Cait Drysdale is a chef who now caters to those who can’t eat gluten, which hits close to home. The 33-year-old chef at the soon-to-open Fresh ADK restaurant on South Street has a 5-year-old daughter with celiac disease. She spoke Tuesday about her new role and her life sorting out gluten.
Q. Because of your daughter’s dietary needs, I guess you’re probably the perfect choice to be chef at this new restaurant catering to others afflicted with celiac disease, right?
A. Correct. Both of my degrees from Johnson & Wales are in baking and pastry as well as culinary nutrition, so I can cook for almost any dietary restriction. I went for baking and pastry, but because of my own celiac disease diagnosis, I decided to double-major and obtain a degree in culinary nutrition, which is a program to become a registered nutritionist.
Q. What’s the hardest part of having a child who can’t eat gluten?
A. Making sure she’s safe! And that’s at school, at birthday parties, any time she’s away from me I have to make sure she has the knowledge to keep herself safe. Even still, she’ll ask, “Is this gluten-free?” And she won’t eat something if she’s unsure.
Q. She’s been trained well it seems?
A. She’s very good, We did have one incident last year when she went to a ski lesson and the instructor didn’t read the paperwork and missed that she had a gluten allergy and fed her Chips Ahoys and she was sick for two weeks. Since then, she’s been very, very good!
Q. Not knowing you too had celiac disease, I was going to ask what’s your gluten guilty pleasure you eat when not cooking or baking for your daughter, but you also can’t have it so I guess I’ll move on.
A. Well, I can answer what I would eat if I could cheat. The one thing I miss desperately is fair food. I really miss fried dough.
Q. Were you recently diagnosed?
A. No. It was January 2003. I weighed 98 pounds when I was diagnosed. I’m 5-7. I could take a roll of masking tape from my wrist and put it all the way up to my shoulder. We knew something was gravely wrong, but we didn’t know what. I went to an Albany GI group and they diagnosed me. It was not widely known then.
Q. Why will this specialized restaurant succeed?
A. Because we can feed everyone and it’s really flavor first, that’s how I designed the menu. And we can cater to any dietary restriction. Food allergies are becoming so common, I think it’s necessary, especially for this area.
Q. What’s most exciting for you about this new chef adventure?
A. Seeing how the menu evolves. A menu is driven by what the customers want and I like to see what the customer wants and what’s exciting for them and then you adjust it accordingly. Right now, we have a lot of gluten-free vegan options, rice and quinoa bowls, salads, and I think that will change with time.
Q. Tell me about a dish or two you’re planning for Fresh ADK that a person not suffering from any dietary restriction will also absolutely love?
A. We have a steak sandwich with horseradish aioli and we offer a gluten-free and gluten-containing bread. It’s hearty enough that anybody can eat it and it’s got a really great flavor. We’ll have separate tasters and a separate station for gluten-free food so there’s no cross-contamination.
Q. My daughter’s boyfriend is gluten intolerant and I mistakenly put croutons on his salad one night, and quickly removed them when my daughter said he couldn’t have them. He said he couldn’t eat the salad anyway just because the croutons touched the greens. Tell those not in the know just how powerful this disease is.
A. (Laughs) I cringe just thinking of it. That little itty-bitty tiny crumb is enough to actually trigger a very nasty reaction. Anything gluten-free has to be under 200 parts per million – that’s minuscule.
Q. My other daughter is vegetarian. What will be a must-try dish for her?
A. We have a really cool breakfast sandwich made out of tofu instead of an egg. We put the tofu in a blender with onion powder and other seasoning and bake it off and it’ll be like a mock fried egg and we’ll have vegan cheese to go with it and a vegan aioli.
Q. You have a toddler and a kindergartner and now a chef job that obviously will entail lots of work. How will you do the juggle?
A. Like any other working mom, you just figure it out and that may mean late nights and early mornings — and you learn to multitask very efficiently.
Q. If you had a say on how the $10 million state grant for Glens Falls is spent, what would you suggest?
A. For me, I think other restaurants focused on health and nutrition. I think that’s going to be a big push. Also local. Supporting our local farmers and purveyors.
Q. When you aren’t cooking or making sure your daughter isn’t eating gluten, what can you be found doing that makes you happy?
A. Besides more baking and cooking and working on recipes, because that’s what I’m kind of known for is being a mad scientist, I ski, snowshoe, hike, sail — anything really outdoors, like a typical Adirondacker. I grew up in Fort Ann, what can I say. Country girl through and through.