream that Rowie’s Cakes is a household name in Australia in connection with wicked tasting allergy free food that anyone can eat. The Rowie’s Cakes brand will be top of mind in the pantry, the fridge, the freezer, the picnic, the lunchbox, the family celebration, the morning tea, the afternoon tea – and the beauty is – allergic or not – everyone will enjoy their Rowie’s Cakes experience.
We hear you're such a success that Qantas and other airlines chase after your delicious food - how did you become involved in creating a range for in-flight catering?
I was invited to create a product for special diet meals that was universally free (of wheat, yeast, gluten, dairy, egg, nuts and soy) for Qantas and we worked together on this – it’s a gorgeous recipe and a very special product. I receive emails every day from people who’ve flown Qantas and enjoyed it.
Attention those with food intolerances and allergies!
Have you got any tips for those living with food allergies?
Smile. Do not feel like you’ve been relegated to a life of culinary boredom and have confidence in baking, cooking and eating. Change your food and your lifestyle and Indulge!
It's almost time to start school again. What things can parents do to help cater for kids with food intolerances and allergies?
Check with the school about the schools allergen policy. Some schools differ, dependent on the child in attendance with allergies or intolerances. Keep your lunchbox nut free and read labels of the packaged product you put into their lunchbox and make sure there are no allergens in the ingredient list.
Do you have any lunchbox suggestions for kids with food intolerances or allergies?
Happy, healthy lunchboxes. Lunchboxes with colour! Place a note inside to put a smile on their faces! Buy a lunchbox with compartments and use them. Your lunchbox doesn’t just have to contain a sandwich – why not take rice noodles and frittata or brown rice and vegies to school. Cut your fruit in to shapes and make lunch fun! Bake and prepare ahead on a Sunday; plan your menu and set your budget.
A final word from Rowie…
Gluten Free cooking for me is not only an art but also a science. When you bake with me you have got to leave your pre-conceived ideas about gluten free baking behind and get ready for something akin to a religious conversion. Taste, texture, method and presentation unite to bump the bland out of gluten free baking forever!
Take a look at Rowie's Cakes to find more about Rowie and her delicious range of gluten-free cakes.
You can also try giving one of Rowie’s cakes a go yourself with this scrumptious Lime and Coconut Island Cake recipe.