Posts tagged ‘spreading awareness’
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) is proud to call Chef Jehangir Mehta, a finalist on the popular Next Iron Chef series, a partner in creating safe gluten-free options in restaurants so people living with gluten-related disorders can eat without fear.
NFCA team members and Chef Mehta will be taking NFCA’s online gluten-free cooking program on the road over the next six months. Introducing the GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour! The tour will cover 10 cities with the goal of educating chefs nationwide on the need for gluten-free menu items that go beyond just using gluten-free ingredients. It is amazing to see gluten-free options popping up on menus across the country, but unless restaurants are educated on the importance of safe gluten-free food preparation, our community cannot dine safely.
Many things have changed in the 20+ years that I have been diagnosed with celiac disease. When I was diagnosed, gluten-free food was not even available in the U.S. Today, we have access to a wide range of gluten-free food, but the next step on our journey is ensuring all gluten-free food is safe for our community. A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for people living with celiac disease; there are currently no pills, vaccines or cures for celiac disease. Research is taking us closer, but for now, we have to ensure the people living with this autoimmune disease can have access to the food that is our only medicine.
It has been 10 years since NFCA first opened its doors and set out on its mission to raise celiac disease awareness and improve the quality of life for those on a lifelong gluten-free diet. In that time, I have met many chefs and foodservice industry professionals eager to understand celiac disease, the gluten-free diet and our need for food to be free from gluten-containing ingredients and the gluten that can enter our food through cross-contact (commonly referred to as cross-contamination by the gluten-free community). These professionals are eager to accommodate their guests, but first they have to know training and resources are available to help.
NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens program gives restaurant employees from the wait staff to the chefs the tools they need to serve safe gluten-free food. Our ten city tour will help spread the message that for the 3 million Americans living with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is not a fad, but the only way to restore their health and reclaim their lives. Ranging from cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, we will be working with executive chefs in some of the best restaurants – complete with gluten-free cooking demonstrations, of course!
Stay tuned as we start the journey at Chef Mehta’s Tribeca restaurant, Mehtaphor on Tuesday, October 22. Follow the tour by liking NFCA’s Facebook page and following NFCA on Twitter (@CeliacAwareness) and Instagram (@CeliacCentral). Chef Mehta will also be live tweeting from the road. Follow him at @jehangir_mehta.
To our GREAT health,
I knew when the Mardi Gras parade came down the main aisle of the exhibit hall with the band playing Dixieland and masked characters throwing beads that this was not going to be your typical food show. With lots of revelry and champagne, the 60th “Toast to Talent” Louisiana Restaurant Show was a full three days of fun, southern hospitality and amazing aromas and tastes. Fortunately, my husband Dave and son Cole agreed to come along. Since we are all in the foodservice business, we could learn a few things at the show and explore the city together at night.
When Sandy Riddle, Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Exhibitors, called to invite me to speak at the LRA show this year I was so excited, but a bit sad too. I hadn’t been to New Orleans (NOLA) since my 20’s, before my celiac disease diagnosis (or as I like to call it “pre-CD”). I remembered all the amazing food like gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya and beignets, which of course all contain gluten, and all but the beignets contain roux. (Roux is a mixture of flour and butter cooked together until bubbly and brown. The desired color depends on what you are preparing and sometimes it can take a good long time of stirring and waiting to get the perfect color and taste.) But I was hopeful that I would find some new flavors and gluten-free foods while exploring the city.
I’ve met some really nice people at various shows across the US and always enjoy that first day when I’m able to meet fellow vendors setting up in the same aisle. It’s also a good time to check out which spots will have safe food choices when you need a nibble to keep up the energy and pass the time. Luckily, I happened to be smack dab next to one of the most popular exhibitors, Your Way Cuisines, a gluten-free roux company. Kristie Buford and her husband Chad are brand new to the gluten-free industry and saw a need and decided to fill it. They have created two roux bases made from corn and sorghum and they’re delicious. I have not had gumbo in 20 years and the gumbo they prepared with their product was full-flavored with a nice, smooth back heat.
Evenings consisted of strolls through the French Quarters from Bourbon Street to the Riverwalk. We tried to get the full NOLA experience, a concert at Preservation Hall, a ghost tour, shopping and people-watching on Bourbon Street.
Of course my guys had to find the bar, “Spirits” from the TV show Bar Rescue and purchase some kind of voodoo potion. We did find some tremendous restaurants that offered gluten-free options. Red fish was a popular entrée at many spots especially at Redfish Grill. The chicken with jambalaya risotto was succulent and spicy at Bourbon House and the service was impeccable. We really loved the music, atmosphere and Caribbean flavors at Rum House in the Garden District.
By day, I enjoyed meeting many of the chefs and restaurateurs from some of the famous and well-known establishments. We talked a great deal about the increasing demand and requests for gluten-free options, and how GREAT Kitchens, an online training course from NFCA, would be a valuable tool for staff to learn about safe preparation. When I was able to take a break from the exhibit, I found some tremendous booths showing off their gluten-free spice blends and recipes to create Cajun cuisine so I’m looking forward to putting my samples to good use. But by the end of the week, I was feeling a bit crabby; swampy heat can take its toll on a woman from Nebraska! NOLA certainly delivered new flavors, new recipes and new friends – even on a gluten-free diet.
It’s summertime and lots of women are thinking about how we look and, after that, how we feel. On Saturday, June 8th, Philadelphia magazine hosted their annual Be Well Philly Boot Camp at the well-equipped Recreation Center on the campus of Drexel University. The goal was to motivate, educate, and empower women to get healthy and fit.
And, did they ever!
The 500 gals attending this amazing event checked out all manner of health and fitness items. Penn and Drexel medical teams were there with health tips and on-site screening. There were cooking demos hourly and delicious food sampling, plus group fitness classes — Zumba, yoga, and spinning. If learning how to climb a rock wall is on your bucket list, this was the place to be. Some attendees even grabbed a massage!
And, there was a chance to talk to the experts. All during the day, there were panel discussions on a wide variety of subjects from advice about the right running shoes to how to have more energy. Representing NFCA, I joined a panel called “Gluten Free Guide”. Our moderator, Cass Bailey from Slice Communications, has celiac disease and has embraced the gluten-free diet. Joining me on the panel were Michael Savett, publisher of the Gluten Free Philly blog, and Jennifer Fugo of the Gluten Free School.
It was fascinating! The audience had great questions and was eager to learn the “ins and outs” of the gluten-free diet. Plus, there was real interest in what celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders are all about. We talked about the difference between celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), along with getting tested and what to look for in restaurants as you begin the gluten-free journey. Getting family members tested was an important point for a number of audience members having relatives with celiac disease.
The big question was… “Is it a diet fad, a real medical issue or just a good thing to practice?” This panel did a great job of making sure everyone left with an understanding that there is such a thing as a medically necessary gluten-free diet. For real!
The overall point of the story is that there is no time like right now to start paying more attention to your health. No kidding, it actually does boil down to exercise and diet — perhaps a gluten-free diet!
I really like to stay home. I’m not embarrassed by this statement but embrace the fact that I no longer feel pressure to “go out.” Not only have I had plenty of years spending countless nights and weekends making the most of my free time, but both mine and my husband’s jobs require that I attend events, dinners, receptions and every feasible sport played by college athletes possible. The added benefit to staying home is the control I have over my food. A perfect weekend night is eating an Amy’s gluten-free cheese pizza on the sofa, catching up on all my shows on the DVR. Now that’s indulgence! But, despite typically loving my weekends at home, I was super excited to head out last Saturday night with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) to the studio of Liddy Lindsay, local artist and friend of NFCA Founder and President, Alice Bast. It was such an amazing night!
NFCA brought lots of gluten-free goodies for guests to experience gluten-free food and ask questions about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Everyone was surprised that they were eating gluten-free; comments, like “this actually tastes good” were heard throughout the night. The studio was filled with this wonderful array of individuals from varied backgrounds and lifestyles. Everyone was inquisitive and curious about NFCA and celiac disease. While most people did not know what celiac disease is, they all have heard about the gluten-free lifestyle and most know someone with gluten sensitivity.
As the end of the party neared, it became apparent that no one wanted to leave (always the sign of a good party!). The evening continued for a number of us NFCA art-lovers once we arrived at Pod – a West Philly, Steven Starr, establishment that provides gluten-free options on their menu. So, while a night out typically means worrying about what I’m going to eat, this night was less worry and more “let’s eat!” (Post-party confession – I stashed a gluten-free pizzelle in the car for an after dinner treat and enjoyed it when we left the studio. What a nice way to end the night!)
While it may be a bit out of character for me now, I am looking forward to heading out with my NFCA pals for more events throughout May for Celiac Awareness Month. On May 7th, we’ll be shopping at C. Wonder in the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania with 20% off purchases and 10% of sales going the support NFCA (isn’t that great?). After that, I’ll be heading on up to New York City for a very special evening with Chef David Bouley on May 9th.
All of the ladies at NFCA are buzzing with excitement for the upcoming month and the energy is contagious. As I’m catching on to their excitement of being out-and-about more often than usual this month, I can’t help but be reminded of a famous quote from the infamous Dorothy Day: “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” I’m so happy to be part of a team that helps people get diagnosed, restore their health and reclaim their lives, especially during Celiac Awareness Month – now that is food for the soul.
I LOVE pizza – cold pizza for breakfast, hot, gooey, cheesy pizza with thick or thin crusts and toppings of all kinds: pesto, pepperoni, olives, onion, even anchovies. So when I was diagnosed with celiac disease back in 1992, when very few gluten-free products existed, I concluded my love affair with pizza was pretty much over. Making gluten-free pizza was a chore I could handle, but it just wasn’t the same. Eating pizza out of the box and sipping an ice cold beer while watching a movie, and hanging with the family or friends seemed impossible or too depressing. During a pity party, I even told my husband, Dave, my last request before I died was pizza delivered to my death bed with a cold brew as my last meal. (What’s one last jolt of poison when your about to take your last breath anyway?) I’m so glad gluten-free has come so far that I can pick a more extravagant last meal….maybe chocolate croissants. Never in my lifetime, did I expect to live to experience gluten-free pizza so accessible and tasty.
Recently, I was honored to speak at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas on behalf of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). Gluten-free pizza is a HOT trend and operators across the country want to know what it takes to include gluten-free as an option for their customers, so I was thrilled to be asked to attend. Over 7,000 pizza operators attend this show annually to taste the latest, greatest ingredients, find new equipment, and attend educational sessions to learn how to make their business more successful. The energy at this show is over the top and the events are show stoppers. These operators are serious competitors, too. The contests happening right on the “All Pizza, All-of-the-Time Show Floor” included Bake Offs, Freestyle Acrobatic Dough Tossing, Pizza Challenges, and Demonstrations for pizzas, salads, and beer brewing. What an amazing experience.
My educational session, “How Pizzerias Can Serve a Gluten-Free Pie” included 3 panelists. As moderator and speaker, I provided education about serving diners with gluten-related disorders, the importance of training and safe preparation. My panelists, GREAT Kitchens grads (a training course from NFCA on safe gluten-free food preparation) Adam and Debbie Goldberg from Fresh Brothers, LA area, and Willy Olunds, from Willy O’s in Michigan, gave the attendees real life experience in serving gluten-free pizza. These experts gave different perspectives since Fresh Brothers has 8 locations and Willy O’s is an independent operation.
Willy invited me to tag along during his pizza competition in the non-traditional category. (No gluten-free category yet, but maybe next year.) According to Willy and his wife, Carla, this is highly irregular to allow non-participants in the competition area. I felt honored and so impressed with the intense passion each competitor brought to their pie including Willy. His unique corn-based crust and decadent ingredients made for a pretty impressive entry.
Other GREAT experiences included hanging out with the staff at Venice Bakery. (Their booth was amazing and so was the pizza!) I also sat in the front row and watched Iron Chef Redemption challenger Elizabeth Falkner demonstrate kale salad (crispy, fresh, and blanched kale) and actually met her after the demo. She’s really cool. I had some time to check out the exhibitors, so I said “hi” to old friends like Joel Schut from RW Bakers, Pamela and Alison from Pamela’s, and the DeIorio’s team. Best of all I made a new friend, Denise San Filippo (a fellow gluten-free gal) from Schar. Denise and I hit the strip one night and had a fabulous gluten-free dinner at Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel. From our window, we could see the Eiffel Tower and watch the Bellagio fountain show. (Sometimes this job is grueling!) Our waitress was well-educated about allergens and gluten which gave us confidence in our restaurant choice especially when she answered all of our probing questions correctly. She even brought us toasted gluten-free bread and warm olives for our starter. Denise had the scallops and I tried the Lemon Chicken with shallow Pom Frites. (Shallow means fried separately in a pan not a deep fryer.) It was delicious, especially the fried potatoes.
With every expo and conference I attend, I have the opportunity to meet new people and can’t help but feel ecstatic over the progress we’re making. 20 years ago, I thought I would never eat pizza again. Now, there are people seeking information on how to make both delicious and safe gluten-free pizza. And, to be able to be a part of that is a GREAT feeling.