We’re talking to Laura Hahn Carroll, the lead chef at Camp Celiac in North Scituate, Rhode Island. Camp Celiac is a one-week summer camp for approximately 145 children and youth with celiac disease, ages 8-16. Laura also won NBC’s Next Local TV Chef in Philadelphia and is also an author and contributor to Gluten Free Living. We spoke with Laura about her gluten-free journey, gluten-free Philly cheese steaks and how the Camp has made an impact on kids living with celiac.
Hi Laura! What’s your food identity?
I’m pretty sure I’m undiagnosed celiac so technically gluten intolerant. I tried to eat gluten again to get tested and I got so sick. You need to have gluten in your system to be tested so I thought why put myself through that when everything is 100% back to normal without gluten.
How long ago did you discover your gluten intolerance?
Six years ago.
You were on NBC’s Next Local TV Chef in Philadelphia. How did that come about?
I was working for the Red Cross while I was considering going to medical school. It was a year off from college and they asked me if I wanted to go to Iraq and that’s where I got sick. When I got back I was working at Walter Reed in D.C. and I was really sick. I moved to Philly and took a job at a random non-profit. I started a cooking club, and this is when I started realizing I had a gluten intolerance. I started cooking more and working with kids. I started the blog, Guilt Free Foodie Cutie, and that’s when I sent it into a TV show and they asked me to be a contestant. I was newly diagnosed at the time of the TV show. At the time, people weren’t sure if gluten-free was a diet or what it was. Marc Summers, a judge for one of the five weeks of the competition, said to me that gluten-free is just a fad. But gluten-free cooking was my thing and afterwards, Marc and I kept in touch and talked about doing a gluten-free cooking show on the Food Network. It didn’t work out, but it was a highlight because gluten-free was so new at the time.
Everything came from that, my book, Around The World, One Gluten Free Meal At A Time, happened because of the show and I was hired by Gluten Free Living magazine. I’ve written for them for every issue since then. Simply Gluten Free is another one I’ve written for. It’s fun and keeps me busy.
How do you maintain your gluten-free diet?
With my food identity, I’m stuck in a box because if I go outside of it, I get sick. In order to keep it easier and more enjoyable, it’s just about getting creative with what you cook. I go online and follow other bloggers. My favorite thing is to go out to a restaurant and figure out how to replicate what someone is eating. If my husband is eating something I can’t eat, I ask him to describe it to me. If it’s a mac and cheese or something different, then I replicate it so I don’t feel restricted.
How did you originally get involved with Camp Celiac?
I was the chef at the gluten-free bakery, and we had a fun menu for sandwiches. A woman came in who was a director at the camp and told me they were looking for a chef. I was in immediately. I was originally supposed to be an extra set of eyes on what they were doing in the kitchen, but the head chef got sick and had to leave camp. I cooked entirely that first week. I wanted to make it extra special for these kids that deserve it to be extra special. That was five years ago.
Have you replicated a Philly cheese steak?
Yes, at Camp Celiac, it’s one of the dishes we make. Gluten-free bread can be a beast sometimes, so when you’re making it for 150 kids it can be rough. We soak the bread in butter and then grill it. We’ve got a pretty good recipe down and the kids love it.
Is that their most favorite meal at camp?
Pizza is 100 percent the kids’ favorite dish. We make it really fun for them. We make it family-style with four different flavors. We give them fun flavors they won’t have outside of camp, like pesto and barbecue breaded chicken.
What are some of your favorite dishes to prepare at camp?
I like making pizza. Pancakes is another fun one. I get up at 5:30 a.m. to make 300 pancakes. French toast and mac and cheese are also fun. Every kid likes that and we make the cheese sauce from scratch.
“I wanted to make it extra special for these kids that deserve it to be extra special.”
Did you use Nima to test any of your food at Camp Celiac?
We got Nima right before camp. I knew about testing kits and protocols but some of them feel like a science experiment. Nima is a game changer because we just need to look for the smiley face.
At camp, we tested Cheerios and a bagel with it. Both were certified gluten-free so it was interesting to test it. I’m really careful to use ingredients that are certified gluten free, but we work in a kitchen that’s not gluten-free all summer long. We used Nima a lot to make sure there wasn’t any contamination.
What’s the best part about Camp Celiac?
Kids travel from all over the world to come to Camp Celiac. These kids are friends for life. They are awesome. This is a place where kids can experience things that other kids can do for every day. The camp has been around for close to 20 years. Some of the kitchen staff are former campers who’ve become chefs because they want to share their experience with others.
What are some of your hobbies or interests?
Outside of cooking, I’m a mom and also a runner and crossfitter.
Thank you for all you do for the celiac community, Laura!
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