Posts tagged ‘competition’

Eating Gluten-Free at an Event: Ask, Ask, Ask

I’m a sucker for food-centric events. When my mom organized the high school PTA’s annual fundraiser, an evening of restaurant tastings, I wished I would hurry up and turn 18 so I could attend. When I go to festivals downtown, I’m more interested in the food booths than the boutiques. So when my first Appetite for Awareness rolled around this past October, I was ecstatic. Feet-swelling busy, but ecstatic. Table after table of gourmet food and new snacks to try – I didn’t know where to start.

gluten-free bites

This delectable bite was literally at Appetite for Awareness 2010. Literally.

That’s the beauty of Appetite for Awareness: You can start from anywhere in the room. It’s all up for enjoyment, without the constant questioning of “What’s in this?” or “How did you make that?”

At mainstream events, it’s a different story. I learned that quickly when I attended Philadelphia magazine’s Philly Cooks last week.

Like Appetite for Awareness, Philly Cooks pits restaurants head-to-head in the fight for best dish, as determined by attendees’ votes. But unlike Appetite for Awareness, the dishes can contain whatever the chef pleases, so gluten is often on the menu.

I went there to scope out new restaurants and possible recruits for Appetite for Awareness. It was also a chance to see who really knows what about gluten-free. I don’t have celiac disease, but I went there with the community in mind, so I was prepared to speak up.

gluten-free Philadelphia rolls

These yummy Philadelphia rolls were gluten-free

At each table, I asked whether the particular dish was gluten-free, or whether they had gluten-free options at their restaurant.  While there weren’t too many gluten-free options there, I was pleased to find that many restaurants seemed knowledgeable about the need. The chef at Funky Lil’ Kitchen from Pottsdown, PA, instantly responded when I asked about his dish, which turned out to contain farro. “The grain isn’t gluten-free,” he said, hovering a hand over the table. I appreciated his confidence, something I know the community values when dining out.

I also chatted with a knowledgeable chef from Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, based in Glen Mills, PA. I was tipped off about their celiac-friendly offerings by Gluten-Free Philly. The chef said their upcoming spring menu would feature a number of gluten-free dishes, and special icons would make it easy to distinguish them. I can just imagine the fall fare he’d whip up for Appetite for Awareness (hello, pumpkin), so I’m hoping his schedule will be free.

While moseying down one of the aisles, I spotted an actual, full-fledged sign that declared “Gluten-Free” at one of the tables. I bounded over and discovered it was Margaret Kuo’s table, where she was dishing out Edamame and Baby Shrimp sautéed with Jasmine Rice.

Dr. Laskin and Margaret Kup

Dr. Laskin and Margaret Kuo

The gluten-Free dish was also dubbed “Heart Healthy,” as determined by Main Line Health. And who was standing right next to the table? NFCA friend Dr. Keith Laskin, gastroenterologist with The Celiac Center at Paoli Hospital in Paoli, PA. It was wonderful to see a member of the medical community there to represent gluten-free needs. He even had pamphlets from The Celiac Center so he could spread the word about celiac disease.

But the night’s winner, at least according to my new gluten-free friend, Kristin, was 333 Belrose Bar & Grill from Radnor, PA. The chef there not only explained how she often accommodates gluten-free eaters, but also informed me that her dish that night was gluten-free. It was Red Chili Spiked Tuna Tartare, served on a tortilla chip. Creamy. Crunchy. Yummy.

Of course, not everyone was able to answer my questions with such gusto. A few servers said they weren’t sure, but confirmed with the chef – a wise response. One or two tables gave the dreaded “Um, yeah. I think it is.” To be fair, it was a pretty hectic scene, so they may have been flustered or didn’t hear my question clearly. But in the end, I certainly didn’t feel confident in their response.

It all goes to show that, while many restaurants are coming around to gluten-free needs and really learning how to serve safe, there will always be someone to teach. That’s why GREAT Kitchens exists. Is it fun to ask question after question? No. But with enough people asking, chefs are finally turning an ear.

Have you ever been to a food-centric event? How do you find the courage to speak up about gluten-free needs in public?

-Cheryl

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March 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm Leave a comment

Is Your City a Gluten-Free Place to Be?

When I learned that Washington DC and surrounding suburbs had been named the “World’s Most Celiac-Friendly Destination” by GlutenFreeTravelSite.com, I can’t say I was surprised. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) hosted DC Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees in 2007 and 2009, so we knew the area’s chefs had taken an interest in celiac needs.  Combine that with the gluten-free offerings at Washington Nationals games, the call for healthier food from the White House and the recent nod to Firefly’s gluten-free prowess on CNN.com, and it’s pretty clear they’re on the right track.

Gluten-free tacos

How could you say no to a gluten-free dish like this?

Still, I can’t help but feel hurt for my fellow Philadelphians. While NFCA is a national organization, the staff has helped turn Philly into a celiac-friendly community, and we’d like the area’s gluten-free gourmets to get some recognition. We’re sure you feel the same way about your favorite eateries.

Fortunately, that hint of jealousy is a good sign. It means more restaurants are recognizing special dietary needs, both in metropolitan areas and beyond.  With just a quick Google search, we can read about restaurants in Franklin, TN, going gluten-free or how Subway is testing gluten-free rolls in Texas. Who knows? Maybe next year, the “World’s Most Celiac-Friendly Destination” will be aboard cruise ships.

As for the NFCA crew, we get to celebrate the gluten-free lifestyle both in Philly and across the country at Appetite for Awareness, thanks to participation from area restaurants and nationwide vendors. And the contest? Well, GlutenFreeTravelSite.com bases its decision on user reviews, so the power is in your hands.

Which city do you consider the “World’s Most Celiac-Friendly Destination”? What makes it so accommodating?

-Cheryl

January 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm 2 comments

A Tale of Two Turkeys

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Turkey

Gertie, my turkey

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and friends and express gratitude for all we have AND to eat the best food ever. I don’t care what others say… Thanksgiving is all about the food, and it’s my absolute favorite meal to prepare.

This year, I had the privilege to set 15 places at two tables and work some gluten-free magic in my own domain. Being in control of the menu and ingredients can be an advantage if you worry about ingredients, preparation and cross contamination in the kitchen. Just make sure you have plenty of extra hands to assist so you can enjoy the day without exhaustion! Of course, the magic occurs when all are able to give thanks for the food on the table and not even know that every bit is gluten-free.

Beckee and Dave

Fierce competitors

My husband Dave and I have a love for each other and cooking competitions (Bobby Flay, Iron Chef, Top Chef) so this year we agreed on a “Turkey Throwdown.” I dug out my favorite Martha Stewart Turkey 101 recipe for Gertie, the 12lber that included a rub down of butter, stuffing of onion, apples and herbs, and a continued basting of butter and wine.

Gluten-Free Turkey on the Grill

Fred, Dave's turkey

Can it get any better than that? Dave thought so.  The grill master used a combo-recipe for Fred (his 12 lber) that included brining, basting and indirect heat, with a touch of apple wood thrown in for smoke- all on his big ol’ grill.  Both cooked birds were perfect specimens – brown, juicy and tender.

Family reviews and votes were mixed. Each bird had such a distinctly different taste…there was no comparison. Actually I think the family was just playing nice because of the holiday. In my opinion, Dave was the winner …this year.

-Beckee

December 3, 2010 at 2:18 pm 2 comments


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