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Look, I’m a glutton for gluten

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Hello, my name is Gersh Kuntzman and I’m a gluten addict.

Breads, pastas, cookies — no matter what, I have to have that crunchy, chewy goodness that only sticky, gooey wheat gluten can provide.

But sure, like any reasonably sensitive Park Sloper, I am vaguely aware that some people are allergic to the very protein that gave me such pleasure. And in some equally vague way, I am sympathetic to the plight of these celiac disease sufferers — though not so sympathetic that their affliction retarded in any way my wanton consumption of anything with so much as a speck of gluten (though speck, I was sad to discover, does not contain any gluten).

And then a Gowanus-based, gluten-free food company called Everybody Eats sent me a sampler of its product line, saying its products were so good that even a gluten whore like myself would enjoy them.

Yeah, right.

The shipment included cupcakes, cookies, a baguette, and another bread. I couldn’t even get them down.

When company co-founder Bruce Bassman called me to see what I thought of the products, I was clear: No gluten, no gluttony.

Bassman couldn’t believe it. “You did heat up the bread, right?” he asked.

Heat it up?

And thus began my adventure into the world of gluten-free products, led by that bon-vivant of baking, Bruce Bassman, who invited me to his company’s kitchen for a full-on taste test (it was strictly not BYOG).

Bassman and Pedro Arroba, who is the celiac sufferer of the pair, told me their tale. They founded the company in 2004 and spent a full year crafting recipes. Now, they run one of the leading artisanal gluten-free food companies in the nation — all from a kitchen on Third Avenue.

“Our baguette recipe was all trial and error — more crying and error,” Arroba said. “But once we got it right — with the crunch — I cried. I hadn’t had real bread in 20 years.”

If Arroba has even a little bit of gluten, the symptoms of celiac disease kick in. There’s diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and exhaustion (not to diminish his suffering, but that pretty much describes most workdays for me).

I felt sympathetic towards Arroba, but I was there for lunch, not an episode of Oprah, so Bassman brought out a gluten-free pizza. I had to admit that, heated properly, the crust was crunchy, yet had just enough springiness to be satisfying. For a gluten lover, it was good frozen pizza. For a celiac sufferer, it would be like the Feast of Mount Carmel.

After an amazing pot roast — there’s no gluten in meat, so Arroba and I went forkful for forkful — I put Bassman and Arroba’s breads to the test, this time enjoying them properly toasted. Gluten-free breads must be baked, then frozen and reheated, or else they taste the way they did in my office that day. In the Everybody Eats kitchen, the baguette, challah and multi-grain breads were all excellent.

Over some gluten-free chocolate chip cookies — powdery, but passable — Bassman made a case for me to be more compassionate to the gluten-averse.

“One in 100 people has celiac disease, but 95 percent of them don’t know,” he said. “Undetected, it can lead to stomach cancer.”

And detected, it used to lead to a life of horrific bread substitutes — until Bassman and Arroba came along.

I’m not saying I’m convinced, but it’s nice to know that when you’re forced to break bread with a gluten hater, you can actually break bread.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com

Everybody Eats products can be ordered at www.everybodyeats-inc.com.

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Reader Feedback

pedro arroba from gowanus says:
Excellent article and fairly honest.
Thank you.
Dec. 3, 2009, 12:43 pm
Maggie says:
"(not to diminish his suffering, but that pretty much describes most workdays for me)."

And yet, ironically, by typing those words that's exactly what you're doing. Perhaps you wouldn't so glibly dismiss the short-term symptoms of a gluten exposure, if you'd bother to do a little research on this life-altering disease. If you did, you might discover that even a trace amount of gluten can send a celiac's autoimmune response into hyper-drive, wreaking all sorts of havoc with much longer-lasting effects. Not all of us "gluten haters" are of the Hasselback strain- some of us must take this medically restricted diet seriously.

P.S. Maybe for your next article, you should try mocking diabetics- I hear they're an easy target.
Dec. 3, 2009, 8:20 pm
Heather from Seattle says:
"There’s diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and exhaustion (not to diminish his suffering, but that pretty much describes most workdays for me)."

Um, you know, that described my workdays too. A few years ago, I could have written that very article. "Oh, those poor people who can't eat this nice French bread! They are nuts!". Ha. Then that test result comes back and reality hits.

So whatever you do: do NOT get an IgA blood test. Do not let your doctor test you. Then you can live in happy ignorance, and blame your gut problems, anxiety, tiredness, skin problems, autoimmune diseases etc. on stress and genes, and you can still have that "real" gluten that makes your brain happy.
Dec. 4, 2009, 2:40 pm

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