These are words I never thought I would type. I’ve never considered a life without gluten. I’m Italian and grew up on pasta and bread. I have a sweet tooth for cakes and pies. Even my drinks of choice are malt beverages. Gluten was a part of me as my brown hair and love for glitter.
Then came those words from my doctor: “You tested positive for celiac disease.” My world came to a grinding halt. Part of me was relieved. I knew that my myriad of health problems (stomach issues, fatigue, headaches, asthma and seemingly more issues being added weekly) would subside. But what about my life? Food is a part of me. Not only is it part of my culture (I’m Italian – we do nothing without food being involved), but here I am with a cooking show and blog. How can I continue to create the dishes I’m making when I can’t even taste them? Who would buy a cookbook from a guy who doesn’t taste his own food? All the work I had been doing – the show, the blog, writing the cookbook. It all had to stop. I love what I do and momentum was building. Why did this have to happen?
When I took my first trip to the grocery store as someone with celiac disease, I felt like a stranger in my own grocery store. It was a very emotional experience for me, looking at all the foods I would never eat again. All the delicious treats I loved were waiting to go in someone else’s cart. Seeing things in the store would trigger a memory of a cookie my aunt makes that I’ll never have again or a sandwich in a restaurant I can’t eat anymore or a legendary dip that a friend makes that I’ll have to pass on at his next Oscar party. It was depressing and scary. I felt as if I was given a culinary death sentence.
I then made my way to the gluten free section of my store. Granted, I should be thankful that there even IS a gluten free section. Several years ago, that wasn’t the case. But I looked at what they had to offer. I noticed all the gluten free versions of all my favorite goodies – the cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. I put some in my cart because, going gluten free, I could ONLY have gluten free cookies from here on out. However, I did something I never did before. I put it in without looking at the nutritional info. This is my only choice, I thought. This is the only chocolate chip cookie I can have. It didn’t matter how much fat, how many calories, how much sugar it had – it was either eat this cookie or be sick.
That’s when it hit me. The show can go gluten free! Not to sound cocky, but if someone like me who cooks a lot and knows a lot about substitutions can feel like they are depressingly limited in what they can eat, imagine someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen must feel. I can help people live happy, healthy gluten free lives without having to sacrifice any of the foods they love so much!
So I started cooking and baking gluten free and let me tell you, it is HARD. Instead of using one flour in a cake, you use several. And each dessert requires a different mix of flours. I think I have eight different flours in my pantry now. I can’t just make one substitution in my old recipes and voila – it’s gluten free! Different flours serve different purposes and need more moisture than others. It’s a learning process – one I’m happy to be taking and even more happy that you all are taking with me. When I want to throw in the towel, I think of you and it keeps me going to find that perfect blend of flours to make the most delicious dessert you’ll ever taste.
“But, Anthony – I’m not going gluten free. I can’t watch your show or read your blog anymore!” Not true! First up, I’m leaving all my old recipes and videos up. I never erase the past because it makes you who you are today. Also, I will still be showing you great substitution methods that you can carry over into your own cooking. Besides, at the rate people are going gluten free (1 in 133 now have celiac disease), you will probably be entertaining someone with celiac soon and now you have the tools to make a wonderful spread everyone can enjoy!
Thank you all for your support over the past few years. You will never know just how much it means to me.