Living the gluten-free good life in D.C.

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Cooking Spree Lends Itself to Glorious Indulgence

May 3rd, 2009 by Brandi

Friday night, Brooke, our husbands and I made our way to the Bethesda Hyatt for the third annual National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ Gluten Free Cooking Spree. The premise: beer, food and information about living a gluten free life.

Area chefs paired up with local media representatives and medical professionals to serve up gluten free recipes. Washington Post, CNN, Washington Times and Everyday with Rachael Ray joined the DC Gluties as media professionals and restaurants facing off for the Iron Chef challenge were Wildfire, Zengo, Pete’s Apizza, Peacock Grand, Jaleo, Lilit Cafe and Legal Sea Foods.  Food vendors shared samples and experts in celiac disease presented the latest in research and treatment options.

I joined chef Steven Lukis of Wildfire Restaurant (Tyson’s Galleria) and the Shady Grove Fertility Center to prepare scallops wrapped in bacon drizzled with an apricot dipping sauce. While dutifully searing scallops and sprinkling sesame seeds, I learned a bit about this restaurant, which was new to me. Wildfire has a dedicated gluten free menu, and a dedicated allergy training program for all staff. The restaurant chain, with locations in D.C., Chicago, Atlanta and Minnesota, trains chefs and wait staff to understand the intricacies of gluten intolerance and other food allergies, providing kitchen staff with “cheat sheets” and ingredient safe lists to prevent confusion.  The Tyson’s location seems flexible, too. Chef Steven shared a story about whipping up a quick gluten free Bearnaise sauce not on the gluten free menu during a busy weekend lunch and claims its standard practice if the ingredients are available. His message – if you want to try something gluten free, just ask. Me, I’m psyched to try their burgers dressed with Kinnikinnick gluten free buns. A burger and beer is one treat that I haven’t had in a restaurant for ages.

While the night was full of great treats from pizza and seafood, to Bard’s beer, cupcakes and cookies, a few local food joints really stood out:

Starbucks – Okay, not quite local, but they had a presence at the Spree promoting the chain’s newest bakery product. The sticky sweet Valencia Orange Cake is gluten free and not yet in stores. The gluties (and other Spree guests) got to try it first and I’ll tell you the diet is going to take a hit when these tasty treats are available with my morning coffee.

Lilit Cafe - This Bethesda-based gourmet food and wine cafe served up its signature crab cake. It was more crab than cake, which I prefer, and 100 percent gluten free. Crab cakes are a mid-Atlantic specialty that us gluties often have to forgo, but a quick stop into Lilit can fix that no problem. The restaurant also serves GF breakfast sandwiches, French toast, pizzas and desserts.

Cherry Blossom Cakes – The cupcakes Cherry Blossom brought to the Spree were so good, Brooke and I both smuggled six packs home with us. The cake could easily pass for the real thing and founder Molly Evans has flavors ranging from peanut butter chocolate to carrot cake and mixed berry. She started the gig for her son, so that his celiac diagnosis wouldn’t keep him from enjoying life’s simple pleasures …  All of the flavors are moist, not overly sweet and generally sinful. Cherry Blossom does wedding and birthday cakes to order, too. Wish I’d known last May.

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