Vanessa Maltin is an inspiring person to talk to. She’s the Director of Programming and Communications at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and also the author of Beyond Rice Cakes: A Young Person’s Guide to Cooking, Eating & Living Gluten-Free. She is currently at work on a second book, which explores how to cook Latin, Italian, and Asian cuisines for a gluten-free diet. Take a look at Vanessa’s blog, Beyond Rice Cakes, for more information (the book will be published by Wiley in the fall of 2009). Diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003, Vanessa has plenty of practice traveling gluten-free, and she shared her experiences and advice with me in an interview last week.
How often do you travel? I travel for work at least once a month, and usually a lot more. I just got back from Bentonville, in northwest Arkansas, which was great. They had all of the chains with gluten-free menus there, like Red Robin, P.F. Chang’s, and Mama Fu’s.
Where have you traveled since being diagnosed with celiac disease? I’ve been all over the country. So far this year I’ve been to New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia, Hagerstown, MD, Lynchburg, VA, and Florida. Internationally, since I was diagnosed, I’ve been to Ireland, Italy, and Prague — all places where I ate like a queen!
What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? I always bring bags of nuts with me. I also take Pure Fit bars and Zone bars — most of them are gluten-free. Sometimes I’ll bring gluten-free Thai Kitchen soup mixes, or small packets of peanut butter, which I’ll eat with an apple.
What other things do you bring with you? My iPod and my laptop! I also take Triumph Dining cards with me wherever I go.
How do you prepare for a trip? Since most of my travel is for work, I try to get a really detailed itinerary, because you have to plan ahead. It’s not like I can stop and grab a Big Mac. Sometimes I’ll look at the local celiac support groups and see what they recommend. Normally, when traveling for work, I’m eating with non-celiacs, so I tell people I’m meeting what I can and can’t eat. I have a lot of meetings where an office provides a catered meal, so it’s really important to let them know in advance that they need to have gluten-free options.
Any favorite restaurants? I absolutely love Bistango in New York City. In D.C., my favorites are Café Atlántico, where I helped the chef develop the Latin-fusion gluten-free menu, and Zaytinya, a Mediterranean restaurant. In San Francisco, I go to Max’s Opera Café, which doesn’t have a gluten-free menu but is very accommodating. I love Brick and Solstice, which are both in San Francisco, too. In Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, I like the Yard House, and I just went to a place called Pizza Fusion, which has gourmet gluten-free pizzas. My standby place, wherever I go across the country, is Chipotle.
Any favorite hotels? The Hyatt hotels are amazing.
What’s the most memorable city you’ve visited? Bruges in Belgium. Every other store there was a chocolate shop. I had a shrimp and goat cheese salad there that I’m still craving. It was such an incredible place, and the only thing I couldn’t eat there were the croissants.
What’s your dream destination? The Amalfi Coast in Italy. I’ve read about cooking trips there where you stay in a villa for seven days and just cook every day. I’d love that.
Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Keep an open mind about traveling, because it really can be done!
Photograph provided courtesy of Vanessa Maltin.