Chef of the Month, Terris Cleary. Professionally trained pastry chef goes gluten-, corn-, & dairy-free

 
 
Terris Cleary is the talented recipe developer behind the gorgeous and delicious blog, Free Eats. Terris is a professional baker, having received a degree in baking and pastry arts from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Her photography skills aren’t too bad, either. She puts these skills to great use in creating and photographing gluten-free, corn-free and (mostly) dairy-free recipes. She currently lives in the Sierra Foothills of California, with her husband, son and daughter, as well as four chickens and a couple of horses. I'm happy to have caught up with her so that we can learn a little more about her personality and her busy life.
 
Terris, thank so much for letting me interview you today. 
 
When and how did you find out that you needed to be gluten-free? After I had my second child I had a multitude of health problems and never felt like I returned to my pre-pregnancy health. At the time I was so focused on caring for my toddler and new baby that it took about two years before I ended up being diagnosed with celiac by a gastroenterologist.    
 
Interesting. I had a very similar experience, expect for me it was new soy and dairy allergies (I had already been gluten-free for years). It is SO hard to take care of oneself when a new mom. Our experiences must not be unique.
 
You also cook corn-free and dairy-free. Please tell us why. 
 
When my son was an infant he had reflux and colitis.  Through a process of trial and error my doctor and I realized that wheat, gluten and dairy were problematic for him.  As a toddler he continued to have frequent ear infections, sinus infections, and even a bout of pneumonia.  Eventually we had him tested for food allergies and found out that he had multiple food allergies (wheat, corn, dairy, peanuts, strawberries, citrus, tomatoes and bananas).  So I actually cook food that is “free” of lots of things!
 
Oh wow. Poor thing! Does he still have all those allergies? Or was it a case of “leaky gut” and hopefully now, his allergies aren’t as bad? 
Patrick’s gut has improved, but unfortunately a run of the mill childhood stomach virus can set us back just when we think he’s making progress.  Overall though we are pleased that he has grown out of his dairy allergy.  His other allergies (minus peanut) seem to be less severe as well.
 
Besides your gorgeous blog, and active family and farm, what other projects are keeping you busy?
 
Recently I completed my first free-lance article for Gluten-Free Living Magazine. It was published in their March/April 2013 issue and discussed how to manage a gluten-free, corn-free diet.  I also try to strengthen my photography skills every chance I get, as well as volunteer at my children’s elementary school.
Congratulations on your first article! I hope many more come your way.
 
Please tell me about your experiences at the California Culinary Academy. think I would have loved such an experience! 
 
I loved every minute of it.  Sometimes I refer to my time there as baking and pastry boot camp, but only in jest!  The baking and pastry arts program was an intense program that had us baking and learning 40 hours a week for 6 months.  I walked out of that program right into a position as an assistant pastry chef in San Francisco and I felt very prepared. 
 
Sounds amazing! No wonder your kitchen creations are so successful.
 
What does it mean to “pull sugar”?
 
This is the art of turning molten sugar syrup into art by manipulating it until you have a beautiful, pearlescent material that can be shaped into anything imaginable.  
 
Sounds amazing! I’ve never heard of this technique before. I’m going to have to Google some pictures of it… unless you have any?
 
I wish I could find some of the pictures that I have of pulled sugar “sculptures” I made in school.  That was before digital photos so who knows where they ended up!  There are some amazing photos on the internet if you do an image search.  
 
What does it mean to “temper chocolate?”
 
In order to keep this simple, it is the process of heating and cooling chocolate so that it sets up shiny and smooth with that quintessential snap when you break it in half.  Chocolate that is tempered won’t melt in your hand quite as quickly and it won’t get that icky, dusty look that pastry geeks call “bloom.”  
 
Wow. I’m learning a lot from you!
 
I’ve thought about getting a few chickens, but I live in too urban of a setting. Or at least I’m using that as an excuse. It must be awesome to have fresh, organic (soy-free) eggs all the time. How often do your chickens lay eggs?  
 
Currently we have five chickens and during the summer we get 4-5 eggs a day.  I know that sounds like a lot, but with a family of healthy eaters and frequent recipe testing, we use each and every one!  By the way, I totally think you need a few hens in your life.  Just start small and pick the right breed for urban yards.  
 
I like the idea! I’ll keep mulling it over. That doesn’t sound like too many eggs. We go through close to two dozen a week in our house, and I don’t even do a lot of baking.
 
What kind of care do your chickens need?
 
One of the most important aspects to chicken care is safe-housing.  We live in an area that has predators such as bobcats, fox, and coyotes so we built a very sturdy coop.  Once you have a cozy home for them, the only major requirements are organic feed, a calcium supplement and fresh water.  Since we have the space, we allow ours to do some free-range time too.
 
What did you miss the most when you went gluten-free?
 
Well, right away I got into the kitchen and replicated my favorite meals and sweet treats, so I can’t say that I missed any particular foods.  I did miss being able to take a trip or go to lunch without a lot of planning and packing.  People who aren’t on a restricted diet may not realize what a luxury it is to walk out the door without snacks and meals worked out ahead of time.  
 
So true! Every dining out experience requires research and/or preparation. 
 
What’s the one kitchen gadget you can’t live without and why?
 
I would have to say my Kitchen Aid mixer.  It is by far the most expensive kitchen gadget that I own but it is irreplaceable when it comes to mixing gluten-free dough and batters which tend to be very thick and sticky.
 
What’s the one kitchen ingredient you can’t live without?
Oh wow, that’s a tough one, but the first ingredient that popped in my head was coconut milk.  As a person who needs to eat dairy-free, I’m eternally grateful for the richness it provides in so many of my sweet and savory dishes.  
 
Yes! I use coconut milk for so much as well! Even my morning coffee. ?
 
What food (beside gluten and any other allergens) would you never eat?
 
I may be revealing family secrets here, but my mom is definitely responsible for one of my greatest food aversions: liver and onions.  The thought still makes me shudder.
 
Ha ha!  I’m sure mom meant well. ? Does that mean you don’t like liver pate either?
 
For some reason, I like liver pate, but that’s probably because they aren’t even in the same league.
 
True! The liver flavor is masked by so many yummy fats (as well as other flavorings) which is why I love it so much. ? 
 
How would you describe your style of cuisine?
 
Eclectic with a focus on creating allergy-friendly, comfort foods.  On my blog, I usually share baking recipes, but if you search, there are a few savory ones.
 
What are Claire’s and Patrick’s favorite meals?
 
My kids are professional taco eaters, but they also love Vietnamese food, and homemade sushi. 
 
Good for them!! So how do you do tacos gluten-free and corn-free?
 
We generally eat “soft” tacos with my Millet-Quinoa Tortillas.  I make stacks of these tortillas and freeze them so that they are always ready to go!  
 
Awesome! I see that you share the recipe with us. I'm so going to make these for my kids, too!
 
What music, radio or TV program (s) do you listen to when hard at work in the kitchen?
I’m in my happy place when I get to work on a recipe while catching up on my favorite radio program, This American Life. 
 
I love that program! Great choice! 
 
Where do you see the future of gluten-free cuisine heading?  
 
I think that gluten-free cuisine has made amazing strides over the last few years.  I do hope that we are heading in a direction that focuses on improving the nutritional value of premade gluten-free products and baking mixes.  Initially manufacturers were so concerned with texture that we lost a lot in regards to nutritional content.  I’m hoping that we can get to a place where we have great taste, texture, and nutrition!
Amen!
 
Thanks for letting me interview you. You are doing great work, and your family is so lucky to have you as their caretaker. ?