“I’ve been sick for quite a while, and just never thought about what it could be until I met someone who was celiac, who opened my mind to it”.
“And I would still be eating gluten today if I didn’t meet you.”
Yes, he’s talking about me. I’m THAT girl.
Gluten free is a popular food trend these days, and while for many people, avoiding particular foods is about taste, preference, an effort to make healthy choices or to fit in with the latest fad; for a minority of the population, it is not simply a matter of choice.
January 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with celiac disease (pronounced seel-ee-ak).
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, affecting on average approximately 1 in 70 Australians. However, around 80% of this number remain undiagnosed.
It is where an individual’s immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, oats and rye) causing bowel damage. Finger-like villis, which line our bowel, become flattened and inflamed when gluten is consumed by celiacs. This leads to the body’s inability to absorb important nutrients found in foods.
The classic symptom is diarrhoea (ew). Other symptoms include excessive bloating, wind, fatigue, low blood count (anaemia, which is what I had) and osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, there is no cure. However, maintaining a strict gluten-free diet will keep the symptoms at bay and promote intestinal healing.
For me, I was never really keen on bread, and pasta, so the transformation to a gluten free lifestyle, although very difficult at times (e.g. travelling), wasn’t a complete adjustment. But a chef? Ouch.
Ah the irony. Dating a chef, who is now, under the doctor’s advice, starting a gluten free diet for 6 months, because “there’s a big chance of me being celiac”. It’s like the Australian professional golfer, Steve Elkington, who is allergic to grass! Or, even me, working at a bakery even a year after being diagnosed.
“You have to find the funny side of these things I guess”.
Interviewing my boyfriend on the dodgy connection of Messenger facetime, I hear all about this new lifestyle and the challenges he will face. But, like Elkington who won a major, I’m sure Chef Evan Garbutt will have a successful career, with or without celiac disease.
From living a lifestyle consisting of tasting abundant gluten meals, serving up his signature gnocchi dish, to drinking beers with the boys and Monday night’s tradition of chicken schnitzel at the local pub; suddenly Evan’s routine has taken a dramatic turn.
“I don’t eat nowhere near as much takeaway, as before. Living in Newcastle, gluten free takeaway is not easily available” compared to Australia’s major cities.
“I’m being much healthier now, which is good”.
Evan, head chef at a popular Newcastle café, Three Monkey’s, says this new diet will “impact my career” immensely.
“My style of cooking will change 100%, because gluten will be in my mind when it hasn’t been before.
“It will definitely effect how I will design a menu. I now know the impact on a person [with gluten intolerance] and going out to a restaurant, where it is hard to find gluten free available meals. Often there is only one or two options on the menu, which is not very enjoyable for the customers. Now, I understand their pain”.
Well, isn’t this just music to my ears?
But what about the quality of the food? When tasting is so important?
“Well, I’ll probably still taste the food…probably isn’t a good answer. If I am celiac, I will always have my sous chef working under me trying the food. It is only when I create the dish towards the menu, which I will have to try to get the flavour and know how it’s meant to taste, and then hopefully my chefs can back me up.”
Chefs, constantly creating new and exciting dishes, Evan will have to investigate and play around with new dishes that he might not have cooked before. Hint, hint: gluten free gnocchi.
“Yes I have talked about this with my sous chef.”
In order to create the perfect gluten free gnocchi, “we have to come up with the right flour to use. Obviously gluten free flours are very different to normal wheat flour.
“Our current recipe, which we’ve had for a long time, is perfect, so we will attempt on our next menu to replicate it, and come up with a product that is just as good. If it is as good, we will use it, but if it’s not we won’t add it to the menu, because it is one of the popular items on the menu.
“I always try to include gluten free available items on the menu, and products that I can incorporate for gluten-intolerant customers, but obviously to no extent as now”.
Looking ahead and planning the next menu, Evan will endeavour to “involve more gluten free options on the menu”, but not to anyone’s surprise, the biggest realisation from this sudden diet modification is “how much I like beer, and how much I miss it – that’s not the right answer is it?”.
I hope together we can find a gluten free beer we both enjoy.