One of Chicago’s top restaurateurs is leading gluten-free efforts

Her 16-year-old daughter’s diagnosis with celiac disease has leading Chicago restaurateur Carlyn Berghoff adding a few new tricks to her traditional German-American cooking repertoire.

“It’s been very eye-opening for me to learn more about this and feeding these people because they really do want to be a part of a normal experience,” she says.

Individuals with celiac disease are unable to process gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, the protein interferes with the absorption of nutrients, damaging the small intestine.

Growing up at The Berghoff and now running the family establishment as CEO of Berghoff Catering Restaurant Group, Berghoff is quite familiar with wheat-based foods. She grew up eating and cooking German-American staples such as rye bread, noodles, creamed spinach and Black Forest cake.

Making these classics gluten-free required a lot of trial and error in the kitchen with her daughter, Sarah Berghoff McClure.

“The baking was hard and was something we did first,” Berghoff says. She and McClure went from a six-flour blend to a simpler three-flour blend that can be used for both savory and sweet dishes.

This mix is shared in the mother-daughter duo’s cookbook, Cooking for Your Gluten-Free Teen: Everyday Foods the Whole Family Will Love.

When McClure was diagnosed four years ago, there were very few gluten-free cookbooks available that were not medically oriented. McClure wanted to write the cookbook so other kids with celiac disease could enjoy the foods that they missed the most.

Through an informal survey, they pinpointed the top 30 foods teenagers with celiac disease missed, including pancakes, chicken nuggets, pizza, lasagna and chocolate chip cookies.

“Our goal is to provide people with a source that will help guide them emotionally and physically,” McClure says.

Jen Cafferty, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Gluten Free Marketing Group, praises the book for providing more than just appealing recipes.

“It’s not just a cookbook, but a lifestyle book,” she says. “It does a really good job talking about how teenagers want to be normal and they want to eat the normal food that they are used to eating and that all their friends are eating.”

McClure says living with celiac disease is challenging.

“The most difficult thing is that going out with your friends you have to bring a lunchbox,” she says. “When you are a teenager you really just wish you could just go out with your friends, go to a fast food place, grab some food like a normal kid and just go back to what you were doing.”

Fortunately, Cafferty has started noticing the growing interest for Chicago restaurants to accommodate gluten-free customers.

One of the marketing group’s key resources is the Find Me Gluten Free App and website—a crowd-sourced restaurant finder used by more than 2 million people a year.

“The biggest misconception about celiac disease is that people don’t understand that it’s an autoimmune disease,” says Alice Bast, founder and president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. “They don’t understand that it’s serious and that it has long-term health consequences.”

Bast says something as simple as mistakenly adding croutons to a gluten-free salad can have severe repercussions for someone with celiac disease.

To help educate others, the foundation has implemented GREAT Kitchens, a comprehensive online course to teach the fundamentals of preparing and serving gluten-free food. Berghoff and her staff have gone through the GREAT Kitchens program, and Berghoff is one of the program’s leading representatives.

“Carlyn is really helping our community,” Bast says. “Our goal with her working with the restaurant community is to make sure that those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can eat without fear.”

Berghoff knows that through education she can help local restaurants.

“I really want to get them engaged in the community and being more conscious of how to take care of their customers so when my kid goes out and when we go out as a family, we don’t worry about coming back with a stomachache,” she says.

For McClure, she’s just happy that she and other kids with celiac disease can enjoy their favorite foods again—especially doughnuts and spaghetti pie.

Mary Baucom is a student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a writer with Medill Reports news service.

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