By Sam Burke
I’m Sam, a Full Member of Allergy Companions.
I run two street food and catering businesses, Dosa Love and Thyme & Season. I am based in Nottinghamshire and work mainly in the Midlands area, but I do venture further afield for bookings.
I love cooking and baking for multiple dietary requirements.
My primary specialism is catering gluten-free. I also cater for egg free, milk free, sugar free, nut free, Halal, Diabetic, FODMAP, PKU and for people with complex dietary needs.
This all stems from being diagnosed as Coeliac in 2011. I was really ill, and it knocked me for six. It changed my life in every way. I went from being fit and healthy to being slumped on a sofa, exhausted with chronic fatigue, and with very messed up guts.
Coeliac Disease is an auto-immune condition where the body attacks itself when gluten is consumed. The small intestines are damaged and unable to absorb nutrients from food.
Getting diagnosed with Coeliac Disease
In May 2011 I became ill. My symptoms were chronic fatigue, which lasted for years after diagnosis. I’d run to the loo 15 times a day and my stomach would swell up like a balloon and feel really painful. I had sudden rapid weight loss. I had joint pain; my ears became really sensitive to noise. It was a horrible time. I couldn’t work for a long time because of the illnesses it caused.
I eventually received a final diagnosis in November 2011, after undergoing the gluten challenge. The gluten challenge involves eating gluten every day for 6 weeks so that the villi in your small intestines are damaged. Then a biopsy is taken and tested to prove that you are coeliac. As it happened, I couldn’t swallow the tube for the biopsies. But because I had a positive blood test and such severe symptoms, my consultant signed me off as coeliac.
The gluten challenge damaged my body so much it took me years to recover. In the first year I could do very little, and when I was able to do anything, I would then spend days recovering. It was a very long slow process.
The start of my first business
In Summer 2012 I started my first food business. I started selling gluten-free cakes to local shops and cafes. I used to be very shy and nervous, so for me this was terrifying. But as it turns out, people LOVE free cake!!! Who knew?!
I would bake and then have to rest a lot. I would cold call shops and cafes and be completely knackered.
Slowly my strength returned to me. I learnt not only about eating and cooking gluten-free, but about eating well for my mental and physical health. One of the key areas of my business is using fresh and healthy ingredients. The savoury dishes are filled with vegetables, pulses, herbs and spices. This comes from an understanding of how much food can affect us, both positively and negatively.
Eating for health is key, and sharing healthy food with other people is so important to me.
I started running market stalls, and met many people with different dietary needs. I baked egg free, milk free, nut free, fat free and sugar free. Sometimes all at once!
Orders started to come in for catering jobs, my repertoire expanded. Again, all at a slow pace and whilst my health improved.
One of my biggest supporters since setting up in 2012 has been an organisation called Pulp Friction. Pulp Friction support people with learning disabilities and autism, providing them with work and training in kitchens. We collaborated on lots of projects together. I worked in their kitchens, supporting their members, serving up food for fire fighters and the police, amongst many other things.
When I started Dosa Love in 2018, I needed a kitchen space to work in, and Pulp Friction invited me to their kitchen. The members in the group would help me with cooking and they would learn new kitchen skills from me. It was a really good match. I loved being a part of their team.
Being involved with, and supporting, other local food businesses and initiatives has always been a big part of what I do. I buy produce from local businesses whenever I can. Meat, eggs and dairy products are organic, and/or local where possible. Grassroots food businesses really care about what they make (and why), and always have the environment in mind.
By 2017 I had been running my business for 5 years. My health was much better and I had a wealth of experience behind me. But I was tired of food and wanted a break. I decided to move to Manchester and get a regular job. But NO-ONE wanted me!! I applied to 26 different jobs, but it wasn’t happening for me. I could keep flogging a dead horse and try to be in the 9-5, or I could do something on my own again.
The start of Dosa Love and Thyme & Season
So, in 2018 I set up Dosa Love. Dosa Love is all about gluten-free and plant-based street food. Most events I went to as a punter, there were lots of fries, burgers and pizzas. There was very little in the way of healthy food and, very rarely, anything gluten-free. Dosa Love is literally a “dose of love” for your tummy. Something healthy and beautiful, that most people can eat.
I built the business up from scratch, moving back to Nottingham to live with my partner, James. James and I work together on the food stalls, and he is the one who has the gift of the gab. He’s also a super-fixer and maker, and makes and fixes all the things I haven’t got a clue about! Magic!
Dosa Love tends to attend street-food events, small music festivals, arts trails and community events. Places with lovely people, that enjoy eating good food. We have catered at weddings, garden parties and corporate events, and much more.
During the pandemic, Dosa Love couldn’t operate, and I wasn’t entitled to anything from the government, so I set up a home-delivery businesses, made food for people in hardship, and even set up a shop and café called Deli Llama in Nottingham, which I ran with Pulp Friction. It didn’t last long because it was so much hard work at a difficult time. But you have to try these things!
After the pandemic, Dosa Love started back up, slowly but surely events started to trickle in. We loved being back doing what we enjoy so much! I also decided to set up a second business, Thyme & Season, so I could create lots of different dishes, cuisines and bakes.
With Thyme & Season we make Thai, Jamaican, French, Italian, Spanish and more. Street food and hot buffets. Cold Mediterranean buffets, feasting menus, and, of course, delicious cakes. Everything hand-made from scratch. All made with beautiful ingredients to create beautiful flavours. Drawing on over a decade of experience and, of course, still catering for a range of dietary requirements.
Now both businesses run side by side. Dosa Love with Indian Street Food, and Thyme & Season with World Flavours.
It’s been a bumpy ride getting here. Being ill for such a long time was awful. But if I didn’t get ill and find out I was coeliac, none of this would have happened. I have cooked for thousands and thousands of people, and met so many beautiful people along the way too!
I love what I do. I love making beautiful food for people to eat, and I particularly love being able to make food for people with dietary requirements. The look on a customer’s face when they realise that they can eat the food, and not only that, it’s delicious! It’s all worth it!
Thank you for reading my blog and I hope to you at one of my events soon.