Last month, a small group of community members was informed and educated on the benefits of a gluten-free diet. The workshop was held at Whole Foods Market and taught by Elizabeth Kaplan, founder and CEO of The Pure Pantry and author of gluten-free cookbook Fresh from Elizabeth’s Kitchen.
Kaplan began following a gluten-free lifestyle after being diagnosed with celiac disease seven years ago, leaving her intolerant of gluten products. In addition, her three children are all unable to eat foods containing gluten, and a result, Kaplan, who already possessed a culinary background, began exploring gluten-free recipes. “I began the journey out of necessity,” explained Kaplan.
According to Kaplan, finding foods that are gluten-free presents a challenge. Gluten, a protein composite that helps hold foods together (almost like glue), is found in an abundance of foods nowadays. According to Kaplan, another issue is that of “hidden gluten”—some foods contain such small amounts of gluten that FDA regulations do not require their mention on labels. “It’s really tricky. You must be really good at reading labels,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan served two gluten-free dishes during her last workshop in town: cornbread muffins and white bean oregano chili, both relatively inexpensive dishes to prepare, with vegetarian options available. Kaplan also attempts to make her recipes allergy-free, steering clear of dairy, eggs, and soy. Kaplan uses products such as coconut oil and agave to replace sugar in many of her recipes.
Prior to founding The Pure Pantry with her mother, Kaplan worked in institutional advancement for 15 years. However, she had previously dabbled in the culinary world. After graduating with a BA in English from UCSB, Kaplan went on to study at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Later, she continued her culinary education, delving into the realm of gluten-free cooking at The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City in 2009.
Today, Kaplan continues to teach baking and cooking classes at Sur La Table in San Diego and Los Angeles, as well as in her own commercial kitchen. The classes teach the basic premise of going gluten-free, including how to stock your pantry properly. Kaplan and her mother also work together for The Pure Pantry.
While Kaplan provides the culinary expertise, her mother is the business brain in the partnership, and the two form the perfect balance working in unison. The Pure Pantry products are currently sold in 480 stores nationwide and in Canada. “It’s grown like wildfire,” said Kaplan, whose first buyer, Whole Foods, began carrying the line a mere two years ago.
The line, according to Kaplan, is meant to incorporate great tasting foods into a gluten-free lifestyle. “A lot of gluten-free stuff tastes terrible. You buy a mix and you just want to throw it out,” said Kaplan. “We get a lot of good feedback. We get emails from people [thanking us], saying they haven’t had a good chocolate chip cookie in years.” Kaplan describes the products as both healthy and delicious.
According to Kaplan, there are plenty of reasons that explain the current booming trend of gluten-free living. Among the benefits of what Kaplan describes as the “anti-inflammatory diet” are weight loss and anti-aging effects, as well as help with migraine, gastrointestinal, and arthritis relief. Kaplan characterizes her mother as living proof of the positive effects of a gluten-free diet. “She’s been gluten-free for about five years, and she looks beautiful,” said Kaplan, discussing the anti-aging outcome of such a diet.
Kaplan began working on her cookbook last March, completing it in November. Many of the recipes are actually old family recipes that Kaplan converted into gluten-free dishes. Among her favorite dishes is the Sticky Toffee Pudding, which has personal significance to the chef. She based the recipe off of an original recipe that her parents acquired while honeymooning in England, creating a gluten-free version of the family favorite for her book.
According to Kaplan, in this day and age, many children are unable to eat gluten. For example, many children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder cannot eat gluten. “Moms get overwhelmed and don’t know what to do or what to make, especially when it’s not the whole family that’s gluten free,” said Kaplan. She attributes this problem as one of her biggest inspirations for writing her cookbook. In addition, Kaplan wishes to inspire people to live healthy lifestyles while remembering that following a gluten-free diet does not have to restrain the breadth of available food. “Gluten-free doesn’t limit you in any way,” said Kaplan. Her diverse recipes, with a variety of ethnic foods, are proof.
Kaplan will hold another gluten-free workshop at Whole Foods on Saturday, April 9, from 1-2:30 p.m.