The Gluten Free Cooking Spree comes to Atlanta!

Once I felt comfortable with my new diet and gluten free life, I wanted to do something to help others who were going through what I did, upon getting that dreaded Celiac diagnosis. I researched several national groups, that are all doing great things for the Celiac community, but I chose to align myself with The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. They are a non-profit organization, founded and run by Alice Bast, whose heartbreaking Celiac story really touched me. Alice decided no one should ever go through what she endured, and vowed to make a difference. And oh what a difference she's made! You see, Alice is a 'think outside the box' kind of person. She came up with the brilliant idea of having an 'Iron Chef' type competition - only with gluten free food. She even thought to get doctors involved in the cooking!

Here's the basic concept - you team a local chef, a medical doctor and media representative up on cooking teams, and give them only gluten free ingredients, which they use to create fabulous gourmet dishes. Then you let a panel of judges (a medical doctor, media representative and a child with Celiac) choose the winning dish. The doctor of the team that wins, gets funding for a Celiac awareness campaign, for the hospital they are affiliated with. It's the perfect storm of Celiac awareness - we need doctors to stop resisting testing for, and diagnosing Celiac (they hate to prescribe restrictive diets). We need Chefs to learn how to cook gluten free food not only safely, but creatively as well. Last but not least, we need the media to publicize this effort so word gets out to everyone possible.

Last night, the Atlanta Gluten Free Cooking Spree was held at CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. The venue was perfect since the CNN meeting space allowed people to wander by the event, and wonder 'what in the world is a Gluten Free Cooking Spree?'...lol! You can find a write up of all the dishes made at http://www.celiaccentral.org/ later this week. I'll just say that though everything I tasted was fabulous, I was shocked that the Maine Lobster Chili didn't win the contest. It's one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth - gluten free or not! Chef Robert Gerstenecker from Park 75, at The Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, created that entry, and I could have eaten it until I made myself sick - seriously. Chef Robert you were robbed!

Event attendees not only got to taste all the dishes the competing teams made, but also many other gluten free foods, from vendors all over the country. Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse goods were well represented - including a pecan pie that I hate to admit rivals my own homemade version. There was a vendor I'd never heard of from CA - Azna Gluten Free - who had everyone raving over her cinnamon muffins and various scones. Bountiful Harvest Bakery (http://www.bountifulharvest.net/) from Chattanooga, brought scrumptious cakes made with almond flour, which were also sugar free. My absolute favorite pasta joint, Saba (http://www.saba-restaurant.com/), served up two yummy pasta dishes - one was dairy free as well. Chow Baby (http://www.therealchowbaby.com/) handed out tiny Chinese take out boxes with a spicy noodle dish - complete with chopsticks! The Brazilian Cheesebread Company (www.braziliancheesebreadco.com) was there with their addictive cheese rolls in several flavors. And last but not least, there was a local restaurant I've never patronized called Ritters (http://www.rittersrestaurant.com/), serving a vegetarian pasta dish and chocolate cake. The latter was the best chocolate cake I've ever tasted in my life. It's not just the best gluten free chocolate cake - no - it's the best chocolate cake ever - period.

Outside of a support group meeting, the event last night was the first major social event or party I've attended, since my Celiac diagnosis in early 2006, where I could eat all the food offered. No playing 20 questions with the server - just walking up and asking for a sample of whatever looked tempting and eating it. You know - like most people do every day, everywhere they go. It was a little slice of gluten free heaven, to say the least. So for me, Christmas came early this year indeed. I literally felt the same excitement, in seeing all the delicious food that I could actually eat, that I felt when I was a young child creeping into the living room on Christmas morning, to see what Santa had brought the night before. Oh and meeting Dr. Sanjay Gupta and chatting with Heidi Collins (both of CNN) was just icing on the (gluten free) cake. The entire evening was a magical and exuberant experience - one that I will never ever forget!

Thanks to both Alice Bast, and CNN's Heidi Collins (the NFCA's National Spokesperson) for being a part of this fantastic night. Also, special thanks go out to two NFCA staffers - Vanessa Maltin, whose enthusiasm for for helping others is contagious, and Stephanie Kleinman, whose dedication and hard work behind the scenes helped make this magical night come to fruition. Ladies - you all did a terrific job and you deserve a gigantic pat on the back. Atlanta's gluten free community is most appreciative of your efforts, and we thank you for including our fair city in your fabulous event!

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