Earning candy stripes

Pam Thomas in Petite Belle, The JunctionDiscover you have intolerance to wheat, gluten and dairy and it’s like being told you can no longer breathe air.
Nanjing Night Net

Finding foodstuffs on the fly that can be consumed without dire consequences is difficult, particularly snacks and lunch. Even a cappuccino.

As a recently diagnosed coeliac, I’m both tempted and annoyed at the smell of sausage rolls wafting across the office at morning tea. I can’t have them so I want them all the more.

But last week, caffeine-deprived and in a traffic snarl at The Junction, I spotted Petite Belle. It’s “gorgeously gluten free” sign on the window couldn’t have come into view at a better time as I wondered: why do some coffee companies use wheat as a filler?

Ask most baristas whether there is wheat in their coffee and you’ll be snarled at: A) They have no idea. B) They don’t want to be responsible. Fair enough.

But for the coeliac, coffee can be Russian roulette. This hidden time bomb is well known to the owner of Petite Belle, Pam Thomas.

More than 20 years ago she discovered that even a minor dose of gluten would give her daughter a major anaphylactic attack.

It proved the catalyst for the former teacher to launch a new career in retirement, after years of using family, friends and neighbours as test-dummies for her gluten-free and dairy-free recipes.

Taking clues from Middle Eastern and Asian cooking, in which ingredients such as rice flour, tapioca, potato and almonds are favoured over wheat, Thomas progressed to selling her creations at farmer’s markets and then opened Ma Belle in Broadmeadow 18 months ago.

Last month she opened her second outlet at The Junction, the eye-catching black and white candy-striped Petite Belle.

The severity of her daughter’s condition means Thomas is a very strict advocate of being exclusively gluten-free.

“You become a bit paranoid,” she says. “A little bit of gluten to people who have allergies is like a little bit of arsenic.

“It doesn’t matter how little it is and people don’t understand that if you have something that contains gluten in a cabinet that contains gluten-free things that’s a contaminant and that will trigger some people off.

“With Petite Belle, the idea was to create a place that is safe and that’s beautiful and is comfortable.

“We thought: What do we want as a family? To go somewhere with great food, great atmosphere, where kids can be there, and good coffee and that’s how it came about, to provide something for families just like us.

“I work really hard to keep prices down because I know as a family it was massive, and the support of people has been wonderful.”

Requests for her traditional favourites, such as cream buns, are ongoing. “They fly out the door,” she says.

But not all her patrons are gluten intolerant.

“A lot of medicos refer people to us as we are also dairy-free and we do egg-free on order and lots of vegetarian,” Thomas says.

“People come in now just because they like our food and the coffee and the classic line is: ‘It tastes too good to be gluten-free!”‘

The business does its own breads, rolls, pies, sausage rolls, pasties, cakes and apple pies.

“The old-fashioned comfort foods are popular, as are savouries such as shepherd’s pie, baked egg and bacon damper, and veal shank pie.”

Breakfast with fluffy pancakes is a Saturday treat, and Thomas is now doing a lingering two-hour, 10-course high tea on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for $38 a head.

You’ll need to book, but expect a fruit crush drink, hors d’oeuvres, three hot and cold savouries, a petit tart, petit cakes, hot scones with jam and cream, a French pastry and really good tea. All on fine china.

Petite Belle is at 98 Glebe Road, The Junction. It’s open Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, Saturdays 8am to 3pm and on Sunday afternoon for high tea. Phone 4962 2382.

Yvonne Campbell

Posted by at 21/10/2018
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