Jennifer Esposito Talks Post-'Blue Bloods' Career as a Gluten-Free Baker

Jennifer Esposito
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The actress, sidelined by CBS series last year, says she's filming a reality show centered on her new Jennifer's Way Bakery.

Jennifer Esposito has given herself a new role of a New York City baker, and it might be the secret ingredient to getting back on television.

The actress, who was sidelined by CBS’ cop drama Blue Bloods late last year, has opened her own gluten-free bakery in NYC to meet the needs of those suffering from Celiac disease. Already set to appear in an episode of E!’s first unscripted culinary series Playing With Fire, Esposito said at an NYC screening of Olympus Has Fallen that she is currently filming a pilot of her own. If picked up by E!, the reality show will follow the actress-turned-entrepreneur as she runs Jennifer’s Way Bakery in the East Village.

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Esposito, 39, has struggled with Celiac disease -- an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine and caused by reaction to wheat proteins that results in fatigue, among other problems -- since childhood, but was only formally diagnosed four years ago. She took to Twitter last November to blast CBS for putting her on an unpaid leave of absence from her Blue Bloods role as Detective Jackie Curatola, after the network refused to accommodate her needs during production, then kept her from working on the show or elsewhere.

“All throughout my life, I had stomach problems, ear infections, exhaustion; I was told I had Epstein-Barr, I tested for [multiple sclerosis] a bunch of times. It grew into panic attacks and anxiety issues,” Esposito told The Hollywood Reporter. “When they told me I had Celiac disease, I was so ill that I was thrilled. I was like ‘Damn right, I have something!’ Now what the hell is it? … Every day, it still surprises me. It’s an auto-immune disease; it changes, it turns every single day. So it’s tricky, it’s a tricky little f---er, I’ll tell you that much.”

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Each of the items on the Jennifer’s Way Bakery menu – including Celiac-friendly bread, cookies, whoopee pies, bagels and pop tarts – is a personal recipe of Esposito’s, crafted out of “out of pure desire and need” after taking a class at the National Gourmet Institute. Half of Esposito’s bakery staff have the disease themselves, a choice made to comfort Celiac customers who already have begun to frequent the eatery.

Esposito said she welcomes those trying the gluten-free diet by choice, but hopes food companies take the label “gluten-free” more seriously, rather than catering to a timely trend.

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“It’s a real thing that is becoming, unfortunately, very trendy,” Esposito said of gluten-free diet products. “Look, I believe, across the board, people should eat like that because the amount of genetically modified food is really harming all of us. But to make gluten-free food, you have to realize first and foremost, it’s for the Celiac community. .. There’s still an amount of gluten that’s FDA-OK to be in a product, and that’s not OK because it’s one-eighth of a teaspoon that can destroy the [intestinal] villi, which is important to take in the nutrients into the body. That’s not OK for a Celiac. And now that it’s a fad, people are just making so much money off of it and we’re getting sicker and sicker."

Esposito, who confesses the hardest part of running a small business is "mopping," said she hopes to expand her bakery beyond New York with international delivery options and grocery store offerings. 

During her upcoming guest stint in an episode of Playing With Fire, the actress partners with hostess and author Anna Boiardi to teach a cooking class featuring gluten-free Italian meals. The show premieres March 17 on E! network.