I am a cook. Not a Chef, not a professional by any means, but a simple been cooking since I was a little girl, cook for home and family, supper on the table every day, at home cook. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I was very proud of the praise my family and friends often gave me on my homemade rolls, on the pound cake recipe which won me 2 blue ribbons at the local fairs, at the cinnamon buns which stopped people in their tracks when they had one, the eggplant parmesan that would bring my father and mother in law (God rest their soles) in a matter of minutes to our door when it was announced it was for dinner. I was proud of these achievements, and rightfully so. I worked hard to make these items “just right”. They identified me. They were what I was all about in a way. I am a cook.
At the age of 45, this last November, I was diagnosed with Gluten Intolerance. I had suffered for over 6 years with almost constant severe diarrhea, migraines that would occur 4 out of 7 days some weeks, stomach upset and bloat, mouth sores so bad at times that I had trouble talking or eating (which I had chalked up to a mint allergy for years), joint pain (that I assumed was just the fun of getting old), and several other various symptoms. I was tested for Celiac disease, but before the results were back, I opted to start the gluten free diet to “see” how I felt. By the time the results of the test were back, I had been on the diet for about 2 weeks and had seen an almost complete reversal of all my symptoms. Little did I know at that time, that my battle with this new lifestyle change was about to begin.
Since I am a cook, I was confident that with just a little research and practice, I would be able to create all the same consistent level of baked goods I always had. Little did I know, I was starting down a disappointing, frustrating, and discouraging battle for even a decent piece of toast or bologna sandwich!
Why is this important to you as professional chef or commercial cook or as an at home cook? It is important because I am not alone with this battle. According to one source I found, 1 in 133 people have Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance (over 2 million people), 500,000 thousand new celiac patients will be diagnosed by 2012. The chances that at some point you will have a friend, family member (celiac runs in families) or paying customer who is on a gluten free diet is huge. “So what”, you say, “If someone comes into my restaurant or cafeteria or home and says they are on a gluten free diet I just won’t give them a roll”. I used to think that way. I never gave it much thought till I was forced to. Going gluten free is far more involved than cutting bread from your diet. It means cutting gluten, which is wheat (wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat,
- Coating mixes
- Imitation bacon
- Imitation seafood
- Processed meats
- Sauces and gravies
- Soy sauce
- Vegetarian meat substitutes
If you routinely use any or all of the above items in your cooking are you sure they are gluten free? Would you be willing to risk making a customer or guest in your home ill because of your uncertainty?
What’s worse for me, as a cook, is that since I went on this diet I am totally unable to make a decent loaf of bread. The gluten free diet forces the use of many and I do mean many types of alternative flours such as potato starch flour, tapioca flour, soy flour, white rice flour, brown rice flour to name a few, and the use of things like xanthan gum or guar gum. In addition to the unique flours and additives most of the GF (gluten free) recipes use lots of eggs and copious amounts of yeast and butter. Calorically speaking these recipes are very high and high in carbohydrates as well. These ingredients are a nightmare to work with. And on more than one occasion I have been reduced to tears at the failure of a recipe. I have found my new favorite saying is “well it’s edible”. I don’t want edible!!! I want GOOD! Is that to much to ask for?
I would suggest that if you own or work in a business where dishes are prepared for paying customers that you start now to develop a good gluten free menu. That, my friends, does not mean offering a hamburger without a bun as one Maine restaurant has done. To their credit, however, at least they tried to provide a tasty menu for its GF patrons. Most, with only 2 or 3 exceptions, have no provisions for gluten free diet. Developing a tasty GF menu is hard and learning the quirks of the GF recipes is a nightmare.
I am still a cook, but now I have to begin again, from scratch you might say. I will begin to dissect some of the recipes,and try to figure out why why the combinations of flours work or don’t work and hopefully, eventually, figure out how to make bread again.