WITH a passion for food, an acclaimed cookery bible under her belt and spells at one of the country's leading chef schools followed by a famous London restaurant, top cookery writer Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne might have thought she'd encountered every possible culinary challenge.
Ironic then, that Lucinda of all people should have found herself facing a gastronomic nightmare of her own, right in her own Edinburgh kitchen courtesy of her very own family.
"I suppose I'm probably the best person for it to happen to really," she concedes, a delicious Victoria Sponge just out of her oven barely having time to cool before her three young sons Angus, Robin and Otto arrive home from Cargilfield Prep School to plunder several moist, jammy slices.
"I was lucky - I had a deep knowledge of cooking before I had to deal with this, for others, it must be dreadful."
She's referring to the food allergies her two older sons have had since they were born: Angus, now seven, is, explains Lucinda: "Immensely allergic to dairy - he only needs to touch grated cheese and wheals come up on his face. As a baby, we gave him dried milk once and it gave him a rash across his body.
"He also has a thing with potatoes, he can't digest them, he gets terrible joint pain and a sore tummy - not allergic, as such, but he can't take them."
Middle son Robin arrived with his own set of food issues: he is gluten intolerant. Pasta, bread and a treat like that Victoria Sponge would - if not made according to Lucinda's clever allergy-free recipe - be forbidden.
The only one not to pose a kitchen nightmare is little Otto, just three and, says his mum, "built like an ox."
Discovering that two of her children are among Britain's two million food allergy sufferers - and faced being denied so many culinary delights - was something Lucinda could hardly believe.
But, as one of the country's most respected food writers - she co-wrote Leith's Techniques Bible, recently named as one of Waitrose's top ten most useful cook books - at least she was ideally placed to rise to the challenge.
Today, the 36-year-old former catering company boss, with clients such as Baroness Jay, Sir Christopher Bland and Lloyd Grossman, is waiting patiently for the recipe book inspired by her children to hit the shelves: her own comprehensive guide to cooking for food allergies.
It's part one of her recipe to improve mealtimes for Britain's growing band of food allergy sufferers. Part two, she hopes, will be a range of chill cabinet, allergy-free dishes, bringing her brand of cooking to supermarket aisles.
It could revolutionise mealtimes for food sensitive diners, and it's thanks in part to Lucinda's arrival in Edinburgh five years ago.
"It was interesting, because until we came to Edinburgh, I didn't know anyone else with these allergy problems. But in Edinburgh right away I met three other mothers with children who had the same dietary allergies. And it was obvious that these people were totally lost."
With her culinary experience, there was only one thing she could do - she waited until the children were settled at night, then began to rewrite the traditional cookery books.
Lucinda had a wealth of knowledge to draw on. Raised by a family of foodies, she studied physiology at university - a scientific discipline that aided her interest in the chemistry of food - before embarking on a six-month cookery course at famed London cooks' college, Leith's School of Food and Wine.
Next stop was one of the city's most famed restaurants, Terence Conran's Bibendum, where she sweated as a section chef under Roast Chicken and Other Stories' author and top chef, Simon Hopkinson.
She learned a lot, but she says working long hours in an overheated kitchen proved every bit as challenging as certain TV programmes suggest.
"It was hellish," she laughs, "It was 16 hours a day. You either worked or you slept, nothing in between. The atmosphere in the kitchen was heavily charged and while I learned a lot and it was amazing, I'd never do it again."
Her next challenge was her own catering company, a seven-day-a-week business that barely left time to spend with her husband, IT business specialist, Hew, also 36.
It was his work commitments that brought the couple north five years ago. Angus was two and had a freshly-confirmed series of allergies, while Robin was on the way.
"I was actually finishing Leith's Techniques Bible when we arrived here and realised that it was a basic grounding in cooking that people dealing with food allergies need," she explains.
"They need to know why flour is used in cakes or bread, why it's wheat flour, why not use other flour. And once they know that, they can look at what the alternatives are."
The Victoria Sponge is made using ground almonds and apple puree and has proven to be a popular in the Bruce-Gardyne household.
It's proof, says Lucinda, that being allergic to food doesn't mean being denied what everyone else enjoys, and that food for allergy sufferers doesn't have to be dull, packed with bizarre, hard to buy ingredients or, especially, tasteless.
"People with allergies who have to avoid certain foods need to feel normal and feel they can enjoy their food," she explains.
"And that includes cakes."
How to Cook for Food Allergies by Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, is published by Rodale on October 19, price 16.99.
Range of reactions
WHILE many people may become intolerant to a certain food at some point in their lifetime, around one in 70 adults suffer a real allergic reaction to what they eat.
For them, a problem food sparks a response in the immune system that can lead to severe or even life-threatening symptoms.
Sufferers often experience an itching and swelling in the mouth, tongue and throat, skin reactions like swelling, itching, and eczema. There can be vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing, wheezing or a runny nose.
Reactions can happen immediately or take several hours to develop. In certain cases, some sufferers can develop a whole body reaction known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock which can be fatal.
225g self-raising flour. (For gluten-free use 110g rice flour, 55g ground almonds and 55g cornflour).
2 tsp baking powder (For gluten-free use 4 tsp gluten-free baking powder).
225g soft butter (Or same amount dairy-free margarine)
225g caster sugar (For egg allergies use 170g caster sugar)
5 eggs (For egg allergies omit eggs and instead use 225ml apple puree or custard; for gluten-free add one more egg)
Strawberry jam and caster sugar for filling and to dust.
Preheat the oven to 180C or 350F, gas mark 4. Grease two 18cm sandwich cake tins, line with greaseproof paper and lightly brush with oil.
Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl.
Add the butter, sugar and eggs (or apple puree or custard) and whisk until thoroughly mixed. The mixture should fall slowly from a large spoon. Stir in one or two tablespoons of tepid water if necessary.
Divide the mix between the two prepared tins, gently spread it over the base of the tins and level off with a knife. Place tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until firm and springy in the centre.
Leave the cakes to set for 30 mins before running a knife around the tins to loosen. Turn the cakes out onto a wire rack, leave to cool.
When cold, transfer one of the cakes, crust down, to a serving plate.
Spread the base of one of the cakes thickly with jam and place the other cake on top, crust uppermost.
Sprinkle with caster sugar and serve.