For Karen Zorio, creating an award-winning baked item - be it a cookie or a loaf of bread - is all about what’s not in the batter: Wheat.
Zorio, owner of Something Savory Bakery in Maryville, recently was recognized by the National Celiac Sprue Association with a “CSA Spirit of Service Award.”
Vickie Ramsey, board member of the East Tennessee Celiac Support Chapter 120, presented the award to Zorio, as well as the management of Apple Tree and Wal-Mart Alcoa.
“These businesses have contributed greatly to the improvement of our lives by carrying products and catering to our diet,” Ramsey said.
Zorio said she was honored to be recognized for baking gluten-free food. “That is something we’ve worked on. I’ve work on it the last three years, trying to develop gluten-free products that really taste good,” she said.
The baker/caterer said gluten-free products are not made with wheat. “Most of the time baked items need gluten in the wheat,” she said. “It gives it elasticity and helps it to rise. I make it using different flours made from brown rice, white rice and bean flours.”
Zorio said the first gluten-free items she ever made were chocolate chip cookies for Shawna McConnell of Maryville. Her husband, dentist Dr. Timothy McConnell, and their children were diagnosed with Celiac-Sprue Disease.
“When we first found out it was not all that great,” she said of the choices they had when it came to baked goods.
McConnell spoke with Zorio, and she started bringing cookies to McConnell’s house for her family to taste. “I was trying to develop it, to get just the right texture and flavor to where it tastes like regular chocolate chip cookies,” Zorio said.
McConnell said she and her family were pleasantly surprised with each new batch. “When she started bringing stuff by, we couldn’t believe how it didn’t taste different from the regular baked goods. She also brought homemade bread. We always loved her stuff,” she said. “It doesn’t taste gluten-free. You don’t feel like you’re eating special food, -- just good food.”
Zorio said that’s her goal. “When you eat one of my regular or gluten-free cookies, it is hard to tell the difference,” she said. “We’ve refined it to that point.”
Zorio said she was surprised by the recognition. “We have a celiac support group in our area that meets at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. I was apparently nominated through this Celiac Support Group,” she said. “I have a lot of people who come from Jefferson, Monroe, Sevier counties and a lot of the surrounding areas looking for gluten-free products because they can’t find bread and baked products and things they can eat.
Zorio said the diagnosis is frustrating for a lot of people. The first thing the doctors tell them to do is go on a gluten-free diet. “People that start eating a gluten-free diet will see results pretty quickly, and if they go back to eating wheat products, right way their symptoms will return,” she said. “You can’t even eat a can of soup. Some common, everyday items have wheat. Avoiding the wheat can be a challenge. Families have to be good label readers, and the have to reorganize their pantry. Eating out can be limited.”
Zorio said people can come to Something Savory and get sandwiches, pizza and soups that are gluten-free. “People come in who haven’t been in a restaurant in forever to eat, and they look at our menu and see 10 or 12 choices,” she said. “The bakery is set up so we have a section of the bakery that is gluten-free.”
Zorio said she is careful not to cross-contaminate. “We have separate ovens, separate work stations. We separate everything we prepare gluten-free in,” she said. “Everything is stored separately.”
Zorio said she also makes gluten-free flour. “We grind the beans and rice and make our own. Everything is made from scratch,” she said. “I don’t use a food service here because I have to make sure what I buy is fresh, local and organic when possible so that way people won’t get sick eating it. Lots of my customers in the last 12 months feel confident when they come here that they can eat these products and not get sick.”
Something Savory is located at 541 High Street, Maryville. Phone number is 865-984-0550.