I just signed on (after lurking awhile) and look forward to participating, although it may be awhile before I can make much of a contribution. I have been getting more serious about cooking over the past few years and reading these forums has been humbling in terms of how much there is to learn from those who have had this obsession for decades, and worked where they could perfect their craft. Researching cookware, knives and technique is what brought me here initially. I have been gluten-free for 15 years and have never knowingly cheated, so this is one area where I may be able to contribute something. Right now I am looking to upgrade some equipment, get some better knives and learn to properly maintain them. Anyway-- it's good to run into you guys and I'm looking forward to learning from everyone. Cheers, John
Greetings from Virginia
Hello, John and welcome to Cheftlk.
If you've 'lurked' here for a while then you will know that our membership is from around the globe, and all levels of culinary ability (I fall into the 'enthusiastic amateur' group!
Feel free to join on any thread you find interesting, or start your own. Please be aware that the Professional fora are read-only for those of us who are not currently employed in a culinary trade (but they make interesting reading, nonetheless!)
Have a look at the wikis, blogs, reviews, articles and photography on the site. Much inspiration to be gained for those of us who are 'home cooks'.
Hope to see you around the boards!
Thanks for the nice welcome Ishbel. I can see that there is a lot to learn by being here, not to mention the enjoyment. I noticed that there is a diverse group of all skill levels. Perhaps I'm not quite the neophyte I thought I was-- just figured out that I own a few of the most highly recommended cook books. I do wish there were a way to gain some direct experience working with highly experienced people.
Well, I did a course at LCB Paris, more years ago than I care to remember, and on various courses with well-respected chefs in the UK and mainland Europe ( Italy, France, Spain and Portugal) as well as a couple of courses at the famous Irish cookery school at Ballymaloe. The chefs have included Anton Mosiman, Heston Blumenthal, Rick Stein, Sean Hill, Nick Nairn, Jean-Christoph Novelli, Raymond Blanc and others - and I have picked up invaluable tips and methods.
I am sure there must be such courses available in the USA - and you will enjoy them!
Welcome! How amazing you have been gluten free for 15 years. It would be fascinating to hear more about your journey and what some of the difficulties and how you got around them when you first started. It would also be interesting to hear what affect it has had on your health.
Enjoy the community.
Nicko, I'll do a quick post here and if there's interest in getting more into it we'll start a thread...
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1997, before most people--including most physicians, were aware of it. There was almost zero awareness in the food industry and restaurants. Few were willing to take it seriously until it became an economic consideration. CSA (celiac sprue association) was the arbiter of the gluten-free diet in the US and they were adamant about using the strictest interpretation of what was allowed or forbidden. Lack of awareness and the huge gap between what the diet required and what was practically possible left those diagnosed with a huge problem that could only be resolved by cooking at home using pure ingredients. Probably the most significant restriction was the exclusion of distilled vinegar--that stuff is in nearly everything. Also forbidden were common food dyes, cooking oils, and ingredients which were regulated in the US but not abroad such as modified corn starch and maltodextrin. There were no allergen disclosures on food labels and gluten-free specialty products such as pastas weren't commonly available. Several years later I learned that the Canadians were using a more lenient interpretation of the diet that allowed distilled vinegar due to scientific opinion that gluten molecules were eliminated during distillation. I started using the Canadian diet which opened up a huge number of common grocery and restaurant menu items. Then, a few years after that CSA adopted the Canadian version of the diet as well.
In the early days I seldom ate out due to uncertainty. The difficulty of trying to explain my requirements to chefs and wait staff was terribly frustrating and I hated having to subject my dinner companions to the tiresome routine of describing it, asking for special considerations, and then having to send food back about half the time. For example, I would order things that were inherently gluten-free and explain that I needed to make sure no flower was added to sauces, mashed potatoes, etc. They would assure me it was fine and then bring my plate out with a big piece of bread on top of the food or croutons in the salad. This still happens occasionally--- last week as a matter of fact. I ordered vegetarian beans and rice at a Cajun restaurant and explained that it needed to be gluten-free. They understood exactly what I was asking for but brought my plate out with a roll on top of the beans and rice!
On the other hand, nearly universal awareness of the term gluten-free in the restaurant industry today is an absolute godsend. I ate brunch last Sunday at a little restaurant that features a number of vegetarian items and advised that I needed my meal to be gluten-free. The waitress put in the order and then came back to the table and told me to always mention that I am gluten-free when ordering, even if it's not an item that would normally contain gluten, because they always clean the grill, use clean pans and spatulas, and even use a separate area of the kitchen for prep to make sure nothing is contaminated! Most people have no idea how much that means to someone like me. This place just won themselves a regular, and I'll be recommending them to everyone I know whether or not they need to eat gluten-free (the food is excellent). The only downside to gluten-free having become the latest mega mainstream marketing phenomena is that some restaurants don't quite realize how important it is to customers for whom the diet is not optional. Some just see it as another version of fad dieting like low-carb or low-fat, so we still have to differentiate between places that use the words for purely promotional purposes vs. the ones that are actually aware and committed to protecting the health of their gluten-free clientele. I'll just say one thing about the health issue---I was severely malnourished (damaged villi in small intestine) and would probably have been dead in a year had I not been diagnosed when I was. There were a range of physical, emotional and mental symptoms. I am now healthy, energetic and active.
I went for about ten years without a single slice of pizza and a few more without any that would be recognizable as such. Now I make pizza about twice a week, and I make a better gluten-free crust than I've eaten at any restaurant, with the possible exception of Risotteria in NYC. It is absolutely possible to make excellent food without flour---I know of one fine restaurant in a southern city that enjoys a big reputation and the only thing you can order that is not gluten-free is beer. All of the bread, all of the desserts, all of the pasta dishes are made with alternative flours. And here is the kicker--- they don't give any indication whatsoever at the location or on their website that they are a totally gluen-free restaurant because people generally assume that to equate with a compromise in quality. Most patrons simply know it as an excellent restaurant, but they are famous among the online gluten-free community. The chef/owner's wife has celiac and he has dedicated himself to making no-compromise gluten-free everything. He has a high-end restaurant that the locals flock to, and gluten-free people travel significant distances to enjoy. I would love to do something similar in perhaps a smaller, mid priced type of place. I have become fluent in adapting recipes and it's actually not difficult at all except for breads with certain delicate textures. I used to rely on gluten-free cookbooks but I now see them as limiting. I use the best cookbooks and recipes (other than breads) I can find and adapt them. Now that there is universal awareness and sufficient demand, from a business perspective, I don't see why any restaurant wouldn't eliminate wheat/gluten whenever it's not key to a particular recipe, and feature several no-compromise gluten-free entrees.
Somewhat ironically, my dietary restriction is the reason I've become interested, perhaps somewhat obsessive, about cooking. Nothing is quite so satisfying as serving a nice gf meal to non-celiacs and have them rave about it, before they realize… I did a full Thanksgiving dinner last year and nobody even thought about it being irregular in any way. I'm looking forward to learning a lot more about food and cooking in general from the members here.