Catching Up with Elizabeth Barbone
Graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and founder of popular website glutenfreebaking.com, Elizabeth Barbone is the author of Easy Gluten-Free Baking and How to Cook Gluten-Free. A true master of everything gluten-free, Elizabeth teaches cooking classes and constantly creates new recipes. Here, Lake Isle chats with Elizabeth about the gluten-free industry and her gluten-free life.
It seems like the word “gluten-free” is everywhere nowadays. Why the explosion of gluten intolerance?
Like with all public health issues, I think there are many contributing factors. The main reason for the new awareness is because in the past, celiac’s disease, which is an autoimmune disorder, was considered a very rare disorder. Most physicians thought they would never see it. But after a series of tests and studies, doctors realized it’s actually quite common. About 1/133 people have it. Physicians are looking for it more now, so there are more diagnoses, and more people need gluten-free food.
Other people approach the gluten-free diet for a variety of reasons. For example, there is a book called Wheat-Belly, by William Davis, that advocates the gluten-free diet for general health purposes. A lot of people who are not celiacs might just be gluten-intolerant or feel better when they don’t eat gluten.
Is everything that’s labeled gluten-free always gluten-free?
Something can be labeled as gluten-free in the package, but get cross-contact with contaminating grains, make it no longer gluten-free. This especially happens in restaurants – they’ll fry gluten-free French fries in the same oil as fries with gluten, so by the time it reaches the consumer, it’s no longer gluten-free.
Where do you see the gluten-free industry heading?
The FDA recently signed a contract for a gluten-free label, because now the term isn’t regulated. This will help create more truly-faced products that don’t contain gluten. But I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen – it’s all an unknown frontier.
What was your biggest challenge in going gluten-free?
Travelling. When I’m home, everything is fine, and I cook most of my meals. Things are different when I travel. The first thing I do when I get to a place is go to the grocery store and buy food, so I can eat in my room. Then I try to find restaurants that are safe. Erin Smith actually has a great blog all about gluten-free travel, Gluten Free Globetrotter (http://glutenfreeglobetrotter.com/)
How did your husband react when you got your diagnosis and started cooking gluten-free?
My husband, Greg, was always familiar with my other dietary restrictions, so he was really supportive and happy that I would be feeling better. I know I’m very lucky, because I have heard from other people that family members can make gluten-free diets difficult.
Tell me a little about your cooking classes. Has anything crazy ever happened in them? What’s the best part of teaching?
One time I was co-teaching with a friend and neither of us knew the cook-top very well. I went to turn on the cook-top just as she reached across it, and I almost – but didn’t – set her arm on fire! The best thing is that I’ve had a lot of folks who come in feeling lonely and overwhelmed with their new diet, or at the end of the rope because they’re trying to cook good food for their kids. By the end, they often end up feeling part of a community and encouraged and supported. Those moments make it worth it.
What are your favorite gluten-free main courses and desserts?
That’s tough! For the main coarse, well, it’s wintertime, and there’s nothing quite like macaroni and cheese on a cold night. I love, love, love making cheese sauce, boiling noodles, stirring it all together. I know it’s a cliché comfort food, but you pair it with a bright spinach salad, then curl up by the fire with a quilt, and it’s delightful.
For dessert, I can’t pick one, so I’ll tell you two. Drop chocolate chip cookies with all sorts of variations – browned butter, coconut, white chocolate chips with blueberries. There’s something great about these classic cookies. The second one is a loaf of yeast bread – I still get a lot of pleasure from bread baking, even though gluten-free bread baking is challenging because the structure of gluten helps the bread rise.
What are you up to now?
Thanks, Elizabeth, and we can't wait to see what new recipes you cook up!
Meagan Goldman is a food-lover and aspiring writer. You can follow her at www.meaganbakerwriting.blogspot.com.