Share Your Story: Maureen Burke
Maureen Burke is no stranger to hard work. She rises at 7 am each morning to begin her day as the owner of One Dish Cuisine café, bakery, and deli in Ellicott City, Maryland, on the outskirts of Baltimore. Her day usually wraps up when she and her husband leave the restaurant around 9:30 pm. She has one day “off” – Tuesdays – that are typically spent doing laundry, writing newsletters, working on weekly specials, and doing administrative work.
If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you’re familiar with the long hours. But add to that an unwavering mission to feed people who haven’t eaten out in years (or ever) due to what are often life-threatening allergies, and you can imagine the thought and labor that must go into everything Maureen does. It’s a big responsibility – and one that Maureen doesn’t take lightly. She has her customers’ health in her hands each and every day.
Everything at One Dish Cuisine is free of gluten, oats, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, fish, and sesame, making it a rare safe haven for anyone with food allergies or intolerances. In fact, One Dish Cuisine is the only restaurant of its kind in the country. Many of the café’s offerings are dairy-free and corn-free as well. There is even a separate kitchen – the “Blue Kitchen” – that is also free of casein (milk, dairy, and lactose). All products are certified gluten-free and tested at an independent lab to verify they are free of the allergens specified.
Maureen opened the restaurant in 2012, after several years of selling gluten-free and allergen-free meals to wholesale customers like restaurants, markets, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. Although she still supplies local hospitals with her much-needed allergen-free meals, she wanted to focus on “bringing people back to the table” by opening an actual restaurant.
The name “One Dish Cuisine” harks back to those earlier years when she was supplying gluten-free and allergen-free meals to her wholesale customers. The meals were bought, stored, baked, and served in one dish, reducing the chance for cross contamination in preparation. The name stuck, and she adopted it for her restaurant.
Maureen herself was one of the early ones with celiac disease, being diagnosed 26 years ago, even before blood tests and biopsies were used for diagnosis – and certainly before “gluten-free” was a household term. Diagnosis was confirmed via a gluten challenge four years ago, which she describes as “agony,” but necessary to know for sure. The true inspiration for her business was her four-year-old autistic nephew who was trying to follow a gluten-free, casein-free, soy-free diet (not always easy for a child). Today, he enjoys Aunt Maureen’s recipes and is free of any symptoms when on his strict diet. He can enjoy pizza, burgers, sandwiches, chicken tenders, and cupcakes – just like all his friends.
Maureen wanted to welcome this underserved population of kids and adults with dietary restrictions “back to the table” with great tasting food. So over the years, Maureen adapted all her gluten-free recipes to make them free of the top allergens as well. She tries, whenever possible, to use all-natural and organic ingredients and makes just about everything in-house. She is fastidious about perfecting her recipes so that there is no sacrifice in taste. Diners at her restaurant can enjoy the flavors and textures they remember. Her attention to the health of her customers also means that, for to-go items that will be cooked at home, she uses oven-safe and microwave-safe containers that are free of BPA and phthalates.
Having grown up with family members owning successful restaurants, opening her own restaurant was a natural step for Maureen. Her husband, David, is a full time partner in the business and can typically be found at the front counter. They have 14 employees (most with celiac disease and/or food allergies), including bakers who work at the restaurant around the clock and make everything fresh daily right there on the premises.
Maureen’s attention to detail was evident when she led me on a tour of the kitchen. There are two separate areas of the kitchen. The “Green Kitchen” (with color coded cutting boards, utensils, and trays) is where most items are prepared, while the aforementioned “Blue Kitchen” is reserved for patrons who also must avoid milk. Maureen keeps a binder that lists all the ingredients in every dish, and she sends all her suppliers a form to fill out for gluten-free certification and allergen information. They must detail the sources of all their ingredients.
If you’re like most people, you may miss buying fresh, sliced deli meats at your local market. Unless the store completely cleans and sanitizes their slicer, there can be traces of breadcrumbs or gluten from other foods on the machine. One Dish Cuisine makes the possibility of fresh sliced deli meats a reality with three deli slicers: one for meats, one for milk-free cheese, and one for regular cheese.
I have to admit, my sons and I went a little crazy when we visited One Dish Cuisine. After all, we’d been meaning to visit for so long, and with us being a 90-minute ride from the restaurant, I wasn’t sure how soon we’d be back. So stock up we did, filling a large cooler we brought with us from home!
After enjoying an amazing lunch (I ordered a Reuben sandwich on “mock rye,” my celiac son ordered a Hawaiian pizza, and my non-celiac son ordered chicken tenders and fries), we filled our basket with a little bit of everything: more pizzas, muffins, cupcakes, deli meats, sub rolls, cookies, brownies, and coffee cake.
We enjoyed many of the items over the next few days and froze some to enjoy over the following weeks. One particular favorite was a chocolate cupcake that looked and tasted like a Hostess cupcake (and I guarantee this one was not only gluten-free, but healthier, too, without all the preservatives!).
Local doctors and allergists refer their patients to One Dish Cuisine all the time. Maureen counts Dr. Alessio Fasano – whose Center for Celiac Research used to be based in Baltimore, not too far from the restaurant – among the café’s visitors.
Maureen has her sights set on expansion, envisioning One Dish Cuisine locations throughout the Baltimore and Washington, DC suburbs – and perhaps beyond. Clearly there is a need for restaurants like hers, as more people identify gluten and many of the common allergens as being ingredients they must avoid. Maureen is a staunch believer in dedicated gluten-free facilities, where the possibility for cross contamination is completely eliminated. She wouldn’t have it any other way and wishes more businesses would follow suit. She encourages gluten-free diners to reward these dedicated restaurants and bakeries with their business.
Maureen supports gluten-free, autism, and allergy groups, and her knowledge of this market will undoubtedly continue to be an inspiration to others in the years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Broussard publishes glutenfreetravelsite.com and the free DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app. Both contain thousands of GF dining and travel reviews from around the world. Karen is also the publisher of the Gluten Free Travel Blog and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.