Roundup: North American Gluten-Free News

I love it when people tell me about their great gluten-free dining experiences. One reader, whose husband has celiac disease, contacted me about their dinner at Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago. They were deeply impressed by the thoughtfulness of the staff. It was clear from the start of their meal, when the restaurant’s manager came to their table to talk, that the restaurant took gluten-free dining seriously. Because the chef was concerned about cross-contamination (apparently the chilies in some sauces were flash-fried in a deep fryer, and could have been exposed to gluten particles), the two gluten-free dishes that made their way to the table were variations of menu items. Topolobampo’s sommelier also did a fine job pairing wines with the special dishes. The reader wrote:

We travel and eat out extensively and have never come across this level of dedication and exemplary service. The manager kept apologizing that our meal was going to take a little longer than normal. It was unreal and did not break the bank either…

Another reader wrote to tell me about Leaf Cuisine, a Los Angeles restaurant that is virtually the only place where she will dine out (in addition to being gluten intolerant, she has allergies to casein and corn). Leaf Cuisine is a raw-food restaurant, meaning that none of the food is heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. All of the menu items are vegan and reasonably priced. The restaurant also sells some of its creations in local stores (including several Whole Foods outlets in Los Angeles) and offers courses in raw-food preparation.

One reader told me about a website created by her daughter. It’s a wonderful resource called Gluten-Free Ontario, and if you’re traveling anywhere in the province, take a look at it. The long list of cities represented includes Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Barrie, London, and Sault Sainte Marie. A lot of work has gone into the site, and the results will help many people make decisions about dining out.

Finally, I wanted to alert U.S. readers that a couple of medical centers are offering free screening for celiac disease. This past Saturday, the West Virginia Gluten Intolerance Group and the Department of Pediatrics at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University worked with the Cabell-Huntington Hospital to provide free blood screening (I wish I’d heard about it earlier, and I hope that they will repeat this event in future). The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center offers an annual day of free screening; the next one will be on October 18, 2008. That may sound like a long way off, but participants need to pre-register by calling [tel] 773-702-7593 after August 15, 2008. For a calendar of events of interest to the gluten-intolerant, including free blood screenings, check out the calendar at Gluten-Free Forum. For a list of the Gluten Intolerance Group’s branches and partner offices, click here.

A Special Dinner Series in Toronto

What could be better than having a talented chef cook dinner? How about having five talented chefs prepare a five-course dinner? That’s exactly what I enjoyed at the first Cross Town Kitchens dinner in Toronto on June 2nd, when chefs from local restaurants Amuse-Bouche, C5, Marben, Perigee, and Torito cooked up a storm to raise money for charity. (The second dinner in the series will take place on July 28, 2008.)

When I first heard about the Cross Town Kitchens event, I doubted that I’d be able to go. While I’m always up for the challenge of dining in a new restaurant, I’ve had difficulties finding celiac-safe food at events. Hors d’oeuvres are something I steer clear of, since they’re usually set atop brioche, nested in a pastry shell, or treated with gluten in some other way. And I’ve learned from experience that it can be hard to get a kitchen to modify a set menu.

However, the five restaurants participating in the Cross Town Kitchens dinner couldn’t have been more accommodating. Not only was I treated to custom-made hors d’oeuvres (and let me say that a slice of cucumber is a fine substitute for brioche), but they managed to ensure that all five of my courses were gluten-free. Sometimes this involved reinventing a dish, so that while my fellow diners tasted a pappardelle pasta dish with morel mushrooms, fava beans, and duck prosciutto, I was tucking into a salad with identical accompaniments. Some of the dishes, including the pan-seared langoustines and the venison main course, were already gluten-free and needed no modifications.

Need another inducement? Proceeds from the dinners are donated to The Stop Community Food Centre. After the next dinner on July 28, 2008, there will be one in September 2008, another in February 2009, and the fifth (and hopefully not final) one in April 2009. If you’ll be in Toronto on one of the dates, I’d encourage you to check it out (and be sure to confirm that they will be able to accommodate your gluten-free diet when you make your reservation). The $95 per person charge is expensive, but this is a rare opportunity to have five chefs cooking for you — and raising money for a great cause at the same time. Bon appetit!