Hi, my name is Licia Accorsi and welcome to ‘Gorgeous Gluten Free’ !
Let me tell you about my story. I am Italian, from Bologna in Emilia-Romagna. My city is defined as the grassa and dotta. Grassa means rich because of the rich food Bologna is famous for, while dotta means ‘learned’ because Bologna has the oldest University in Western Europe!
Telling you this you already gives you a few insights as to who I am… I love good food, I never stop learning and I know what living la dolce vita is all about it!
Another thing you might like to know is that my dad used to race motorbikes. He was very good at it, and in fact he twice won the Italian 125cc Championship in 1961 and 1963.
“Those were very different times!”
That’s what he says when he tells me about what it was like having a full time job during the day, then coming home to work on your bike and get it ready to win a race on Sunday morning. That bike came from a little company just a few miles down the road from where we lived – it was called Ducati…
I think that many of you may now know this name, as that once little company is not so little anymore. Actually it has is own museum and when you visit you will see photos of my father and his bikes on display there.
I wanted you to know this because my dad’s motto “Don’t be afraid of a challenge” is definitely a very important part of who I am.
Anyway, if I was looking for a challenge I definitely found one when I moved to England in 1996. I was in my early twenties, in a foreign country, with very little knowledge of the local accent, but determined to stay because I fell in love with the most wonderful Englishman, James, my husband.
Living over here wasn’t easy to start with but I lucky enough to be handed some amazing opportunities. I worked hard to became an Area Manager for top luxury brands such as Joseph, Calvin Klein and Harvey Nichols…
Looking back I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with the amazingly-sharp fashion genius of Joseph Ettedgui in 1997. He really understands women, he knows what looks good and what they like to wear before they even know themselves. He’s the only person I know that could walk into a store, pick up it’s vibe and immediately tell you what to do to make things even more spectacular. Watching him was like watching a Maestro tuning the instruments of his orchestra.
Working with such a genius didn’t leave me untouched. I knew then what an extraordinary retail experience was all about. However, I was eager to learn more because I knew that I could do more.
In 1999, the opportunity arose to become General Manager for Calvin Klein’s flagship store in Bond Street, well let just say that I didn’t let that go. Wow! That’s all I can say about what happened next… A beautiful 3-floor store to run in the middle of one of the most sought-after shopping areas in the world!
I think that I learned more in that job in a week than I did during a year at university. I could understand that my skills and ability were growing by the hour… and with them my confidence.
During that time the CK shop was part of a franchise operation. The Head Office was in Italy, where very few people spoke English and even fewer understood the different rules and regulations of this country.
It was an exponential learning curve for everybody involved. I was working a phenomenal amount of hours each day. There were early starts to let the cleaner and delivery men in. There were late finishes while I waited to place orders for more stock from New York.
Rebuilding the morale of a totally deflated team was my first challenge. A high-profile report from a TV mystery shopper caused a crisis of confidence among the team as they were made-out to look like a bunch of unhelpful and incompetent sales assistants…
Let me tell you, I quickly learned how being shy on camera will do you no favours. I swore that not matter how much I disliked being photographed or filmed, whenever it happened I was going to give it my best shot.
After nearly two years of this experience, the franchise came to an end. Fortunately, in 2001 Harvey Nichols opened its glamorous doors to me and I began working as Assistant Sales Manager for the whole Ground Floor.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with ‘Harvey Nicks’, the Ground Floor is the engine room of the store where all the new amazing looks and beauty products are promoted. These are the products that literally dictate the must-have accessories for the upcoming fashion season!
Furthermore, this is the floor with the highest turnover of staff so yes, you’ve guessed it, also with the greatest challenges! It seemed, once again, that I was in the right place at the right time, however. And when the revolutionary ‘Beyond Beauty’ project was getting ready to be launched I jumped at the chance to be part of it…
Today we are literally surrounded by super-cool places to buy state-of-the-art beauty products and organic natural remedies, but in 2001 ‘Beyond Beauty’ was literally leading the way.
Opportunities were still coming thick-and-fast, however, and in 2002 I was back working for Calvin Klein, but this time for the Cosmetics division within Unilever.
I guess I couldn’t resist the chance to learn more about fashion make-up, so after taking a course at the London School of Fashion I was thrilled to work as the Special Events Coordinator for the South of England.
It was very empowering to be able to boost women’s confidence by showing them just how the right product and a bit of know-how can do to improve the way they look. I performed at some pretty intimidating events – including like the window make-overs in Selfridges and many other of the best London department stores. But again, I somehow managed to rise to the challenge!
Unfortunately, not long after the make-up division of Calvin Klein Cosmetics was shut-down and my position was made redundant. I remember that because when I got called into the office and was told what was happening I had to ask what redundancy meant because I didn’t really know…
It was a very difficult and painful experience to go through but what I vowed to myself what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…
Next, I decided to turn my broaden my experience by working with a High-Street chain. I really wanted to see what it would be like to work in an even higher-pace environment and with bigger teams. Once again, can you see the pattern I was folowing about challenges?
Anyway, in December 2002 I got the job as London and South-West England Area Manager for La Senza. Little did I know that this company was then owned by Theo Paphitis – now of Dragon Den’s fame. Can you imagine sending your weekly report to Theo himself and having monthly meetings with him? Well, I learned to survive and eventually master even this experience as needs must. But…
I was now starting to realize that I had much more to offer, but the only way I was going to show this was by going solo and starting my own business. So this is exactly what I did…
In 2006 I opened my own Italian deli in the beautiful city of Bath. I thrived on the experience and the opportunity, I discovered how good I was at cooking, and my natural talent for instinctively creating new dishes that blended the many cooking influences present in this country with my Mediterranean heritage.
I loved what I did and my customers loved it too judging by the success that the business achieved. But, once again, I was in for a big challenge!
After realizing my dream of having my own business my husband and I wanted to start a family. I went to the Doctor for a normal check-up only to be told that I needed to do a laparoscopy to investigate a condition of possible endometriosis.
When I woke-up after this operation a very worried doctor told me that I had advanced endometriosis. He said he was going to refer me to a specialist, but that’s were things became more difficult.
To say that the meeting with the specialist didn’t go well is an understatement. It was one of the most difficult things I experienced. He told me that I was sterile and that he would cut the nerves that connected my spine to the uterus so that I was going to have pain-free periods from then on. It felt like my whole life had literally collapsed in on me.
There I was, in an office with a man who, after the briefest of investigations, was telling me that I was sterile. I later discovered that there was absolutely no proof of such a thing. After much research I also found out that such a mis-diagnosis is not even uncommon, as many women have had a similar experience, even leading to surgery that was subsequently proven to have been completely unnecessary…
I can vividly picture this ‘Doctor’ sitting there with his mega-inflated ego telling me that he was more than happy to cut my nerves. I told him that I believe we have them for a reason and that I was going to keep them. He was lucky that I didn’t know then what I know today about endometriosis, fertility and arrogant individuals like him. I don’t recall exactly how I left that surgery and to this day I don’t know how I managed to drive home.
What I do remember, however, is how I fell apart by asking the most painful question of all – “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?”
I was brought up in a catholic country and they made me believe me that as long as I was going to be a good person, God was going to look after me and nothing bad was ever going to happen. I also did everything society teaches us to do in order to become a responsible parent. Then, when I was nearly there life was trying to rob me of my goal. I looked back at all the things that I did in the past, trying to find a reason why I should have been punished but I could not.
I was comparing my life with the lives of my other friends and family and was shocked to see how many people that did horrible, nasty things now had their own family. You can imagine that from that day on for me it was nearly impossible to focus on my business.
This was despite the many unexpected and beautiful things that happened such as winning the Best Business Website Award for 2008, as well as being runner-up in the overall Business of the Year in our hometown of Bath.
I was also invited to be a guest-expert in a major feature by the UK national food magazine Olive, and was even invited to be a guest-expert on a UK national TV show called ‘Cooking The Books’, where I judged which of the two celebrity chefs had cooked the best meal!
Even though all these things were happening I couldn’t completely enjoy them because I was trying to find a solution to my health condition.
When I finally had the operation to remove my endometriosis in December 2007 in Bologna, I was lucky to have a tremendous medical team perform a wonderful job. By then I knew much more about endometriosis, as well as the fact that I wasn’t sterile because all the appropriate tests had been carried out.
By then, however, my whole body was exhausted. I’d been trying to work too soon after the first operation, as well astrying to fight back the emotional and phsycological strain that the initial mis-diagnosis had put my husband and I through.
It was at this stage that I developed a serious food intolerance. I couldn’t eat anything without being sick. I didn’t want to leave the store, however, so I avoided eating in order to at least be well enough to work, but then I started to get weaker and weaker…
I thought I’d reached the bottom when I discovered two lumps in my breast. That was it, I thought… cancer!
It seemed like I was falling into hell! The following day I was rushed into the special breast unit at the hospital to undergo the test to check if these lumps were indeed cancerous or not.
I was lucky, however, because I had the support of a husband and family that never ever stopped being there for me. When the results came through, fortunately they were negative and once again I was able to think about the future.
When you have an opportunity like this you have to take the chance and I decided to take it. I knew that I had to make changes but now I was more than ready to do so…
First of all I decided to start taking more time for myself. No more 12-hour shifts and no more less-than-100% fresh-and-healthy food!
I cut back completely on my hours at work. In fact, we immediately decided to sell the business in order to bring my body back to maximum health in order to have the operation required to remove the lumps.
My husband and I must have read at least 50 books on healthy-eating, ranging from anti-cancer to raw food. I learned to start taking pleasure in preparing food that my body could tolerate but which wasn’t bland simply because the person that wrote the recipe only knew a few ingredients or believed that we should be punished because we’re not well.
None of that crap anymore! My husband was very supportive, but I knew that I had to start to cook more interesting food if I wanted to prepare the same food for both of us. I was still very weak and it was too hard to physically prepare two different kinds of food or even organize two different kind of shopping.
So I immediately started to write my own book of wheat-free and gluten-free recipes. As I also have an intolerance to cow dairy products, many of my recipes use goat’s and sheep products instead. Initially I also tried to avoid using sugar whenever possible, so I even invented some recipes using natural sweeteners like agave syrup and stevia as sugar-substitutes.
As of today, in 2009, my life is very different. I’m much healthier, and I no longer have the same level of food intolerance I had before, although I still stick to a predominantly wheat-free and gluten-free diet.
The reason? Because my recipes are delicious and my body feels much better for them. No longer do I feel bloated, my skin doesn’t break-out in spots any more and and my energy levels are now consistently good. In fact, I feel terrific!
Thankfully, my breast lumps have been successfully removed. Our shop has been successfully sold – although I’m delighted to still be working with the new owners to prepare new recipes and menus each month.
Now I’m even introducing more and more gluten-free food into the shop itself and the feedback from customers is excellent.
I’m very proud to have produced my very first recipe book called ‘A Taste of Gorgeous Gluten Free’, but as the name suggests this is merely a sampler of what there is to come in the future.
As you now know, some very painful challenges have led me to the creation of www.GorgeousGlutenFree.com.
I had to relearn how to cook in order to nurse my body back to health. It seems a contradiction in terms but when you are so weak and unwell, food must bring you some pleasure as well as good health and vitality. It must bring you the taste of all the wonderful things that there are out there for you to reach for. In short, it must be gorgeous…
I hope you enjoy this little preview of food that can bring you both fantastic flavours and better health. Nobody deserves to be sick, no matter what, and this book was my way to rediscover my passion for food and life in a healthier and more complete way.