Transform your "enemies" into the protagonists of a passion and an art. That's what he did Valentina Leporati, 31 years old, owner of a confectionery - artisan bakery in Sarzana (La Spezia), where every day it bakes bread, pizza, focaccia, pasta, apple pie, cupcakes, muffins and tarts, strictly speaking gluten free.
Yes, because Valentina is celiac and her relationship with those foods, which usually hide the flours that are forbidden to her, such as that of wheat, in the past it hasn't been easy at all. He begins to feel bad at just 17 months: does not grow like its peers and is perpetually prey to intestinal disorders. “Malabsorption”, sentenced to the hospital of her city: a holiday in the mountains and a diet rich in cereals will restore her strength. "Instead it's the disaster," remembers Valentina. "I am urgently hospitalized at the Gaslini in Genoa and, after a gastroscopy, the diagnosis of celiac disease».
Seen as a "different"
Then, like today, for his illness there is no cure, only a drastic elimination of all those foods they contain gluten. Choice that turns into an ordeal for Valentina: at school she is seen as a "different" because her menu is not that of others and soon becomes the target of "bad" questions with which her classmates corner her. But if you eat bread, do you die? But if you taste the pasta, does something happen to you? But does your disease stick? "Ignorance, you ugly beast," comments Valentina, with a bitter twist that is still imprinted on her face today.
Things don't get better as the years go by: in the town where she was born and lives, focaccia, which for her is a killer, is a must for any social gathering. So, in order not to declare that she cannot eat it, she decides to cut ties with all those situations in which it is inevitable to have it on the table together with sweets. Result: "No parties, no aperitifs, no birthdays, no dinners or romantic dates with my high school crush ... nothing at all," she recalls.
The beginning of the rebirth
At 18, with her own stubbornness, Valentina decides to turn the page: "I am aware that celiac disease it is my characteristic and not my fault", remember. And to seal the new pact with his illness gets a crossed ear tattoo on his shoulder, symbol of the gluten free, which from that moment exhibits like a flag.
Plus, since loves to cook, she chooses works that bring her closer to her passion: first cook, then pastry chef and even pizza chef. In the meantime, he inquires about his illness to know all its secrets and, at home, he begins to experiment in the kitchen. Objective: to prepare pizzas, focaccias, bread and cakes for those with celiac disease. Her brother, who has the same disease as her, as well as friends and relatives are her testers. Between entire trays thrown away and small successes, slowly learn to mix with skilful alchemy gluten-free flours such as that of corn, quinoa, buckwheat or millet, developing fresh products with the same fragrance, the same consistency and the same flavor as the so-called "normal" ones.
A showcase in Instagram
Four years ago Valentina lost her job, but not the dream of being able to ensure that even those with celiac disease can find good as well as safe food: "Above all, not cellophane-wrapped and with the air of" medicines "like those that marked my childhood and adolescence ".
Her father gives her a professional gluten-free cooking and baking course and with the 5 thousand euros of the unemployment allowance you decide to open "Valentina Gluten Free" in Sarzana, a small oven where not even a crumb of gluten.
“At the beginning it was tough: potential customers looked at the products on display, but then they went straight on without buying anything or asking for more information. But my greatest talent is to know how to get by". So Valentina decides to make herself known through social networks, which becomes her great showcase. But also a virtual square in which to get information on gluten free diet, also debunking many fake news: "Choosing it is not a fashion, nor the secret to losing weight or having a flat stomach," he observes. "It is a cure to prevent gluten from destroying the intestinal villi, as happens to celiacs, opening the way to a series of health problems: growth retardation, premature anemia and osteoporosis, reduced fertility ».
Those smiles are the best reward
Thanks to the web, today Valentina is known and even holds courses aimed at mothers who want to learn how to cook fresh and good things for their celiac children. «What gives meaning to my battle is above all the smile and wide eyes of the little ones when they enter my shop and find they can choose and eat whatever they want, without the risk of feeling bad.
Those who have the same disease as me are used to giving up, to dribbling on alternative foods: making them feel more normal and less marginalized repays me for any effort ». In fact, since she inaugurated it, Valentina has lived her days in her laboratory, where she has never stopped smiling, but not even trying to tackle new challenges. The latest: the creation of a bread that had the same friability, the same flavor and the same duration as that of wheat flour. «It took me 6 months, but I got the perfect recipe», she concludes satisfied.