Archive for April, 2011

A Berry Good Reason to Go Gluten-Free

Whenever I come across a new gluten-free product, I wonder what prompted its birth. Was someone at the company diagnosed with celiac disease; is the product part of an overall “allergen-free” line; or was it an attempt to jump on the bandwagon of brands going gluten-free?

Lately, it seems that our cheers for new gluten-free items may come with some skepticism.  Companies large and small are churning out packages emblazoned with “gluten-free,” so naturally, we’ve begun to wonder about their motives.

Like it or not, “gluten-free” is a hot commodity, and people go where the money is. But when you’re dealing with a trend that has a real medical basis, missteps can be (quite literally) sickening. Just this week, customers testified against the former shop owner who allegedly sold gluten-containing bread as “gluten-free,” and the community is still brewing over the server who proudly gave traditional pasta to gluten-free diners.

Fortunately, there plenty of chefs and manufacturers who have good intentions when they dive into gluten-free. In fact, many of NFCA’s GREAT Business Association members, including Kettle Cuisine, Glow Gluten-Free and Simply Shari’s, have a direct connection to celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

My latest find: Missy and John Villapudua, the couple behind WildeBerryaki sauce. When I emailed Missy and John to ask about a Gluten-Free Hot Products review, I had already done some research about the company. WildeBerryaki is just one of the couple’s ventures; they also own the WildeBerry Inn on Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle, and WildeBerrySports, where John offers personal training for endurance athletes. (Sensing a theme?)

Missy and John - Wildeberryaki

Missy and John with their berries.

Fresh food, fitness, and a great place to sleep…it’s a lifestyle I envy. But how did the sauce come into play? Partly out of necessity: Missy had been laid off, and with too many bills to survive on one salary, the couple put all their berries in a basket and launched WildeBerryaki. The “gluten-free” part, Missy explained, was for friends:

“To be honest, we didn’t even know what ‘gluten-free’ meant 4 years ago,” she confessed. “A girlfriend of mine was stricken with breast cancer and we wanted to help her and the family out by cooking meals while she was healing.  She was gluten-free and had several food allergies.  I was scared to death to cook for her in fear that I may inadvertently include an ingredient with hidden gluten. The experience forced us to gain a better understanding and appreciation for individuals afflicted with celiac and gluten intolerance.”

It’s a heartfelt story, and it reminded me that gluten-free goods really can be…good.

WildeBerryaki sauce

Can you tell I took this photo AFTER I used it?

As a friendly follow-up to our exchange, the couple sent one of the latest hits in their WildeBerry repertoire: a recipe for WildeBerry Chicken & Endives. When barbecuing season finally arrives, I’ll be bringing this in tow:

WildeBerry Chicken & Endives


  • ¼ cup gluten-free mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp. WildeBerryaki sauce
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts (or equal amount of pork loin), finely diced
  • 2 green onions, chopped (save half for garnish)
  • Endive leaves
  • Grated purple cabbage
  • Black sesame seeds


1. Combine gluten-free mayonnaise, WildeBerryaki sauce, chicken and half of the onions. Mix well.
2. Spoon mixture onto endive leaves. Top with remaining onion, cabbage and sesame seeds.
3. Enjoy!

There are many other gluten-free companies that were inspired by celiac and gluten-free connections. If you’d like to share the story behind your gluten-free company or organization’s, visit and Submit an Empowerment Story.


April 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

Whitney & Kristin’s Week Long ‘Opening Day’ Celebration

Phandemonium at the Phillies Game

While my baseball fandom (particularly when it comes to the Philadelphia Phillies) has already been well chronicled on the staff blog, last week marked the beginning of what is sure to be four months of rabid insanity and delusion…MLB Opening Day!

Kristin and I chose to celebrate the entire week in style by attending not one, but two Phillies games – a Tuesday, March 29th pre-season game verses the Pittsburgh Pirates, and on Saturday, April 1st, to watch the Fightin’ Phils face off against the Houston Astros.

For Phillies fans, the 2011 World Series campaign is already off to a great start, our home team swept the Astros and will start the season at 3-0 for the first time since 1970.

Needless to say, we’ve got some rather ‘High Hopes’ for our team at the moment.

Opening Day Phillies Fever

On a related note, it seems that more and more MLB teams are welcoming gluten-free baseball fans this season by ramping up their stadium food options. Here’s just a smattering of teams that have already made headlines this year:

St. Louis (Cardinals)

Florida (Tampa Bay Rays)

Chicago (Cubs)

San Francisco (Giants)

And of course, the entire NFCA office is looking forward to hosting TWO Celiac Disease Awareness Nights with MLB Teams this season – Friday, May 27th with the New York Mets, and Friday, July 8th with the Philadelphia Phillies.

So much gluten-free fun to come this summer!


April 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

No Reservations

I live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain’s adventures on “No Reservations.”  I can’t say I want to BE the man, especially not his liver or lungs. Instead, I’d like to be one of his pals who get to share the laughs, late nights, and pure love of food…just once.  (I doubt if he’d ever consider dining with a fuss bucket like me, with all my dietary no-no’s. But a girl can have her fantasy, right?)

Tony does have the life. Wouldn’t it be delicious to swagger around the world with a film crew, communing with the locals who take you to the places to dine on the best regional cuisine, and get paid for it? To relish the beauty, flavors and soul of the food and land, with comrades who dig it as much as you do? To spend hours in fellowship with those who chew, chug, and moan with the same appreciation for every morsel and sip?

Just once, I want no reservations.

To experience the submission that Tony considers one of the true pleasures of dining – whether it’s sucking marrow from a bone in a primitive hut, or dabbing caviar with tiny spoons by candlelight – would make me complete.  I want to totally submit to a dining experience. I want it for all of us who must eat gluten-free. Some say it’ll never happen.  With celiac disease and all the planning and preparation that go with dining out, it’s difficult to put your faith, trust, and stomach in the hands of a chef, kitchen staff, and wait person…completely. With no reservations.

Gluten-free appetizer

The dishes at Appetite for Awareness prove that gluten-free can be safe AND delicious!

For the celiac community, “no reservations” often has the opposite connotation. As in, “No reservation. No table. No food.” Once, after a long day of speaking engagements, I headed to a hotel property near the Detroit airport searching for hot food and a cozy bed.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I was famished.  After calling the finest “made from scratch” restaurant in the complex, I was told by the manager that they could not accommodate a gluten-free diet.  I thought they must just need an explanation regarding my special diet needs. Nope, they refused to serve me.

Luckily, another chef at a nearby eatery (whose dining room was closed) prepared a simple but lovely piece of fish, potato, and fresh green salad perfectly and safely.  Two restaurants from the same hotel chain with different attitudes and different reactions to a guest’s request.

So why do chefs and restaurateurs have reservations about serving gluten-free options?  Some think it takes too much time, or it’s too difficult. Others don’t know how to prepare food safely, so they opt out. Some think it’s a trend or fad that will go away. We also can’t forget those who think they don’t need special training for gluten-free options. “All you have to do is take out the wheat.” How scary is that?!

And then, there is the one chef (let’s hope only one) who thinks the gluten-free diet is BS, so he serves wheat-laden pasta to those requesting gluten-free pasta. It’s so wrong on so many levels, it’s almost hard to comprehend.

What some chefs don’t get is the knife that just sliced the bread can’t be used to cut the baked potato. What some cooks don’t realize is the ladle used to spread sauce on the traditional pizza crust can’t be used to spread sauce on a gluten-free pizza crust. What some waiters don’t understand is that people who request a gluten-free option most likely would rather not have to bother them for such a need. Our request isn’t a choice; it’s a medical condition.

What the above-mentioned chef doesn’t realize is this: Those with celiac disease who eat gluten in a restaurant probably won’t react to it until later, when they’re stuck in the bathroom all night.  (I’m sure vacations have been ruined by this chef’s intentional glutening.)

I really love my job. As director of NFCA’s Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives, I’m privileged to offer affordable, gluten-free training to those in the foodservice industry and improve quality of life for those with celiac disease at the same time. NFCA’s comprehensive training program is called GREAT (Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training), and we offer it to Kitchens, Schools/Camps, and Dietitians. GREAT restaurants provide safe gluten-free options, train their staff, and make a commitment to follow safe protocols. As a result, they reap the benefits of having loyal customers who bring tables of 4, 6, and 8+ with them time and time again.

National Restaurant Association Show 2010

Teaching chefs what's what at last year's National Restaurant Association Show.

We need your help spreading the word about NFCA’s GREAT program ( I know sometimes it’s difficult to speak up and demand safe gluten-free choices, especially because we are grateful for those who put forth an effort to serve us. But providing a GREAT solution helps all gluten-free diners. People are getting sick, their health is at risk, and NFCA wants to end that.

Don’t just fantasize about eating at a famous or local hot spot. Promote GREAT training for a GREAT dining experience, so you can enjoy your food and conversation…with no reservations.


April 1, 2011 at 11:14 am 5 comments

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