No gluten, no problem
June 9, 2020
Ever since she was young, to go food and ready-made meals have never been in Melody Hu’s equation. Hu was raised by her grandparents, who influenced her to bake fresh products from scratch. Watching her Taiwanese grandmother create various different foods, ranging from mochi to her own food concoctions like Chinese pizza, influenced Hu to bake without boundaries on her creativity and artistry.
After creating different treats with the gluten-free sweet rice flour she had grown up with, Hu wanted to open a place where she could sell her baked goods. Her new gluten-free bakery, Sweet Diplomacy, is expected to open on First Street in downtown Los Altos in July 2019.
Through growing up in different environments and traveling around the world, Hu’s worldview allowed her to incorporate different cultures into her bakery. Hu grew up in Taiwan and later moved to California when she was in high school. After graduating from Gunn High School, she went abroad to France.
While working in the watch and jewelry business in Shanghai and then Paris, Hu was exposed to catering and gourmet chef businesses through the different events she attended. Through her job, Hu became inspired to make baking a bigger part of her life.
While living in Loire Valley, France, Hu and her husband grew their family and indulged in the rich culture of France.
“We explored the foodand wine France has to offer, including trying out restaurants by independent chefs, tasting wines from the producers, foraging wild mushrooms in the forest and picking wild berries in the summer,” Hu said.
During that time, Hu began transitioning away from the jewelry and watch business.
“I started recipe testing and food blogging around this time, and watched many cooking and baking shows in France,” Hu said. “I joke that my journey into the baking world started from the backdoor, in publishing.”
After about 10 years of living in France, Hu and her family relocated back to the Bay Area in 2015. She started off by exploring different ideas for a second career that is family-friendly with fewer business travels and began baking treats with sweet rice flour.
“My husband tried it and he was like, ‘This is so good. You should sell it,’” Hu said. “Initially, I dismissed the idea [of baking as a career] but then after a few months, I began to explore different recipes and trying to make different treats with the sweet rice flour because I think there is a need for more gluten-free products out there.”
Sweet Diplomacy began as a small project from the roots of Hu’s kitchen, where she was able to experiment and develop new treats. After renting a commercial kitchen in Menlo Park, she began selling wholesale in cafes and at a pop-up store in the Stanford Shopping Center.
Although Hu herself is not gluten-free, she decided to make her bakery gluten-free in order to appeal to those who are looking for organic and healthier ingredients in sweet treats. She decided to keep baking with the same gluten-free rice flour she grew up eating and cooking with.
Sweet Diplomacy will offer a variety of treats including madeleines, macarons, cupcakes, cakes and more. Using Californian “Mochiko” sweet rice from Koda Farms and almond flour, Hu creates Paleo, plant-based and gluten-free treats. Some of her diverse flavors include Caramel fleur de sel, dulce de leche, matcha black sesame, masala chai, buttercream and ganache dip.
In order to appeal to diverse crowds of people, Hu hopes to integrate the various aspects of her cultural roots into her baked goods. She combines the Asian sweet rice flour from her childhood with western elements to create treats that are gluten-free, as well as representative of her French, Taiwanese and American cultures.
“We’re all humans, just with different languages, different cultures, you eat slightly different food, but ultimately, it’s the same things,” Hu said. “Especially with the political climate right now, that’s not the world that I want to see my kids live in. If there’s one uniting factor in this world, it’s food.”
The Talon interviewed students and teachers about their personal experiences with gluten free diets and their thoughts on the opening of Sweet Diplomacy in downtown Los Altos. English teacher April Oliver, senior Jamsheed Mistri and sophomore Elina Lawlor stated how they have lived with gluten-free diets and how it has made an impact in their lives.
“It is sometimes hard to find gluten-free options, but I’ve been used to those kinds of choices for a long time because I’m a vegetarian, and I don’t eat dairy. I love having a gluten-free treat now and then, and I am excited about the bakery, but I will try very hard—-for the sake of fitting into my clothes—-not to become a regular customer. Still, I’m a big fan of the idea, and for special occasions, it will be a nice option.” – English teacher April Oliver
“In my culture, most meals are gluten-free by default with very few modifications. My mom is a great cook so she can easily make gluten-free meals that we have been having for our entire life. However, the troubles come when we need to have bread or eat out at restaurants because it is hard to find people that know about gluten allergies and are able to accommodate. We didn’t know about the [gluten-free] bakery, that sounds awesome. [I’m] super excited for that.” – Senior Jamsheed Mistri
“Being gluten-free has definitely been a struggle for me. A lot of people don’t realize how bad the symptoms can get and that I can’t ‘just cheat’ every now and then. There are not many gluten free options at school or downtown, so this bakery opening will be so good for me and I am so excited. It’s going to make my life a whole lot easier and I can’t wait to finally be able to eat some food downtown.” – Sophomore Elina Lawlor