Cooking at home makes being gluten free so much easier. Dining at restaurants is stressful, uncomfortable, not to mention, kind of dangerous! Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat, but I have to admit that it is oftentimes a somewhat draining experience. Having the option of dining in provides a nice sense of security. There is only one problem….you don’t know how to cook.
Being diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance requires that you change many, many aspects of your life. I know for me, learning how to cook was a necessity. My culinary knowledge was limited to spaghetti and Mac N’ Cheese before I was diagnosed with Celiacs. Without those two dishes, my culinary chops were null.
Knowing how to cook has many benefits for someone who cannot eat gluten. For one thing, you can host dinner parties (instead of trying to find a safe restaurant to go out with your friends or family). Stressed about attending someone else’s dinner party? Afraid there won’t be anything you can eat? Well, fear not, because if you know how to cook, you can bring a side dish to share at the party. In addition to these social benefits, knwoing how to prepare GF dishes at home will help you minimize the costs of the gluten free diet. Let’s be honest, substitution foods, both at grocery stores and offered at restaurants, are really expensive. A package of my favorite gluten free spaghetti costs around $6 while a typical pack of gluten spaghetti (I won’t call it “normal spaghetti”) costs only ~$1.20. Developing skills in the kitchen will expand your food options, allowing you to use less expensive, naturally gluten free foods! For example, learning how to cook with quinoa or make delicious rice dishes are ways to cut down on costs.
So, I think every Celiac should have the skills to cook GF at home…now the question is, where do we get those skills?
You can find a few gluten free specialty cooking classes in big cities but they are few and far between. Most gluten free cooking classes that I have heard about only teach you how to make substitution foods (GF bread, cookies, cakes etc.) but never cover the basics of cooking. How does a Celiac learn the ABC’s of cooking? Are there any cooking classes out there that are naturally gluten free? Honestly, probably not. Chefs love flour. The French, the Italians, the English…everyone loves flour! The use of flour is prominent in all types of cooking, not simply baking. Dredging meats in flour before pan-searing is very common. Developing a roux for a sauce or soup, creating a batter or breading for a dish is also a popular culinary trick.
Here is what I did: I found a local cooking series in Berkeley at a place called Kitchen On Fire. The class is a 12 week course that covers the fundamentals of cooking. Although the class was not gluten free there were some steps that I took that helped make the class enjoyable, educational and safe. For one thing, I did not attend the baking classes. Being in a room full of dry flour is very dangerous for a Celiac. Check out this post about air-borne flour. Other than the two baking classes, I was able to attend and participate in every other class. The class was comprised of a short lecture followed by cooking. We were set up at cooking stations that fit 4 people. I took the class with a friend which made insisting on a gluten free cooking station much easier. We would tell the other people at our stations that we did not eat gluten and that we could not share ingredients, knives, or cooking supplies with them and also let them know we couldn’t taste their creations. The people at our table knew not to dip tasting spoons into our dishes. Everything went fairly smoothly. On days where we worked with batters, dredging or frying, I used GF flour and worked at a table away from my classmates.
The class was a great learning experience. I was grateful for the opportunity to learn to cook and found the class mostly enjoyable. Of course, it was stressful at times. I had to exercise constant vigilance, keeping a close eye on what I was cooking while simultaneously keeping an eye on what everyone else was doing. Did someone throw bread onto the shared grilled? Did anyone use the shared fryer yet with breaded foods? Taking a class not meant to be gluten free was exhausting yet rewarding.
Here are some GF cooking classes that I have heard about, but have not taken:
Spork Foods: teaches mostly vegan cooking but specifies when a class will be gluten free
Sur La Table: offers GF cooking classes from time to time so keep an eye out for a class at your local Sur La Table.
Hipp Kitchen: Bay Area company that offers GF cooking classes in addition to nutrition advice and consultations.
Check in with local GF bakeries, GF restaurants or GF support groups to find out more information about available cooking classes in your area.