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CHERIE LYDEN: CHANGING THE WORLD ONE MUFFIN AT A TIME
Cherie Lyden, founder of Wholegreen Bakery – which offers artisanal, gluten-free treats – shares the vision behind her business and cookbook.
By Amy Cooper
A little boy gazes through the glass-topped counter at Wholegreen Bakery in Sydney’s Alexandria. His grin widens as he points at a muffin, then a pastry, then a cupcake, realising he can choose anything he likes.
For a kid with coeliac disease it’s a rare delight – and Cherie Lyden, founder and owner of gluten-free Wholegreen Bakery, never tires of witnessing it. “This is the entire reason I started Wholegreen,” she says. “When I see parents tell their children they can eat anything here, and the joy on the child’s face – that just fills my heart.”
Cherie understands how those families feel. She and her younger daughter Lucia, now 12, were diagnosed with coeliac disease when Lucia was young. “I had an underactive thyroid, and my endocrinologist had me tested for coeliac disease as there’s a strong link,” she says.
As coeliac disease is genetic, family screening was the next step and Lucia and her sister Holly were also tested. Lucia was positive. The diagnosis, when she was four, explained the little girl’s health battles. “She’d gone from a healthy breastfed baby to crying, irritable, covered in chronic eczema from head to toe, a swollen abdomen and just constantly unwell,” says Cherie.
Lucia’s strong symptoms after eating gluten made her highly anxious about food.
“It was almost an eating disorder,” says her mum. “She was frightened that anything she ate would make her sick. At preschool she wouldn’t eat. For birthday parties I’d make special food for her so she could feel normal. But it was hard. For years she’d say: ‘Mum, I hate being gluten free. I hate having coeliac disease. I don’t feel normal and I miss out on so much.’”
A trained nutritionist, Cherie began searching for healthy, tasty gluten-free food, with little success. “While there are many naturally gluten-free foods, when it came to baked goods back in 2014, there wasn’t much. Gluten-free bread was hard, and supermarket products were pumped full of ingredients I’d never heard of.
To Cherie, raised in New Zealand among her Tongan mum’s food-loving family, it was unthinkable that any child should miss out on the joy of delicious, fresh food and the love that came with it. “My grandfather was a baker. He wooed my grandmother with loaves of bread. He’d make us fresh bread and Tongan doughnuts. My grandmother, the most amazing home baker, would make banana cakes, Tongan desserts, fruit pies and her famous steamed Christmas pudding, which no one has yet been able to recreate. They grew all their own fruit and vegetables, made their own fresh coconut milk and raised their own pigs.”
On Sundays, she recalls, the extended family would gather around a spit-roast. “It’s important for families to come together over food. It’s how they show their appreciation, love and affection. I was very lucky to grow up surrounded by all that, and it was instrumental in shaping the way I appreciate food.”
“I made it my mission that Lucia wouldn’t miss out. And I knew I wasn’t the only parent going through this. I was determined to do something about it, so I just got in the kitchen and started baking.” At the time, Cherie was selling healthy children’s muffins at a farmers’ market in Sydney. She worked on adapting them to be gluten free.
“It took time to find the right formula. They were a bit gluggy sometimes, or a little under-cooked, or dry. But I persisted until I got that perfect crumb.” Other creations followed – cakes, quiches, pies – and customers loved them, often more than the non-GF versions. When a bakery with a shopfront became available in Waverley in 2016, it was time to take the plunge and give Wholegreen a permanent home.
“It was risky. It was expensive. I had a young family. But I was really excited. I’m passionate about helping people, and about coeliac disease. And I’m living and breathing that life. I felt so strongly about it that I knew it would take off.” She was right. Wholegreen quickly built a loyal following of gluten-free eaters, as well as many more without dietary needs, drawn by the freshness, taste and quality.
In 2020, Cherie opened a second outlet in the CBD and, this year, one in Alexandria. “We also supply bread to Harris Farm, select Woolworths Metro stores and restaurants, cafes and health food stores. We home deliver all around New South Wales and the ACT,” she says.
Along with the vision of delicious food for all, there’s another mission for Cherie: greater coeliac disease awareness. “In food service, many people still don’t realise the repercussions of cross contamination for someone with coeliac disease. “When I was first diagnosed, I was often told that gluten free was a fad. But when it’s your diet for medical reasons, it’s not a choice and because of those attitudes and the lack of education, you can feel defeated. I want to empower my daughter – and everyone living with dietary needs – to live fearlessly and eat with joy.”
Her new book, Gluten-Free Baking Made Simple, offers detailed guidance on baking gluten free and some of Wholegreen’s most popular recipes. The book is endorsed by Coeliac Australia, and the entire Wholegreen Bakery business is Coeliac Australia accredited.
In her new role as a Coeliac Australia ambassador, Cherie works even harder to raise awareness, empathy and inclusivity for everyone living gluten free. Today Lucia, her inspiration, is leading the way. “She’s doing so well. She’s strong, determined and feeling empowered to be experiencing this and building her knowledge to help other people live a fearless gluten-free life, too.”
CHERIE'S PANTRY ESSENTIALS
- PSYLLIUM HUSK This can turn a wet batter into a dough that you can actually knead – essential if you’re making pastry or bread.
- A GO-TO GF FLOUR BLEND Making your own gives you an extra level of control. There’s a great blend recipe in my book.
- XANTHAM GUM This creates a light, airy texture, making your pastry nice and stretchy and much easier to work with.
- CHIA SEEDS Chia seeds add that lovely lightness to gluten-free cooking.
- BAKING POWDER In gluten-free baking, you need all the help you can get to create that rise!
CHERIE'S TOP KITCHEN TOOLS
- ROLLING PIN Essential for pastry. Choose a good sturdy one with a nice smooth
- WHISK I can use a whisk on wet or dry ingredients. It’s so effective and fast, much better than mixing with a wooden spoon.
- STAND MIXER I never have much time, so I like to be multitasking, not holding the mixer and beating away for eight minutes.
- DIGITAL SCALES Super-important in baking, where measurements must be exact. Tiny differences can make or break your results.
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