Chef's Corner featuring Zest Bakery

Chef’s Corner featuring Zest Bakery

The peninsula is bursting with fantastic restaurants and specialty food shops, most of which are dedicated to using local and fresh ingredients, just like what we carry at our store. Each Chef’s Corner will feature a local restaurant or chef (and a recipe, of course) in the hopes that you’ll grow to love the chef’s passion for food and their business as much as we do. Enjoy — Carmelo Sigona

Patrick Luke of Zest Bakery brings gluten-free goodies to the Peninsula

At last! Gluten-free, fresh baked goods and pastas that taste fantastic!

Carmelo Sigona chats about gluten intolerance with Patrick Luke, owner of Zest Bakery in San Carlos.

Patrick Luke, a former IT industry member-turned-baker, reports now for duty much earlier than his former colleagues. In order to successfully operate his gluten-free bakery, a 4 a.m. start time is an absolute necessity in order to have freshly baked pastries and goodies ready for the early morning commuters and my wife who occasionally stops by to buy me gluten-free baguettes. More on the baguettes later.

In September 2009, Patrick, 17-year veteran of the IT industry, found himself unemployed. As boredom set in, Patrick, who had been diagnosed five years ago with celiac disease (a gluten intolerance or wheat allergy), began baking gluten-free goodies to pass the time. Soon, he wasn’t only baking for himself, but he was perfecting gluten-free recipes and producing pastries and other goodies that were always the first to disappear at parties. With this new-found passion, Patrick even looked into options for selling his gluten-free creations, such as breads, pastas and cookies, at local farmers’ markets.

“In January 2010, my wife and I looked for all gluten-free kitchen space in order to bake items to sell at farmers’ markets, but it was difficult to find kitchen space as well as a booth at the markets,” said Patrick. “I’ve always believed that if something is going to happen, it should be easy to do. Despite a few road blocks in the beginning, we made the decision to move ahead and within one week we found this available facility in San Carlos, connected with the owner and walked away with the keys to our very own kitchen and store front. The rest – from permits to equipment – just fell into place after that.”

Zest Bakery, which Patrick and his crew refurbished and rebuilt from scratch, opened its doors July 15th, 2010 and has been a running success ever since. Though Patrick knew, from his own searches, that the Bay Area was undersatisfied in the gluten-free department, specifically for fresh-baked and savory options, he wasn’t expecting the immediate success they’ve had with their business.

Zest's gluten-free multigrain bread loaves are one of the more popular menu items.

Patrick says the Triple Ginger cookie "is amazing with a cup of coffee."

“I figured we’d go at least a month without needing to hire additional employees,” said Patrick. “We lasted one day. We hired Andrea Boje as a kitchen manager and she’s been a blessing. We also have two other ladies to help with baking, and my wife and sister-in-law also assist with other projects, such as the fresh ravioli. The bakery has been an extreme success and business is growing.”

Always first to fly off the bakery shelves are the seasonally inspired muffins (think pumpkin chai and raspberry chocolate), the multigrain bread loaves and the baguettes, as well as their triple ginger and oatmeal cranberry cookies. “The triple ginger cookie is amazing with a cup of coffee,” said Patrick.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, the three most commonly used flours used in the United States. This protein can be used in almost anything, from salad dressings to soy sauce and beer, for example, not just pastries and pastas. It’s also commonly used as a filler or thickening agent. At Zest, Patrick uses a combination of different flours, such as brown rice, potato and tapioca, to create gluten-free sweet and savory products.

People who are gluten intolerant or who have been diagnosed celiac disease often suffer from joint pain (like me), irritability, intense heartburn, IBS, fatigue, headaches and more when they ingest gluten. It’s often hard to pinpoint and is diagnosed after testing. I discovered I was allergic to wheat and gluten after years of suffering from joint pain and exhaustion.

I haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, but I kept track of what I ate and noted my reactions. Eventually I narrowed it down to a wheat allergy, did some research and started incorporating gluten-free foods to my diet. I’m so glad I did – I simply feel better on a day-to-day basis. I’ll tell you this, though; being a Sicilian with a gluten intolerance really puts a damper on eating traditional meals with the family. Pastas and breads, after all, make up most meals and it’s been difficult for me to find gluten-free options that not only taste good, but are fresh and readily available.

With this in mind, imagine my excitement when Gloria, a Sigona’s crew member of more than 25years, told me about Zest Bakery’s gluten-free bakery in San Carlos!

The baguettes, made with gluten-free flours, were Carmelo's absolute favorite. Here they are before they're baked.

Patrick Luke and Andrea Boje, the Zest kitchen manager and Patrick's right hand woman, behind the counter at Zest to offer samples of the pumpkin chai muffins.

My wife Jackie and I visited Zest on a Saturday in October, and it was at the bakery that I experienced love at first bite. Especially with the baguette and the foccacia rolls. Oh how I’ve longed for a fresh baguette! I asked Patrick for samples of a few other items, such as their fresh, hand-made gnocchi, pastas and seasonally stuffed ravioli, their famous raspberry chocolate muffins, the black Mission fig oatmeal cookie and the cream puffs. I couldn’t wait to get home and partner the baguette with some of our awesome La Trinidad extra virgin olive oil from Spain. As it turned out, I only had half of the baguette left by the time I got home!

As noted on the Zest Bakery website, there are many health benefits to avoiding traditional bakery ingredients. Refined, bleached flours, for example, can damage your digestive system and stimulate cravings. For me, wheat gluten causes my joints to ache and I experience stomach pain, so it’s definitely worth it for me to avoid gluten products. There has been a spike in demand for gluten-free products from non-celiacs who have made the choice to be gluten free simply to be mindful of how their diet impacts their weight, health and overall wellbeing. We’re glad to know Zest Bakery is dedicated to creating products that don’t contain flours with gluten, but taste just as great as traditional foods.

The Zest crew also strives to use local, seasonal and organic products whenever possible by shopping at local farmers markets and specialty food stores. Their stuffed ravioli, for example, featured a squash filling earlier this fall, and they’ve recently switched to an in-season wild mushroom filled ravioli, as well as a beet and goat cheese stuffed ravioli that is simply delightful.

Zest Bakery keeps a blog where they post stories about adventures in baking, as well as recipes featuring their gluten-free ingredients, such as this recipe for their Ricotta Gnocchi & Spicy Cilantro Pesto. Simply looking at this dish online will whet your appetite enough to get you to your car and to their bakery for a bag of ricotta gnocchi.

From one small, entrepreneurial family-owned business to the next, we welcome Zest Bakery to the neighborhood and wish them all the best!

Zest Bakery — 1224 Arroyo  —   San Carlos, CA 94070

Zest hours are as follows:

Monday: closed

Tuesday – Friday: 8 am – 6 pm

Saturday – Sunday: 8 am – 2 pm

Note: Zest will be CLOSED Saturday 12/25 through Monday 12/27 for the Christmas holiday. Normal hours of operation resume at 8 a.m. Tuesday, December 28th.

You can also follow Zest on Facebook or Twitter.

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