Long before we became moms, Orly and I were just two American girls living in Paris (and no, her name has nothing to do with the airport). Yet while I was playing cache-cache (hide-and-go-seek) and learning French nursery rhymes as a grown-up babysitter, Orly and her husband, Josh, were busy running a fast-growing web marketing business in the outskirts of the city. In their precious free time, the pair indulged in a couple guilty pleasures: marathon “Glee” viewing sessions, and dining out as often as possible. Alas, there was one thing standing between the foodie couple and France’s famous, carb-heavy culinary offerings: Josh’s gluten intolerance. The frustrating experience spurred Orly to attend culinary school and eventually develop her own line of gluten-free flours. Blends by Orly was born! Here, Orly talks about finding her niche as a Kosher, gluten-free baker, feeding a picky toddler, and making motherhood compatible with all her grown-up dreams.
What was it like living in Paris with a husband who has celiac, on top of the diet restrictions that come with being Orthodox Jewish?
Paris in 2010 was probably one of the top worst places to live with celiac disease. There is a reason why the stereotype of Parisians depicts someone carrying a baguette. Every bakery window is filled with the most beautiful, mouthwatering breads and pastries. The only places that sold gluten-free items were “bio” (organic) supermarkets. There were only a few of them in the city, and they were very unappealing. They all had the same unappetizing smell of dirt and vitamins -- the exact opposite of the smell in a French bakery! When we went out to eat and asked if the restaurant had gluten free bread or pasta, 90% of the time the servers would ask us, “what’s Celiac? What is “gluten-free”? It was so hard to avoid that Josh ended up “cheating” on his diet and getting really sick.
Paris in 2010 was probably one of the top worst places to live with celiac disease. There is a reason why the stereotype of Parisians depicts someone carrying a baguette.
What inspired you to attend culinary school and to focus on pâtisserie?
Josh is a real foodie, someone who lives to eat. Watching him suffer in Paris was really difficult for me. I wanted him to be able to enjoy the same delicious breads and cakes that I ate every day without making himself sick. I started taking a baking class that turned into an apprenticeship, and when we moved to Sydney, I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu (the famous culinary academy). There, I had the opportunity to work with the head chef of the pastry program on a gluten-free independent study. I had my own test kitchen and developed GF versions of classic French pastries. That’s where I started my journey as a gluten-free pastry chef and developed what is today Blends by Orly.
How has becoming a mom affected your involvement in your business(es)? Did it signal a shift in priorities for you?
I had a fear that becoming a mom would mean losing my career and make me feel stunted professionally and personally. While many women in my community (modern orthodox Jewish) get married and have babies within 2 years, Josh and I were married for 6 and a half years before having our first child. I felt like I needed to travel the world and get to a certain point in my career before I would be ready to sacrifice my work and put an end to all the fun and adventure in our lives. Becoming a mom showed me that these were all just fears, and that although having children certainly changes things, your life doesn’t have to stop. We still travel all over the world with Alex, and both Josh and I still work hard at our own businesses. We lived in Sydney for the first 6 months of Alex’s life and now split our time between Las Vegas and New Jersey, and Alex has become very adaptable. Having children as a businessperson just means that you have to find a good daycare program or an extra set of hands with a nanny or family member if you’re lucky enough to live nearby. I’m glad we waited to start a family because were were able to experience so much, but Josh and I agree that having Alex is the best thing that ever happened to us. And we have another one on the way!
I had a fear that becoming a mom would mean losing my career and make me feel stunted professionally and personally.
What have you adopted from the culinary cultures of America, France and Australia? What eating habits would you most like your children to develop?
I'm in the process of opening a dedicated gluten-free restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that incorporates our favorite cuisines from the places we’ve lived or spent a lot of time in. The restaurant will serve Australian-style coffee, French pastries and breads, modern Mediterranean food, and kettle-boiled NYC bagels. I also named each of my Blends by Orly after a place that’s important to us (Manhattan Blend, Tuscany Blend, Sydney Blend, London Blend and Paris Blend). Each Blend is inspired by the cuisine of its namesake.
Before Alex turned two, we tried to expose him to a wide range of cuisines. Throughout our international travels, he ate everything and had a very sophisticated palate. I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but he especially loves a good dry red wine! When he started school at two years old, he became a really picky eater. Now he’ll only eat “kid foods” like french fries, fish sticks, pizza and ice cream (he still loves wine). I learned that the best thing you can do is expose your children to as many foods as possible from a young age, but ultimately, they form their own food preferences. Now we get excited when he eats a hot dog because at least it has protein!
My son has exactly the same preferences -- hopefully it’s just a phase that all two-year-olds go through! I imagine you’ve done some research on celiac onset. What do we know about when it develops? Are there any preventative measures that parents can take with their children - for example, if kids seem sensitive to gluten, will eliminating it completely make them even less tolerant?
Celiac is a genetic disease, so there is a strong likelihood that if a parent has it, the child will at least have the genetic marker for the disease. However, that does not necessarily mean that the child will develop celiac. Our doctor has advised us not to test Alex until he is three, because it involves some serious blood tests which would be difficult for a small child. Unless he exhibits signs of suffering from gluten (frequent vomiting, blood in the stool, chronic tummy aches) there is no reason to jump the gun. I do know many parents who choose to start their children on gluten-free diets from infancy as a preventative measure or because they believe it’s healthier. My caution here is that if you don’t expose your child to gluten while their gut is developing (and the same goes for allergens like nuts, dairy, etc), their body will see gluten as foreign, and they will be pretty much guaranteed to have a sensitivity to it. I have decided that unless Alex exhibits signs such as stunted growth or physical pain, I won’t rush to get him tested. Thankfully, however, there are so many gluten-free options for kids today.
if you don’t expose your child to gluten while their gut is developing (and the same goes for allergens like nuts, dairy, etc), their body will see gluten as foreign, and they will be pretty much guaranteed to have a sensitivity to it
Cooking for a family with different dietary restrictions must be a constant challenge. What are a couple favorite kid-friendly, gluten-free recipes that the whole family can enjoy?
I actually find it quite easy to cook gluten-free. I don’t keep any wheat flour in my house because I use Blends by Orly for everything that requires flour and it always comes out amazingly. There are so many delicious gluten-free pastas available today. Keeping a Kosher household is thankfully very easy in the U.S., as so many products are already certified Kosher. Living in other countries like France and Australia was more challenging. Families like mine with dietary restrictions are lucky to live in the U.S. where we have so many options.
Here are two gluten free recipes that my now-picky two year old son loves to eat for breakfast!
Yum - I want those, too! What’s next for you?
Our gluten-free, Kosher eatery opens in February! The daytime concept is called Modern Bread and Bagel, and will offer fresh-baked, gluten-free artisanal breads, pastries, and sandwiches, in-house cured fish, in-house made cheese, and Australian-style coffee. All breads, cakes and pastries will be made with Blends by Orly and my recipes. We hope to be a destination for gluten-free customers from all over the world.
At night, our dinner concept will be called Arba Passionate Mediterranean cuisine. The menu will be seasonal based on the chef’s artistic direction, and we’ll have a robust wine bar with the best Kosher wines from around the world. For Arba, we have partnered with an Israeli celebrity chef name Nir Zook who has a huge following in Israel and is excited to make his debut in NYC.
As for Blends by Orly, I am launching a new line called Grainless Baking Co. -- a line of grain-free, paleo, and nut-free Superfood Flour and Baking Mixes made with fruits, vegetables and quinoa.
Amidst all of this, I am due with our second child in April. As they say, I have a bun in the oven!
Check out Orly’s new bakery/restaurant GFH (Gourmet Food Hub), coming soon to 83rd and Columbus in NYC!
To order Blends By Orly or find a retailer, visit blendsbyorly.com