If you had to guess which part of London was going to a host a gluten-free festival, odds are Camden would be in your top 3. The home of Cookies and Scream, Chin Chin Studios and Gilgamesh provides a fine palette for a celebration of food, free of gluten either by natural virtue or culinary ingenuity. Now in its third year, and growing with every incarnation, the festival brings together Lock Market regulars as well as some of the finest gluten free kitchens from across London. As an aspiring foodie and home cook (haven’t quite kicked the frozen pizzas), I was excited and a little apprehensive about what I might find.
In an effort to assuage these notions, I had a quick chat with Sarah Kettel, proprietor of the Louisiana Chilli Shack, and festival organiser. Any of my lingering assumptions about the ‘GFF’ (as it’s affectionately known) were quickly set right. What most people (read: me) tend to forget is that a lot of food doesn’t have gluten in it already, so going gluten-free isn’t nearly as big a stretch as people imagine. Yes, the search for a gluten free pizza base can deliver some really interesting results, but that’s no reason to be sceptical about the rest of it. After taking this onboard, I could look on the festival as it was – a game of two halves.
The first half was ‘gluten-free’ as many of us have come to understand it; ingredient replacement. And by ‘replacement’, I really mean ‘improvement’. Gemma Callander runs Feed Me Primal, a paleo-friendly, gluten free stall serving strips of grass-fed beef and chicken with caulirice – a mixture of carrot, parsnip, cauliflower, and beetroot. The name doesn’t really do it justice, as the mix is far better than rice, and compliments the tender meat and crisp salad beautifully. Romeo’s Gluten Free Bakery was making an onion loaf that was chewy, earthy and fluffy all at the same time. Cupcakes and Shhht had (unsurprisingly) cupcakes and brownies on offer that would make you forsake even the stodgiest of soufflés. Finally, and as part of their hourly demonstrations, the Whole Food Market Kitchen were turning out spiralized sweet potato with fresh pesto that made me forget that I was eating a pasta supplement altogether.
The other half was all the food you’ve loved for years, that is gluten-free by its own virtue. Le Rac Shack (favourite name of the festival) was doling out helpings of raclette cheese and new potatoes topped with cornichon. Next door to which was a stall turning out crepes made the traditional buckwheat, overflowing with homemade fillings. Sarah’s shack was serving sweet potato, nachos, a bean and quinoa dish called beanoa (pronounced ‘been-whaa’), and red and white chilli. After enough samples to constitute a tasting menu, it was a tray of nachos with both types of chilli, sweet potato and cheese that I opted for. Whilst its colour may suggest a more conservative version of its beefy brother, white chilli is anything but. Cheesy, spicy, smoky and tangy all at once, and matched perfectly with a bright green pico de gallo dressing and rich sweet potato.
There is an argument to be had that you can get great street food anywhere in London these days. This month alone there were at least 3 other large-scale foodie events happening all over the capital, serving top-notch food, regardless of dietary requirement. However, the Gluten-Free Festival is too-good an example of food done differently to miss. Yes, you may not get a gourmet burger or try one of 60 types of craft beer, but given that the afternoon was a drenched in sunlight, buzzed with the sights and smells of Camden Market on a Saturday, and filled with delicious food, I don’t think anyone really missed the gluten.
By Joe Emerick
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