Q&A with Aalia Adam of “Seriously Gluten-Free”
For people with a food allergy or restriction, it’s hard to be spontaneous with your food. For celiac and gluten-sensitivities, the challenge is ten-fold simply because gluten is in so many of things. Aalia Adam, creator of the web series “Seriously Gluten-Free”, wants to show that it is possible to go out, spur of the moment style.
“Seriously Gluten-Free” profiles different restaurants, eateries and shops that accommodate Celiacs and gluten intolerance. Season one, completed last September, toured 10 different places in Montreal. Season two features Toronto-based venues. There are currently 14 videos in total and she’s working to pick a city for season three!
Adam draws on her journalism background to make her web series, which is evident in the web series’s news-story style. As a celiac herself, the topic is close to her heart. She hopes that profiling “Gluten-Free superheroes”, as she called them, on “Seriously Gluten-Free” will reach others in her situation and inspire restaurateurs to take gluten-free more seriously.
I had a chance to speak with Adam about her series and what inspired her to create it.
Why did you start the web-series Seriously Gluten-Free?
I started Seriously Gluten-Free … about a year after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. That first year was incredibly difficult for me, as someone who loves food, especially gluten. I lost A LOT of weight and that’s not because a gluten-free diet causes weight loss but because I really hated everything I was eating. I hated eating out because it was just too painful to ask if there were any gluten-free options and then follow-up with 100 questions about whether the food was prepared in a separate area, away from the risk of cross-contamination; if different utensils were used; if the chef believed that gluten “died” in the oven (true story); and having to explain that gluten-free wasn’t a fad-diet I was following, but an actual auto-immune disease.
Eventually, I met a community of people going through the same thing as me and realized I wasn’t alone. I also started to meet inspiring people determined to make celiac-safe food that was as delicious, if not more so, than its gluten-filled counterparts. I wanted to spread the word about these “gluten-free superheroes,” share their stories and also do the research for others to help them discover places they could actually eat at that would take them SERIOUSLY!
How has your career in reporting and journalism helped you?
I have over 10 years of experience as a journalist, so the episodes really came naturally. I followed all the steps I usually do for a news story, from the research, interviews – asking the RIGHT questions, writing the story and editing it. Thankfully, I didn’t also have to shoot the episodes myself. I had help there. My super talented family friend and Concordia film student Nikita Razzak took care of all the shooting.
My passion as a journalist has always been meeting interesting people and sharing their stories so this was just the perfect way to bring together my passion and a hobby that was helping me and others at the same time. I also tried to make them as fun and laid-back as possible, so people would enjoy watching them at the same time as learning the behind-the-scenes story of restaurants, factories and even stores that are gluten-free.
How do you find the restaurants you profile?
Word-of-mouth or social media. There are a lot of really great Facebook groups, like the Celiac Association or Gluten-free Montreal, that always post interesting spots. I usually look into them first. I’ll eat there before to see if I actually like it, that’s a really important criteria because I’m not just going to feature a bunch of places who claim to be gluten-free but actually just serve salad.
I obviously find out about all their procedures, how the food is prepared, where the ingredients come from. I also look for a place with an interesting back story. Why did they decide to add gluten-free items to their menu? Was it because they know someone who’s celiac? For example, one woman I met who owns a gluten-free company called “Delicious with gluten” started it for her kids, because she wanted them to live their best gluten-free life. So I try my best for find inspiring stories like that.
Do you have a favourite restaurant so far?
In Toronto, my fave spot so far is Riz on Yonge. They have every kind of Asian dish your heart desires. All gluten-free!
Do the people and restaurants you profile share a common characteristic?
They’re all so talented. If you can make a cookie or bread that doesn’t fall apart or taste like nothing without the MAIN ingredient it needs to stay together – then in my books, you’re a genius!
What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d had when you first found out you were celiac?
It gets better! At first you feel like the whole world is crumbling down and you’re so limited to what you can eat that you wish you could just live on smoothies for the rest of your life BUT just know that there are people, these incredible gluten-free superheroes, whipping up amazing recipes that you wouldn’t even be able to tell is gluten-free and won’t get you sick!