Get Ready for Gluten Freedom Week!

Gluten Freedom Week

One of the biggest challenges to living a gluten-free lifestyle is finding a restaurant that you both enjoy and feel you can trust. After being gluten-free for over a decade now, I can honestly say that while I have mastered the kitchen and am lucky to have very understanding and accommodating friends and family, dining out still remains a source of personal anxiety and frustration. (Case in point – just a couple weeks ago, I ordered a gluten-free salad at a well known restaurant and was pleasantly delighted to have gluten-free croutons… until I ate two and realized they were regular croutons.)

That’s why I was so excited when I met a lovely woman recently by the name of Rachael Hunt who is organizing Toronto’s first ever Gluten Freedom Week. The easiest way to describe the event is a gluten-free Summerlicious…  a celebration of local restaurants in the GTA who will be serving delicious gluten-free meals, giving us all a wonderful opportunity to discover new (and safe) places to eat.

Everyday until Gluten Freedom Week starts,  I’ll be profiling participating restaurants on this blog. So check back often for new updates and profiles, and make it a point to go out and support our local gluten-free restaurants!

So what inspired this amazing idea? I recently caught up with Rachael over lunch to talk about some the challenges of a gluten-free lifestyle, how the food industry has responded and what inspired her to start Gluten Freedom Week, and here’s what she had to say:

Q: How long have you been gluten-free? And what you lead to this change?

Rachael Hunt, founder of Gluten Freedom Week

Rachael Hunt, founder of Gluten Freedom Week

A: A little over a year ago I began experiencing a number of health concerns that could not seem to be resolved. After a series of tests and visits with several doctors and specialists, I resorted to a naturopath who confirmed my suspicions of a food-related issue. Once I began following a strict gluten-free diet, I slowly went back to normal and have been feeling great since.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in making the change to a gluten-free life?

A: Definitely the impact it had on my social life and my ability to eat and drink freely. It was a huge adjustment to plan everything so meticulously when organizing meals whether eating in or dining out. A lot of people didn’t understand it at first, so even they haven’t become accustomed to my new lifestyle.

Q: What were your first experiences like when you started dining out again?

I think I was my own worst enemy at the beginning because I was still learning so I didn’t fully know what was safe or not, nor did I ask the proper questions. Needless to say, I’ve “glutened” myself far too many times to count.

Q: How do you think the restaurant industry is doing in general when dealing with food intolerances?

I think within the past year there has been more awareness amongst the restaurant industry about gluten allergies, mainly due to the increase in demand for gluten-free options within these establishments.

Several are jumping on the bandwagon and offering options for those of us who suffer, however there needs to be a greater level of education about how to properly handle and prepare gluten-free foods for individuals with severe intolerance or Celiac Disease. Just because the ingredients in a dish are gluten-free, doesn’t mean the risk of cross-contact isn’t prevalent. While most restaurants cannot avoid this concern all together, they can certainly implement some simple practices to reduce this risk.

(Victoria’s addition: Restaurants can also do much better at articulating their risk level to customers so that customers can ultimately make an informed choice for themselves.)

Q: What inspired you to start GlutenFreedomTO and Gluten Freedom Week?

A: I found I was putting in a lot of time and energy into researching which dining establishments in the city offered gluten-free options that I wanted to share my findings with the public. I figured if I want to know this information, there have got to be others who are seeking it. Through the blog I wanted to connect with the community on a greater level and provide something really amazing. I was a supporter of the Toronto foodie culture and attended many events such as TUM, Winter/Summerlicious, Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, but none of these events catered to the growing gluten-free community.

Through Gluten Freedom Week, I wanted to replicate such events for individuals like me who appreciate them but can no longer participate. I wanted to bring friends and families together over delicious gluten-free food.

Q: What are you most excited about for the event?

I’m most excited to eat all of the delicious food each restaurant is preparing during this week, but also to see how the Toronto restaurant scene grows after realizing how beneficial catering to this community can be. I think this could be the beginning of something really great in terms of fusing gourmet, high-quality foods with the growing number of food allergies, in particular gluten. The industry really needs to adjust to keep up with it all.

Up next tomorrow: A feature profile of Italian restaurant, Little Anthony’s in Toronto’s financial district. For more information on this event and a full list of participating restaurants, visit www.GlutenFreedomWeek.com.

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Hidden Gem: Fuel+ Cafe Offers Delicious, Healthy and Affordable Gluten-Free Foods

Me with Fuel+ owners Gary Taylor and Chester Wong

Me with Fuel+ owners Gary Taylor and Chester Wong

I was recently invited to visit a young cafe called Fuel+ in the bustling neighbourhood of Church and Wellesley. Owned and operated by partners Gary Taylor and Chester Wong, the cafe is cozy, inviting and full of healthy vitality.

When I arrived, I was greeted with an amazing selection of teas, coffees, protein shakes and healthy snacks alongside a warm greeting from Gary and Chester. I’m such a true believer that the best food is made with love, and you can immediately tell how much these two care for and take pride in the food and beverages that they make and serve everyday.

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Now, I haven’t gotten back into my regular routine of shopping for fruits and veggies ever since I finished harvesting my garden a couple weeks ago, and it had been a couple days since I last made myself a breakfast smoothie. So when I learned that Fuel+ specializes in vegan protein shakes made with fresh, local and organic fruits and veggies, topped with Vega protein powder (my personal favourite at home), my choice was made!

Fruity Mixed Berry Shake

Fruity Mixed Berry Shake

I had the Kiwi Kale Detox shake ($5.99), which was delightfully smooth and thick with a very delicate hint of sweetness (Vega protein is sweetened with stevia and brown rice syrup, one of the reasons I love it so much). Other flavours available are Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate, Blueberry Banana Vanilla Chai, Fruity Mixed Berry and a Vegan Pina Colada…. drool! There are enough nutrients packed in these shakes to make them a quick and healthy breakfast on-the-go.

I also had a sip of their very own ginger ale, which is made from scratch at the cafe. If you’re a fan of real ginger beer, this will hit the spot.

Now, many cafes around town that I have visited in the past usually only have sugar and corn laden, highly refined, over-priced gluten-free treats (if any). This is definitely not the case at Fuel+.

Cranberry Fuel Balls

Cranberry Fuel Balls

From a gluten-free brown rice pasta and peanut salad ($5.99), to tiny but filling “fuel balls” (3 for $2.50) and locally sourced gluten-free treats from Sweet Everythings (which you may recognize from the St. Lawrence Market), the food choices are both healthy and affordable.

The cafe’s vision statement sums up this gem of a cafe perfectly: “we believe eating healthy should not cost more and taste just as good.

 

Fuel+
471 Church Street (at Wellesley)

www.fuelplus.ca
Twitter: www.twitter.com/fuelplusinc
Facebook: www.facebook.com/fuelplusinc
Instagram: www.instagram.com/fuelplus

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Top Five Gluten-Free Restaurants in Toronto

This article was originally published in Village Living Magazine

While I am a big proponent of learning how to cook simple and healthy gluten-free meals at home, there are always times where dining out is a welcome indulgence. Over the years, I’ve dined at various places around the city that have either fully gluten-free menus, or gluten-free selections. Here are my top 5 picks in Toronto:

 

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Live Food Bar
Dupont and Spadina
www.livefoodbar.com

Gourmet, gluten-free and sugar-free vegan dishes promise to “invigorate and cleanse your body, mind and soul” at the Live Food Bar. The restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch with a wide menu selection that includes a walnut sweet potato crusted pizza, black bean burrito, and delicious cornmeal quinoa “hushpuppies” fritters. Deliciously fresh organic juices are also created for specific benefits including the Candida Buster and an aptly named Liquid Plumber! The restaurant also offers a full selection of cocktails, wines and even gluten-free ale.

 

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Rawlicious
Various locations including Bloor West and Yorkville
www.rawlicious.ca

With a surprisingly inventive organic raw vegan menu, even meat lovers can find something to tantalize their tastebuds. The restaurant is warm, welcoming and unpretentious with a full selection imaginative creations including a ChocoMinty smoothie, Pasta Bolognese (with zucchini “spaggetti”) and a cashew based cheesecake. While “raw vegan” can often invoke thoughts of “bland” – I assure you that the food here is packed full of both bold and subtle flavour. Even if you’ve never even thought of being vegan or vegetarian, I urge you to try this restaurant at least once!

 

South St. Burger Co.
Various locations including Yonge/Eglington, Bayview Village and Shops at Don Mills
www.southstreetburger.com

With the burger craze in full force in Toronto, there’s no reason you have to miss out! South St. Burger is one of those rare restaurants out there whose food actually tastes like real, homemade food. If you’re tired of that engineered, fatty and salty flavour at most burger joints, South St. is just the place to go. Their meat is prepared with no additives, preservatives, filler or spice packs, and they use fresh, wholesome ingredients which you choose as they grill and assemble your burger right in front of you. When you ask for a gluten-free burger, the staff takes care to change their gloves, use clean paper and a separate toaster for your gluten-free bun. And of course, nothing goes better with a gluten-free burger than their gluten-free New York fries!

 ilfornello

Il Fornello
Various locations including the Beach, Danforth, Bayview Village and the Entertainment District
www.ilfornello.com

When I first started a gluten-free diet, I basically didn’t set foot in an Italian restaurant for about 5 years! Thankfully some chains, including Il Fornello, have since filled this void and offer various alternative menu choices including gluten-free pastas and gluten-free pizzas. Il Fornello is a great restaurant to visit for a night out with your non-Celiac friends with chains in almost every corner of the city.

 

West Hill Wine Bar

West Hill Wine Bar
Kingston and Lawrence
www.westhillwinebar.com

Coming from Scarborough, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my new discoveries, a fine dining restaurant called the West Hill Wine Bar. Owned and operated by past Top Chef Canada contestant, Christopher Kanka, the restaurant is still not widely known, but the food is truly wonderful. Chef Kanka serves fresh, local and sustainable foods, which means that from month to month, his menu is continuously changing to take advantage of the foods that are in season (which is really a wonderful to be eating!) Some of the delectable dishes include Ontario farm raised venison carpaccio, a honey and lavender glazed lamb, seared scallops with a puree trio of white apple, butternut squash and watercress. If you can call a day ahead, the chef will even make you a fresh gluten-free pizza crust – the only place I know of that will do this!

 

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