Jason Church with his gluten-free risotto, chicken and fig tart Photo: CLARA MOLDEN
Jason Church is inspecting the work surface to ensure that nothing will contaminate his cooking. “Remnants can be airborne – I even have to segregate all the utensils,” he says. Newly installed as head chef at Morgan Stanley’s Canary Wharf offices, Jason, the current Coeliac UK Gluten-free Chef of the Year, confesses that until three years ago he’d never even heard the word 'coeliac’.
He’s far from alone; the spelling alone flummoxes most of us. “It was a steep learning curve. The side effects of the condition really surprised me,” says Jason. “Obviously, you can’t use gluten. But you also have to be mindful of the flour and chocolate you use.”
Gluten-free diets may appear to be some celebrity-driven fad, but for coeliacs it’s a serious business. It is not – repeat not – a food allergy but a lifelong auto-immune disease for which there is no cure. The consequences can have a whole host of serious health implications, from increased risk of miscarriage to osteoporosis and bowel cancer.
For coeliacs, the almost omnipresent gluten damages the gut lining and affects digestion. Serious sufferers cannot withstand even the tiniest amount without abdominal pain or vomiting. On a more mundane level, being a coeliac in a restaurant is not a good look. “There’s a popular misconception that someone is being fussy or awkward,” says Jason. Thankfully, new EU laws on clearer gluten-free labelling came into effect in January, applicable to all food packaging and restaurant menus.
I admit to a personal interest as I’m awaiting the results of my coeliac blood test. I already have one auto-immune disease and there’s nothing an AI disease likes better than the company of other AI diseases. Coeliac UK estimates that as many as one in 100 people are coeliacs, with many taking up to 10 years to be diagnosed.
Today we are preparing Jason’s three-course, award-winning menu. For the risotto starter, he has substituted quinoa for rice. “It’s high in protein and a small amount is incredibly filling,” he explains. Jason advises checking the packaging on the bouillon, as they’re not all gluten-free. The chicken main involves gluten-free stockcubes, Doves Farm flour and the unusual addition of parched peas. The pudding is my standout favourite. As someone who may soon have to forego standard pastries, this is a beacon of comfort. He is evangelical about the properties of xanthan gum used in the pastry.
“This adds an elasticity to pastry and pasta and replaces the volume that gluten gives to bread.” Coeliac is a “life-changing” illness but it needn’t herald the end of delicious food.
Please login to add to favorites
Already added to favorites
Added as Favorite