Life can be ironic sometimes, like a dairy farmer who becomes lactose-intolerant. Jake Rosenbarger, owner of Kim and Jake's Cakes, was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease. But despite this new-found gluten intolerance, he continues to do what he loves: baking delicious cakes. "In the world of food production and that kind of thing, gluten-free is really exploding. So there is a lot of opportunity to grow, and that's a good business to be in," Rosenbarger says. The only difference form his previous job? Now he basically has to wear a hazmat suit while he's baking.
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Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining in the small intestine, preventing it from properly absorbing nutrients. It's a reaction to eating gluten, which can be found in wheat, barley and rye. It can be developed at any age, and the cause is unknown. Although there is no cure, the damage can heal with a gluten-free diet. "It's traumatic in that it's total," Rosenbarger says. "It's definitely a big departure from the things I've always gravitated towards."
Kim and Jake Rosenberger opened Kim and Jake's Cakes in 2010, out of a strong love for cakes. They make cakes for all types of occasions, like weddings and birthdays, as well as cupcakes in a wide variety of flavors. The diagnosis was especially surprising for Rosenbarger: It would not only affect his diet, but his job.
A former professional cyclist, Rosenbarger was accustomed to a diet high in carbohydrates. "Cyclists are calorie-burning machines. The daily consumption of calories could be anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 calories," he explains. "Carbohydrates are a big source of that, so you really get used to having a lot of bread and pasta and wheat-based things. Winding down from that just really makes me think 'What do I eat?'"
A gluten-free diet is not as simple as cutting out bread. "Understanding where gluten can be found in a lot of foods that don't seem obvious is really important," Rosenberger says. "A great example is, I was drinking some juice the other day from a grocery store -- an organic, real high-quality sort of juice -- that had gluten. That would have never occurred to me."
Leaving the baking business was not an option for Rosenbarger. Not just because of the financial repercussions, but because he loves baking. "I don't view it as a detrimental thing. I really decided to look at it as an opportunity and say 'This is something that we need to embrace' rather than throw our hands up and be pouty about it," he says.
Usually he splits the baking load with Kim so he can handle most of the gluten-free baking. But when she's not around, he has to take special precautions before handling wheat flour. "I have to wear a mask. Not like a surgical mask, but more like a hazmat mask, which is not that uncomfortable. Honestly, it's not that bad to wear, but it doesn't look very good," Rosenbarger says. "People come in the front door and they're just like 'Uh, that's intense.'" Aside from the mask, he has to wear heavy-duty gloves that go up to his elbows. If his condition doesn't improve, he could eventually have to wear goggles as well. "Really, any time that gluten comes in contact with your skin or in your eyes or you're inhaling it, it's a definite problem," he says.
A former employee at the bakery also had Celiac disease, so their menu already included options for people with gluten sensitivities. "It's something that we had actually started to address pretty aggressively about a year ago," Rosenbarger says. To them, accommodating different types of dietary restrictions only improves their business. Especially being located in Boulder. "Not just gluten, but across the board -- whether it's dairy or soy -- dietary-restriction stuff is just part of the game," he says. "You just have to be able to execute it well."
Rosenbarger is grateful that his diagnosis came at a time when dealing with dietary restrictions is much easier. "Obviously, the world is changing very quickly to accommodate people with gluten sensitivities, so it's not nearly as hard as it was five or ten years ago," he says. Although it's an obstacle, he has been able to embrace it and view it as something positive.
"You'll probably never meet a person who is more in love with a quality loaf of bread than me. Probably very few people who would find more joy in eating a quality piece of pizza than me," Rosenbarger says. "And I realize that those days are kind of behind me, and that there's a time when you have to allow yourself to just be a little bit bummed out." But after being bummed out, Rosenbarger encourages people with similar sensitivities to take the opportunity to learn about foods from all over the world.
He has been able to explore other cuisines, like Asian and South American foods, that don't rely as heavily on wheat. "The world is a really big place," Rosenbarger says. "There are awesome foods out there that, whether you have a gluten allergy or a dairy allergy, or whatever you're dealing with, there are a lot of options. And they just get better. Access to ingredients is just becoming so much more plentiful."
Some foods can't be replaced, Rosenbarger admits. But he sees the diagnosis as an opportunity to expand his tastebuds' horizons. "Comfort food is comfort food for a reason. But you just have to make new foods comfort foods and just think bigger and try new stuff. That's the adventure," he says. "If that doesn't work, you can always really focus on the things that you really miss and become an expert at making it work for you." Which is what he's doing: perfecting gluten-free baked goods.
Rosenbarger has accepted that his life won't be the same, but he's glad he got to experience the best of wheat-based foods before the change happened. "I've had some of the best bread in the world for sure. I've eaten some of the best pizza," he says. "I just gotta put it behind me. I know what the best is, and so now it's time to learn the best of something else that I probably never would do because it's just easier to go with what you know."
His advice to people with similar sensitivities is to educate themselves on different food cultures. "Embrace it and go to the bookstore, find some awesome magazines about other places in the world, find some awesome cookbooks and just dive in," Rosenbarger says. "Be excited about learning more, rather than wasting your time on being bummed out that you can't have something."
To learn more about Kim and Jake's Cakes, visit their website.
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