Torie Burke has come about as close as she can to returning to her roots without actually moving back to Kentucky.
The cover model for the April issue of HealthyLife magazine, is a color consultant and organic candy company co-founder who has lived all over the world, including many years in New York City. She relocated to the country hamlet of Bridgewater IN2009 and loves the more relaxed lifestyle, including being able to spend outdoor time with her horse, eBay, and dog, Google.
"I grew up in Kentucky and loved being in the country and felt like it was time for me to do that again," said the 50-year-old Burke, adding that, even though she had bought a house in Ridgefield in 1998, she split her time between there and her place in the city. "Right now my commute is about 10 minutes and I have much more time and can enjoy life."
Her appreciation for relaxation doesn't mean she doesn't work hard. That 10-minute commute takes her to the New Milford office of Torie and Howard, the organic candy company she founded about three years ago with longtime business partner Howard Slatkin. The pair had spent more than 20 years in the interior design business, traveling the world and working on high-end projects. After both experienced health issues -- Burke's being severe food allergies -- they decided they wanted to put the passion they'd developed for great food on their world travels into launching a food company. Both agreed there was a need for better, healthier snack items and their hard candy is made from organic fruit and all-natural natural ingredients.
"We really started to research it and we wanted to create a lifestyle firm that really changed the perception of organic snacking to something that wasn't just granola," Burke said.
She talked more about her career and her healthy life choices in a recent question and answer session.
Q: Tell us about the health issues that led to your gluten-free lifestyle.
A: A few years ago, I had a pain on my left side that was persistent for over a year. I went to so many doctors and had every test that ends with `oscopy.' I even swallowed a camera. Then they took a biopsy, but the gastroenterologist said to me [beforehand] he thought I was gluten intolerant and so he wanted me to eat a healthy dose of gluten before the test so that when he did the biopsy he could see the inflammation and get a definite yes or no. So I went home and baked myself a cake and ate about three-quarters of it. [After the biopsy] I stopped eating wheat and dairy and about two and a half months later I felt like a totally different person.
Q: Just how careful are you about what you eat?
A: I am very strict about it. However, at restaurants [gluten] often will be snuck in some [food] I don't know it's going to be in. I try my best to order around it -- I eat salads and get sauces on the side. I've become more and more aware of what's out there and it's frightening to know how many ingredients are in things -- even chicken. I really do shop the perimeter of the store -- I only venture into the middle for things like coffee, paper towels and dishwashing liquid. When I'm in a restaurant I often remind the waiter that I'm gluten intolerant. Sometimes it means I get [cheated] out of a great sauce, but it's worth it to feel better.
Q: Did your food allergies affect your ability to exercise?
A: I started running when I moved to France in 1998. They don't grow the super wheats there, so I was eating ancient grains and I felt fine and could run. When I moved back to the states, I would go to trainers and I would try to exercise with my friends. I was always pretty good at the beginning, but then would run out of air or energy more quickly. I would get tunnel vision when I ran. But I was always naturally thin and looked like I was in great shape, so it was deceiving to other people and deceiving to me. My whole life I had been more of a sprinter than a distance person. I should have put two and two together since I didn't have these issues in France, but I didn't until I got really sick in 2007. Now [since eating gluten-free] I can run and I don't have tunnel vision. It's hard to argue with the results.
Q: How do you include fitness in your daily activities?
A: I love to ride my horse, and even though I don't do it as much during the winter, I do like to go over and chase him. We exercise together in an indoor rink, probably three to four times a week. I also like to run on the treadmill, and I run around quite a bit with my dog.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I have so much fun fox hunting! We don't get anywhere near a fox, of course. We see them on occasion but we never kill anything, which is why I do it because I adore animals and would never do anything to hurt them. We go out on our horses and it's camaraderie with your friends. We just get together and ride and have a great time and there's no competition. I also enjoy gardening, which I have just begun to understand. And I started playing tennis last summer and that's a blast.
Clothing and accessories provided by Lyn Evans Potpourri, 423 Main St., Rigefield; 203-244-2980. Hair and makeup provided by Christie and Company, 129 Padanaram Road, Danbury; 203-744-8234; www.christieandcompany.com; Lisa Reiss, stylist; Laura Denny, makeup. Cover and inside model photographs taken at Young's Nurseries, 211 Danbury Road, Wilton; 203-762-5511; www.youngsnurseries.com.