September 1, 2009

Meet Lisa Williams - Lisa Cooks Allergen Free!

If you glanced over my previous post on upcoming events in Chicago, you'll see Lisa Williams has a couple events coming up. I first learned of Lisa Cooks Allergen Free when I visited her booth at the THRIVE Allergy Expo in April. I signed up for her Safe & Sound Dinners mailing list and started following her blog.

I attended my first Safe & Sound Dinner at Carnivale in June and was so impressed by how nicely organized it was and that I could sit back and enjoy my meal knowing it was completely gluten free. After mingling and enjoying appetizers, Lisa greeted everyone and introduced the chef who welcomed us to his restaurant. He explained each meal and how it was prepared. Served family style, every entree was phenomenal. Swirlz cupcakes topped off the evening and everyone left completely satisfied with a gift bag of gluten free goodies. I met several new people that evening and it was a joy to network and relate to others living with celiac and other food allergies.

I was ecstatic to learn that the next Safe & Sound Dinner would be held at Da Luciano's on none other than my birthday, September 12th! Dinner at Da Luciano's is an extreme treat, not only because it is a bit of a drive for me, but it's so popular even with reservations there can be a wait! A fixed price, no wait, and a goodie bag? She couldn't have planned a better evening!

Recently I was able to catch up with Lisa to learn more about how Lisa Cooks Allergen Free came to be.

Lisa, I love that you are dedicated to allergy free cooking! How long have you been a chef? Can you give a little background on your training?

Funny you ask, before I was diagnosed two years ago, my kind of cooking was ordering in!

When I found out about my allergies, I realized I had better learn to cook and fast. So I dug out the cookbook collection my great grandmother (she raised my two older brothers and me) left for me. I began to modify her recipes.

Having little to no cooking experience prior to this, I realized I had better educate myself on the basics of cooking, so I enrolled at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (a Cordon Bleu school), I have only 4 weeks left of school!

Well congratulations, graduate! So you've been living allergy free for two years? How did you discover you had food allergies?

My anniversary for living allergen free is in October, it will be 2 years. I discovered I had allergies when I had what started as a cold and turned into pneumonia, Epstein barr, plus a multitude of other symptoms. When I didn’t get better after 2 months, my doctor decided to do allergy testing and here we are!

Wow, what a lot to go through! How long after you eliminated allergens from your diet did you decide to start up Lisa Cooks Allergen Free?

I started Lisa Cooks Allergen Free a few months after my diagnosis. Previous to my allergies, I was an Account Executive for a sub-prime mortgage lender. When the real estate market crashed, I found myself with a considerable amount of time on my hands. As the saying goes, when a door closes… It feels so good to be able to help people adapt to an allergen free lifestyle, I was so overwhelmed when I first found out, I don’t want anyone to feel like I did.

I, for one, really appreciate the difference you've made in the gluten free community. I attended my first Safe and Sound Dinner in June at Carnivale and LOVED it!

How did you come up with the idea to host th
ese safe dinner and what goes into organizing your events?

Before I was diagnosed, I ate out a lot. I really missed going out to eat and wanted to bring restaurants back to allergenistas (what I like to call those of us with allergies) one bite at a time.

To organize these events, I go to the restaurant to see how they handle my requests for modifications. Actually, for our next dinner (soon to be revealed) I got to work in the kitchen for the night to see how they handle allergen free requests!

After we set up a date, I go over the menu item by item with the chef and make sure we are excluding as many of the 8 allergens as possible. For Da Luciano’s
we are splitting the room, those with dairy allergies will be getting food with rice cheese and the other half a real cheese, it’s all about making the best experience for all of us.


Oh, I can't wait! Save me a seat in the "real cheese" section.

I know you have a slew of events coming up such as cooking demonstrations and of course the next Safe and Sound dinner at Da Luciano's. What other events and ideas do you have in store? Will we ever see a cookbook from you?


A cookbook, it’s in the works… I have attached th
e link for my upcoming cooking classes, I actually am even doing a demo on WGN on September 10th midday news and can’t wait!

How fun! I'll have to set my VCR...hey, I'm still a little old skool.

What is the best advice you can give someone living with food allergies?

There are so many resources for people with food allergies now - becoming involved in the community through support groups, cooking classes, dinners, expos, blogs and chat rooms. You can learn so much from talking to other allergenistas, find one that suits you and soak in the information, we all learn together.

That's definitely great advice. Since I've become more involved in the gluten free community, I've learned a ton - and I've been living gluten free for the past ten years! Who would have known?

Since I'm a such a foodie, I need to know...what are some staples in your kitchen?

Onion, garlic and a good GF flour mix.

How about your favorite allergy free products and restaurants?

I love Organicville Ketchup, Ian’s mac and not cheese (I really miss mac and cheese and this is a good alternative), SWIRLZ vegan GF cupcakes and a new product called Choice Batter, it absorbs up to 50% less cooking oil than other batters.

Restaurants – Of course, Carnivale, but I also l
ove Ina’s, once a month they have a killer GF, CF and egg free fried chicken and Da Luciano’s has the only “fake cheese” I will eat, I so love their pizza!

Lisa, you're making me hungry! With this cooler weather and fall quickly approaching, what is your favorite allergy free fall meal? I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some comfort food!

I love braised meats and stews, the aromas that come out of the kitchen after cooking all day, YUM! Actually, I just modified Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourgignon to be allergen free and that has become a new favorite at our house! I am also working on some great holiday meals for upcoming classes, this is so fun!

It sounds like you have THE dream job! Congratulations on all of your success thus far and THANK YOU for making a difference in Chicago's Gluten Free Community!


Join Lisa (and me!) Saturday, September 12th for the next
Safe & Sound Dinner at Da Luciano's!
Enjoy great gluten free food, conversation, and you even get one of these fancy swag bags!

Register online at Lisa Cooks Allergen Free

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