Interview with Elizabeth Barbone (And Gluten-Free Goodies)
What inspired you to start cooking and baking?
Thanks to my mother, who was an avid baker, baking always interested me. But when I took a cake decorating class--while I was a senior in high school!--my love really kicked into high gear. Everyone else in the class was 45 years old, and they looked at me like I’d walked into the wrong classroom.
Why did you choose to go to culinary school?
I wanted to go to culinary school so I could learn to bake despite all my allergies (soy, sesame, some raw vegetables). I saw that other people were doing really interesting things with baking, and I was inspired to innovate and do interesting things as well!
So when did the focus on gluten-free come in?
I became interested in gluten-free while I was at the Culinary Institute of America, though at that point I had not yet realized I had a gluten intolerance. I read Against the Grain by Jax Peters Lowell. I had lived on a restricted diet my entire life, so in high school cafeterias I was always the odd person out. I was reading about her experiences with living gluten free and thought “Wow, someone is telling my story!” She wrote about gluten free living in such a loving way, it inspired me.
How did you decide to take the teaching/cookbook-writing path as opposed to working in a restaurant?
I’ve always loved teaching, it’s my favorite thing to bring folks to that “a-ha!” moment. So it made sense to me to combine my love of gluten-free cooking with my love of teaching. The gluten-free fad tells everyone they should be happier gluten-free, but that’s not always easy to do. Familiarity is a big thing people crave when they go gluten-free. People come up to me and say “I really miss…” all the time. That’s why I have a “Tastes Like” section in my book, so people can have gluten-free versions of their favorite nostalgia food.
A lot of our favorite comfort meals have gluten. What’s one of the best reactions you’ve had after showing someone how to make one of their favorite foods gluten-free?
My first gluten-free class was in this tiny space. There was a skeptical woman who had called beforehand saying she didn’t think the class had anything to teach her. We made banana bread muffins, and when we broke into them she started crying, she was so happy. I’ve had that reaction to folks many times. At first they’re reserved, and by the end of the class they’re telling you about their grandkids. I love that about teaching and food.
You don’t use all-purpose gluten-free replacement flours in your book. Why not?
In a bakeshop there are a variety of flours, and I used the same approach with gluten-free baking. When you use a specific blend of flours for a recipe, the results are amazing! With a general "all-purpose" blend, at least in my experience, the results vary greatly from recipe to recipe. The all-purpose substitutes can also be very expensive. I use several different flours, but I make sure that they’re all kinds you can get in the middle of nowhere, because I live in the middle of nowhere!
What are you up to now?
I'm a regular guest on our local NBC affiliate, WNYT. I love working with their team and sharing quick recipes that are allergen-friendly and gluten-free with viewers. And I’m working a lot on my blog, http://www.glutenfreebaking.com/, and dreaming about starting a third book!
by Catherine Lamb, intern, student, food-obsessor. Check out her blog at http://lamericainegourmande.wordpress.com/