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Chef on Call

A Comfortable Introduction, Gluten-Free

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By David Hagedorn
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Adam Streisfeld says you can call it fate, kismet or serendipity that he and Jen Thompson wound up in the same place at the same time on the only night that either of them has ever set foot in the Dupont Circle bar where they met. He calls it extraordinary.

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The two had little in common. He was a corporate management consultant who smoked cigarettes, lived in a group house in Virginia and ate everything except cottage cheese and hard-cooked eggs. She was an anti-smoking, nonprofit-working, Harvard-educated vegetarian from Kentucky who lived on Capitol Hill.

Five years later, Streisfeld, 29, and Thompson, 28, live together. He stopped smoking; she eats meat. The time has come for his parents to meet hers, and it's up to Streisfeld to make that happen over a home-cooked meal in his and Thompson's English basement apartment in Adams Morgan.

This time he's not relying on kismet.

In his e-mail to Chef on Call, Streisfeld described himself as a pretty decent cook but admitted that he's not good at gauging how to prepare multiple dishes and have everything ready at the same time.

And there are some dietary constraints: Streisfeld's father is allergic to nuts and uncooked alcohol, and none of the parents can handle anything remotely spicy.

Oh, and Thompson learned a few years ago that she has celiac disease, which means she cannot tolerate gluten and has had to expunge wheat, barley, rye and any product that includes even a trace of those grains from her diet for the rest of her life.

For this challenge, we enlisted Janis McLean, 49, the chef of downtown Washington's romantic Morrison-Clark Inn. McLean is a graduate of and teacher at Bethesda's L'Academie de Cuisine and worked with Anne Willan at the renowned La Varenne cooking school in Burgundy, France. McLean's repertoire of American dishes based on French technique suited Streisfeld's requests to a T.

"Here's the concept of the menu," McLean explained when she showed up for her students' lesson this month. "Having your two sets of folks meet is about making people feel comfortable and welcome, and there is nothing better than just doing a perfectly roasted chicken." With that she cheerfully handed her students a shopping list to use as a guide for their future dinner, then taped a prep list and timeline of the day's work to the kitchen cabinets at eye level.

The gluten-free menu included tea-smoked trout and spinach salad; lemon-scented roasted chicken garnished with baby turnips, sauteed kale and roasted carrots; a side dish of quinoa pilaf; and citrus-roasted pineapple with mango sorbet and toasted coconut.

"The recipe for the quinoa calls for almonds, but you can leave them out," McLean said, remembering that one of the guests had nut allergies. Otherwise, the dishes met all of Streisfeld's requirements, including the celiac constraints.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, roughly one in every 133 Americans has the condition, but few know they do; celiac disease is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms vary widely and can resemble those of other disorders, such as colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.

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