On February 2nd, DH and I drove through a wintery, rainy San Francisco night to get to the Gluten-Free Cooking Spree held at the West Bay Conference Center. When I f irst heard of this gloriously Gluten-Free event, I was immediately hooked. It sounded like a new take on an American Iron Chef, with a dinner theme, a bar stocked with GF beer and hard cider, live music, and a whole party of other gluten-free folks to enjoy it with. What’s not to love? From my experience, few people can enjoy good food like gluten-free folks, and a whole party full of catered food we didn’t have to make sounded amazing. Not only that, but proceeds were to support Celiac research. A good cause AND good gluten-free food, what more could I ask for?
We arrived at the convention center and found ourselves in the lobby with the coat check and reception desks. Those with a VIP pass were allowed first dibs on the main conference room and its goodies, as well as champagne. Unfortunately DH and I hadn’t splurged on a VIP ticket, so we got our goodie bag (Containing Bob’s Red Mill GF Oats and an individual serving of Bob’s Red Mill GF cereal… there might have been another small item but I can’t quite remember), and cooled our heels in the lobby.
Delicious smells were wafting out into the hall when finally they let us in to the main room full of yummy food. The first thing we saw was a buffet table piled high with cookies and a gorgeous, decadent chocolate fountain. Marshmallows and fresh fruit were piled all around the chocolate fountain. Those chocolate fountains are usually off limits due to the prevalence of wheat-based dippers, but this time all the offerings were completely free of all gluten, so it was fair game.
The theme for the night was “pasta.” Chef teams composed of nutritionists, chefs, and doctors concocted a variety of dishes based around this theme.
Competitive dishes included:
UnGlu’d Mac’N'Cheese *there was some unfortunate confusion over this dish. Apparently one version was vegetarian and the other contained bacon. Confusingly, both times it was listed in the ingredient lists the recipe included bacon. C’mon guys, do you NEED the brown crackly stuff? If I were to make a dairy-decadent mac and cheese for an event like this, I’d personally go a bit more gourmet with it and choose a white rice pasta or at least use Tinkyada brown rice pasta and pair it with smoked cheese or more exciting cheeses than just cheddar and parmesan. To me it was a bit on the bland side.
Risotto Salsicia, a meaty dish that didn’t stand out for DH.
Chicken Schnitzel Schloss Solitude DH’s hands down favorite, a dish reminiscent of our Austrian experience
Poached Salmon with Pappardelle & Meyer Lemon CrÃ¨me Fraiche garnished with brussel sprout leaves (photo on right). The pasta was overcooked, but the brussel sprouts were tasty.
and Prosciutto Wrapped Salmon with Herbed Polenta, Kasha, Dried Fig & Balsamic.
In case you were wondering, the two salmon dishes won the competition- and the mac and cheese won with the kid voters. Hmmm…
Unfortunately, while I love the idea of the competition, some of the competition dishes were only fair, especially those using the pasta. It is very difficult not to overcook pasta, and non-gluten free chefs may not realize the importance of rinsing the pasta in cool water to remove excess starch, not only stopping the cooking process but also removing excess gluey starches. Luckily there was no shortage of dishes, such as Bell and Evans gluten-free non-veg nuggets, Organic Bistro frozen meals (non-veg and not my personal favorites), and some rather plain fried rice (non-veg). Things were looking pretty bleak for the vegetarians in the audience, but luckily the Brazilian Cheese Bread Company was there to save the day.
I first encountered the Brazilian Cheese Company at the Gluten-free mecca, Harvest House in Concord, California, where they sold frozen rolls for about $12.00. It was a steep price, but I tried one pack of their garlic cheese rolls. They were tasty, but ultimately, I couldn’t justify the expense so I haven’t made them part of my regular diet. However, the rolls at the gluten-free cooking spree and the cheesy, cheesy pizza they served were out of this world and I enjoyed every bite. My favorite was the sun-dried tomato cheese bread “pÃ£o de queijo,” closely followed by that yummy pizza. Apparently they will soon be offering the pizza crust in retail stores near you, so look for it! (And prepare yourself for the probable sticker shock, sigh).
Whole Foods also generously provided a full array of pies (alas, after I was too full to eat any more!), tons of gorgeous and yummy cookies and bread. I do love their Gluten-free baked products. There was tons of different bread slices but no sundried tomato bread. *sniff* Too bad. They had…
Honey Oat Bread (Nope, I didn’t try it, but I’m REALLY curious)
Chocolate Chip Cookies (yum! too bad I was so full!)
Peanut Butter Cookies (double yum! too bad about the being full thing, really got in the way!)
Apple, Cherry, and Pecan Pie
Azna offered gluten-free AND vegan treats for those who are lactose intolerant- a breath of fresh air for those who couldn’t eat many of the very dairy-centric dishes offered at the cooking spree. Personally I’m not sure pinto bean flour is my favorite flour base, but they offered:
Double Chocolate Brownies that looked pretty good- if only I had been hungry at that point
Cinnamon Rolls (interesting idea but they were a bit on the flat, heavy side)
Charlotte’s Bakery had some pretty tasty bread, too. It tasted like home made rice bread, freshly baked and with no need for toasting, at least fresh out of the package. I’m not sure how it would hold up over time, but right then it tasted pretty good. They offer:
Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Cranberry Orange Bread
Thai Kitchen, Mr. Krispers, and SoyJoy all had tables with free samples. The Thai Kitchen noodles available weren’t my favorite (I like Onion or Garlic), so I didn’t take any. Mr. Krispers baked rice crisps were ok, but not really the kind of thing I go for either. And Soyjoy- well, I took some, but when I tried them later I regretted it. Basically think 1960s health food- bad texture, bad flavor, and totally uninspiring. If I was starving on an island somewhere, maybe I’d eat one- but otherwise, it’s the kind of GF snack you open, sniff, take a bite of, and then leave in the package to get all dusty. Sometimes you have to wonder if food companies actually TASTE their product before selling it. I didn’t take a picture, but Mariposa also brought boxes of their gluten-free brownies that were promptly snapped up by everyone in the know. Man, those things are good! I saw a few old ladies stuffing them in their purses- and who can blame them! (not like any of us were remotely hungry at that point- the sheer volume of food, especially desserts, offered was ridiculous!)
Pamela’s was also there with a huge spread of cookies and cupcakes guaranteed to send you into a sugar coma with the first bite, as well as some tasty samples of espresso-chocolate chip cookies. They aren’t quite on par with Whole Foods GF bakehouse, but you also don’t have to call them “whole paycheck cookies” either, so I guess it must balance out. Bob’s Red Mill was there, too, but didn’t have samples for tasting, to memory. All together there was a great variety of gluten-free goodies to try and enjoy. I think the highlights, for me, was getting the chance to meet people from the Celiac Bay Area Yahoo group, and of course, being able to EAT (and DRINK) every single thing there. Nothing like kicking back a Gluten-free Redbridge Beer or Hard Cider with some tasty gluten-free hot food with some gluten-free people and friends, listening to some crazy music and watching a gluten-free iron chef drama unfold… So, if the Gluten-free Cooking Spree’s coming to your town, why not pick up a ticket and see what new gluten-free goods you can try?
Note: Although I really enjoyed the event, some with multiple food intolerances had somewhat limited options, as many dishes contained dairy or some other allergen. One Celiac naturopathic doctor in line with me commented on it- “Don’t they know how many Celiacs have problems with dairy?”* While there was a little more available that was dairy free that was not immediately apparent, there were quite a few main dishes that contained dairy. Also, a bummer for the vegetarians, almost everything savory except for the vegetable plate, tapioca pizza (and dairy-free cheese quesadillas) contained non-veg ingredients. However, unless you have severe multiple allergies, it is quite unlikely that you would go hungry at this event- I’ve never seen such VOLUME of GF foods in my life. I also was a little surprised to be approached by a freelancer advertising their holistic doctor’s services- the Celiac equivalent of being propositioned by a rose vendor in Italy, I suppose. But, these peculiarities aside, I was really glad I went, and I’d love to go again next year!
*I actually thought this was a bit of a snarky comment, but ironically, it was said in front of the Organic Bistro stand, which he ignored. Must have been the microwave. haha.
**According to Vanessa Maltin, the organizer of the event, the following dishes were dairy free:
The Fried Rice (unclear about the butter issue)
Pasta with Ground Turkey Marinara Sauce
and the Frozen meals: Wild Salmon, Ginger Chicken, Chicken Citron (offered by Organic Bistro)
the entire cheese plate
and many desserts (many, many desserts- if you like GF desserts, let me tell you this Is your event!)
Celiac Central Review
Gluten Free Guide’s to the NYC GF Cooking Spree
Glad to Be Gluten Free’s Atlanta GF Cooking Spree
Did you attend the GF Cooking Spree This Year? Tell us about it in the comments! What did you think of the meal and GF food samples??
Didn’t make the SF Event? No worries! Attend one of the other Gluten Free Cooking Sprees taking place all over the US in 2008!