When writer R.H. Delaney penned the words “Love builds bridges where there are none,” he could have been talking about George Chookazian ’93. George met Cecilia Mahoney back in 8th grade when she was a cheerleader and he was a halfback, but it wasn’t until 1989 when they were re-introduced by a friend that George became completely smitten. While dating, they discovered that she had celiac disease—an intolerance to protein in wheat, rye, and barley products. To George, that wasn’t a deterrent to their relationship but rather a call to action. As he learned more and came to understand how difficult it was for her to find gluten-free foods—the diet required to quell the symptoms of celiac disease—he rolled up his sleeves and developed gluten-free baking mixes so Cecilia could eat a broader selection of high-quality foods.
Almost immediately George had a business on his hands. He contracted with a company to mix the different gluten-free flour recipes into 2,000-pound batches and sold them to his distributor in 50-pound bags. Realizing that he needed and wanted to learn more about baking, he entered The Culinary Institute’s baking and pastry arts certificate program. “I had a blast for 30 weeks,” George says, who has since become a member of the CIA’s Society of Fellows. “I learned so much.” He managed to throw himself wholeheartedly into the program, keep his business alive “by phone,” and go to his rented apartment at night to spend time using the techniques and skills he’d learned in class with his own gluten-free flour mixtures. “I’d bring my creations in to show Chef Coppedge what I was doing with the gluten-free flour mixtures. He was an enormous help—critiquing my results and encouraging me to pursue a new frontier in baking,” he explained.
Back in 1991, when George began Foods By George in River Edge, NJ, it was unheard of to find a company that exclusively made gluten-free products in a gluten-free facility. With improved public awareness and better medical diagnosis, demand has grown and George has been there to meet it. Working side by side with Cecilia, he moved his company to larger quarters to make room for an ever-expanding line. He now creates such gluten-free delights as pizza, lasagna, English muffins, brownies, crumb cake, corn and blueberry muffins, and pecan tarts.
George’s wholesale facility sells food by the pallet to distributors from Maine to Florida and from New York to Chicago. You’ll find a selection of Foods By George in larger chain stores like Wegmans, Shaws, Hannafords, Ukrop’s, Giant, Carlisle, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats, but he also supplies scores of small independent health food establishments. And then, there are the individuals who order directly from his online store, www.foodsbygeorge.com.
George long ago married Cecilia. Love inspired him to build a bridge to a healthier life for his wife and all those who suffer from celiac disease. And the food world recognized his efforts when his thin crust pizza was voted “Best New Food Product” in 2005 at the National Products Expo East trade show in Washington, DC. Always looking for new ways to build bridges of understanding, George led the efforts to make Foods By George one of the proud sponsors of the 12th International Symposium on Celiac Disease at the New York Hilton in New York City in November 2006. In 2008, George was asked to pen the forward to his old chef-instructor Richard J. Coppedge’s book, Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America, a guide that shows home bakers how to use alternatives to gluten to bake delicious favorite recipes.
From love to gluten-free cuisine—that was a bridge George Chookazian was happy to cross.