This May, expect Toronto restaurants to offer more gluten-free options’for a week at least. From May 25-31, GlutenFreedom Week will run in Toronto with participating restaurants offering a three-course gluten-free meal for a fixed price. We spoke to Rachael Hunt, the 26-year-old founder of GlutenFreedom Week and blogger at GlutenFreedom Toronto, to find out more about the event.
Why did you launch GlutenFreedom Week? What does it involve?
Toronto’s GlutenFreedom Week is a week-long event that will take place at Toronto’s finest dining establishments from May 25-31, 2014. The participating restaurants will offer patrons a delicious selection of 3-course gluten-free fare for a fixed price. I created this event in response to the increased demand for gluten-free alternatives within the hospitality industry, as well as the popularity of many trendy foodie events around the city that currently lack safe, yet exciting gluten-free alternatives. The goal is to enable those living with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to dine safely and confidently in the city’s ‘hot spots,’ while learning about the wide range of Toronto restaurants that can adhere to the specific diet.
How did you discover you had a gluten intolerance? What was that like?
At the beginning of 2013 I began experiencing a number of health problems, ranging from anxiety, nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, brain fogginess- to name a few. After a number of routine medical tests drew up nothing of major concern, I was convinced I was going crazy. Over the next couple months I began researching the various possibilities of what was causing these symptoms. I came across an article about gluten allergies and the detrimental affects it can have on one’s nervous system, not just the digestive system. I decided to test this theory by eliminating gluten from my diet, not realizing how many things contain gluten! What a challenging experience it was, my body craved gluten more than ever. Despite the difficulty of my experiment, I began feeling better and I have now been 100 percent gluten-free for over a year.
What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to being gluten intolerant and dining out?
The biggest challenge is knowing what goes on behind the kitchen doors. Several restaurants now offer gluten-free items and some even have separate menus, however what really matters is how those in the kitchen prepare these gluten-free items to avoid cross-contact. Someone with a serious gluten allergy or Celiac Disease will be affected by the smallest trace of gluten on their "gluten-free" dish. Through GlutenFreedom Week, I am trying to shine light on this crucial element of dining out gluten-free so restaurants can take extra precautions and diners can feel confident.
What can we look forward to during the inaugural GlutenFreedom Week? Will it be an annual event and are there plans to expand to other cities?
I think what I am most excited about is the diversity of the participating restaurants. There is such an eclectic mix of cuisines to choose from that guests can eat out multiple times throughout the week and not get bored. It’s also great to see the several types of food can be modified as gluten-free, such as Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Japanese. I believe this will become an annual event because gluten-free living is not just a trend, but a very serious reality for many (and the numbers are growing). My long-term goal is to expand the event nation-wide to other major cities, but I will focus on Toronto for now!