Today’s guest interview features the awe-inspiring Estela D. Martinez from Liberated Foods.
Estela is a self-taught cook who specialises in gluten-free and allergen-free cooking and baking. Since the birth of her now 14 year old daughter, who was born with over 50 different food allergies (eek!), Estela has become an expert in sourcing ingredients and creating recipes that not only avoid allergens, but also taste every bit as delicious as the “real” thing – and receive the approval of her three allergy-free children!!!
In case you missed it, you can find Estela’s Recipe for Gluten-Free Scones on our blog.
Name: Estela D. Martinez
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
Occupation or services provided: Personal chef and food consultant for those living with food allergies. I also work in recipe development and collaborate with other chefs for special event catering.
What is your speciality? My specialty is making foods, in particular baked goods, that are free from the top eight food allergens: wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
I also try to exclude potato, rice, corn, yeast and sesame from most of my dishes, as these are foods that are commonly found in gluten free foods, but are those that people may also have strong sensitivities to. Companies that exclude these ingredients usually rely heavily on bean flours and chemically modified starches, like Expandex. I only use naturally derived, and when possible, organically grown ingredients.
As far as I am aware of no one else excludes so many common ingredients. Even the top allergen-free baking mixes currently available require eggs and dairy to make them, and most don’t taste or have the same texture as their wheat counterparts.
What sparked your interest in cooking? I have always had a keen interest in cooking, and especially baking, since I was a child. I loved being in the kitchen watching my mom cook or bake, and have always been a fan of cooking shows.
How did you turn your passion for food into a career? The career came quite by accident! All of my children have, or have had at some time in their lives, some form of food allergy. However, my second child was born with over 50 food allergies. Yes, you read that right, 5-0, fifty, no typo there!
I had to adapt to cooking without traditional or common foods so that I could eat well while nursing her as a baby, and later, so she could eat well. It’s tiring having to prepare different meals for the family – with and without allergens – several times a day. I had to figure out how to cook so that everyone in the family could, and would want to, eat the same meal.
Then, when my daughter was in kindergarten, I baked some allergen-free cupcakes to enjoy with her classmates. When I offered a spare cupcake to one of the other moms, she declined, saying she was gluten sensitive. When I explained they were allergen-free she gobbled it up and was blown away by the taste and the texture. For several months she pestered me to start a business to get my food “out there”. Until that point, I hadn’t thought about sharing my food with a wider audience. I was just doing what I needed to do for my family. She is the one who planted the seed and pushed me into turning my food into a business.
What is your proudest achievement so far? I used to live in a town called Davis in California, which is where I started my business. The town holds an annual Christmas show, a very well known and well attended show, which takes only a small number of carefully vetted food vendors. I was accepted as a vendor in 2013, the first year that I applied.
What is the best aspect of your job? The best part of my job is the satisfaction I get from creating a dish that everyone loves, regardless of their food allergies.
What is the worst aspect of your job? The worst aspect is the amount of food waste from the creative process. Although I generate less waste than when I first started, I still waste more than I’d like. Unfortunately, because my baking requires specialty ingredients, it can also be quite costly.
Sweet or savoury? While I do love my savoury foods, unfortunately for my waistline I have a tremendous sweet tooth. I blame this on my Filipina heritage!
What’s your favorite dish to cook? That’s a tough question! I’d have to say my allergen-free chicken molé rojo. Even though it takes a very long time to make the molé sauce from scratch, and it contains a million ingredients, it is so worth it when you taste it.
What’s the best recipe you’ve ever made? For savoury foods my molé, and for sweets, it’s a toss up between my black pepper cocoa sables (a French/Italian cookie combination) and my chocolate coconut cream tart, which is rich and decadent tasting, but made of healthy ingredients.
What’s your guilty food pleasure? Shh, Spam. Gross I know, but I can’t resist spam musubi (the Hawaiian Spam sushi), and spam and eggs with garlic fried rice reminds me of my childhood and tastes sooo good!
Where do you find inspiration for creating a new recipe? Inspiration can come from anything, but often it comes from an unusual ingredient or dish I have read/heard about. I begin to fantasize about how I can use the ingredient to add a twist to a classic dish, or pair with common ingredients to invent a new dish!
What food could you never live without? Hmm, there are so many foods that I love and have had to go without, many while nursing my older daughter. That experience taught me that I can live without my favourite foods and still eat well. However, if I was forced to pick something, it would probably be pork. Although I don’t eat it often, I can’t imagine never being able to eat it again. Life without bacon? Noooo…!
What piece of cooking equipment could you never live without? A good wooden spoon.
What’s your best cooking tip? When you are learning to cook, or even if you are a seasoned cook, there is no shame in using a recipe that works. However, as you feel more comfortable with your skills, you should remember that a recipe can also serve as a starting point to making a dish of your own, or to inventing something totally new.
Where are your favourite places to eat? My favourite restaurant is The Herbfarm in Woodinville, WA, USA. The fixed price menu appears a bit steep at first, but you get nine courses as well as a drink pairing with each course. For home-made Chinese noodle soup, scallion pancakes and vegetable dumplings, I love The Sezchuan Noodle Bowl in Chinatown, Seattle.
Who is your favorite chef? I really like celebrity chef Alton Brown because he appeals to the science geek in me. Although he does pretty standard fair, he explains why certain ingredients and techniques are used. He is also meticulous about food safety. I have a background in public health, so food safety is always important.
What’s next for you? I am currently looking for a space to open an allergen-free bakery/cafe in Seattle. While you can readily find gluten-free and gluten-free vegan options, all of those places use nuts pretty heavily, as well as other allergens like dairy, eggs and soy. For people who have multiple allergies/insensitivities or severe nut allergies, there really is no safe place to go and buy yummy baked treats or to eat a meal.
If you’d like to contact Estela, she can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the ‘Liberated Foods’ Facebook page. She also has a website at www.liberatedfoods.com (regarding the website, Estela apologises that she is not currently able to sell online.)