As promised, I had to cover the amazing gluten free dishes made for the competition portion of the Gluten Free Cooking Spree. I was lucky enough to try all of the dishes; I even managed to procure seconds of a few of them.
All of the chefs worked with a doctor to ensure all of their ingredients were approved as “gluten free.” Wow, I wish I had that for all of my restaurant dining experiences – what a sense of security. Each chef was given the option of using chicken or tilapia as their protein. Beyond that they were free to experiment with any gluten free ingredients they felt would best highlight their culinary creation.
The dish selected by the panel of judges as the “winner” was Chef Brett Reichler’s Tortilla Crusted Free Range Chicken Stuffed with Manchego and Spinach served with a red pepper sauce. I particularly loved the red pepper sauce.
I don’t think I could have selected a single winner, they were all so different. Chef Patricia William’s Tempura of Tilapia with a salad of cucumbers, mango, rice wine vinaigrette and sesame oil foam was true culinary artistry. I didn’t think I would ever have the pleasure of enjoying “gluten free” tempura. This tilapia tempura was light and fresh. The salad was the perfect combination of sweet and savory to complement the tempura. I can only hope that Williams decides to bring the dish to her restaurant menu at District.
While the photo doesn’t do it justice, Ralph Pagano’s Chicken Souvlaki served in a chive crepe danced on my gluten free tastebuds. The crepe was thicker than a traditional French crepe but not quite as thick as a pita. Ralph told us the key to getting just the right consistency was club soda and Redbridge gluten free beer. It gave the crepes the elasticity and airiness that gluten protein would have otherwise provided. The chicken, the crepes and the yogurt sauce married together flavors and textures I thought had been forever banished with my Celiac diagnosis.
Twyla, Andy and I were able to have a great conversation with Carrie Levin from the restaurant Good Enough to Eat on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Her fish chowder was another extraordinary gluten free dining experience. As most people following a gluten free diet know, chowders are one of those dishes that you don’t usually even ask about because you realize that the likelihood that it is thickened with traditional flour is about 99.9%. When we talked to Carrie, she told us how much she like the chick pea flour she had used in her recipe. It was better than the white flour she had been using! She told us how much she had learned about gluten free cooking and that she thinks there is a market for a gluten free catering business in New York. All I could say is “AMEN! Yes, please!” I hope she decides to follow through with it or at least start including more gluten free items on the menu at her restaurant.
The other dishes served that night that I didn’t get photos of were the Coriander Spiced Fish with chili chitake, chive biscuits and cucumber cumin raita from Chef Jehangir Mehta of Graffiti and the Seared Tilapia with a chile lime glaze. I particularly enjoyed the Coriander Spiced fish. The coolness of the raita with spicy coriander was superb, and big props for even attempting a gluten free biscuit (which was quite good)! A big thanks to Bob's Red Mill for donating all of the gluten free flours for the chefs to use. Apparently Chef Levin was not the only one to express their surprise at being more pleased with the gluten free flour than the white flour they had been using.
The event was covered by CNN as their reporter Heidi Collins is the spokesperson for the NFCA. There was even an article on Epicurious.com this week written by a fellow gluten free blogger. Thanks to everyone who put in time and energy to make this event such a smashing success! As more chefs become aware of the needs of the Celiac customer, the easier and more delicious our “dining” lives will become. Though if you want to try these dishes for yourself, the chefs were kind enough to share their recipes here.
Because I do like to cook and bake, I know that I am lucky in the celiac community. I could probably figure a way to make most items myself. But it’s a lot of work, so I was truly grateful to enjoy the luxury of being able to eat all of these dishes in a safe environment, without playing 20 questions with a waiter. I may have to find an excuse to visit friends in the other cities where the Gluten Free Cooking Spree will be stopping this year!