Photos courtesy of Phoebe Lapine
FOR PHOEBE LAPINE, COOKING WITHOUT GLUTEN is an opportunity to get creative. The cookbook author/private chef/blogger/caterer knows her way around a kitchen–even if it’s the one in her studio apartment in Chelsea. But she certainly makes do–just ask any one of her fans that include the folks over at Saveur magazine or Food & Wine mag, which recently raved over her “healthy takes on comfort food”. Here, we caught up with Ms. Lapine who dished on how to order gluten-free when dining out in the city and what she bakes for friends on their birthdays.
When and how did you become aware that you were gluten-intolerant?
I had a perpetual stomachache for three years, which, as a food writer, was kind of an occupational hazard. At the same time, I was terrified of finding out I was allergic to something and having to revamp my whole culinary outlook. But that’s how that glutinous cookie crumbled. The gluten is a really small price to pay for being healthy, and now that I see the results, I realize how much damage I was causing by not listening to what my body was trying to tell me.
What should every gluten-free home cook have in their kitchen?
Even we chefs don’t feel like cooking every weeknight, so I find the “quick fixes” like spaghetti! Keep a couple boxes of brown rice spaghetti in the pantry with canned tomatoes and you can always have a quick dinner waiting for you without having to stress about which 10 different types of flour to put in a pizza dough.
What advice do you have for gluten-intolerants when eating out?
Have no shame! There are many hidden dangers out there–soy sauce, beer in marinades–and the wait staff would rather field all of your annoying questions than have you get ill. Also, you might be surprised by what the kitchen will have on hand. Most of the nicer Italian restaurants these days have a gluten-free pasta option. Don’t just order the chicken paillard because you think you have to.
Favorite restaurants in NYC that make ordering gluten-free a cinch?
I love Friedman’s Lunch in Chelsea Market. The chef’s son is a celiac so he revamped the whole menu to include gluten-free options. You can even ask for the fried green tomatoes to be gluten-free. I’m a sucker for comfort food, so I’ll get a grilled cheese sandwich withcaramelized onions and bacon. Sorry, but it’s so freaking good. That, and a cup of tomato soup.
What’s your favorite quickie gluten-free meal to cook ?
I love dredging thin fish fillets in millet flour and pan-frying them in coconut oil. You can serve them over quinoa or whatever simple veggie you have on hand. Here’s an example. This time of year I also love simple one-pot meals like this chickpea and spinach stew.
What improvements in your health have you noticed since going gluten-free?
Well I don’t have stomachaches every day. But the main reason I am gluten-free is because I have an autoimmune thyroid disease. The two are very closely related and you’ll find a lot of people who are forced to eat gluten free if they are hypothyroid. Because of both of these issues going untreated for so long, I damaged my digestive system to the point where I wasn’t processing any foods properly. My blood tests showed that I was deficient in every vitamin. It was the ultimate irony to be a chef and be clinically malnourished. But gluten was one piece of the puzzle that really helped. I’m still tinkering with my diet to get my thyroid and digestive system back to normal. This summer I had to cut out corn and soy too. It’s all very annoying and expensive. But as my doctor tells me, nothing is more annoying or expensive than being chronically sick.
You’re hosting a dinner and the birthday girl has Celiac’s. What do you bake her?
This chocolate torte! I’ve never been much of a baker and I’ve been so lazy about taking on the challenge to develop new gluten-free desserts so I usually just make this cake. It’s so easy and delicious. No one would know it was gluten-free.