Published On: Thu, Nov 19th, 2015

In the kitchen with… Phil Vickery

The ambassador for Coeliac UK, Phil Vickery talks to us about how he embarked on his gluten-free journey, and what you can expect from starting your own free-from diet…

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Why did you first become interested in the gluten-free diet and cooking?

It started a few years ago when I could not buy organic flour at the right price for my Christmas pudding company. I used rice flour instead, which made it gluten-free. I had no idea how it would turn out. I then contacted Coeliac UK and the rest is history.

What do you think are the biggest difficulties facing those who follow a gluten-free diet?

I think it’s the hidden dangers, because gluten is in many dishes and it’s not always brought to the attention of the sufferer. I think that the offering of gluten-free products is now getting better, but it needs to be more widely known and understood. Cost is also another big issue when it comes to ingredients and finished items, although hopefully that will change in the future.

Do you have any advice for someone who has just been diagnosed with Coeliac disease?

Yes, make sure you contact Coeliac UK as it has a fantastic team to help and guide you. Initially, you are going to need all the help you can get. Also don’t panic, as it is all controllable and you can have great food – it just takes a little getting used to and being careful about what you eat.

How do you go about developing your gluten-free recipes?

First I sit with my food scientist Bea Harling and we will look at data, emails and letters from sufferers. We then compare this to our own view on new dishes, then head to the test kitchen to

try out the recipes. It can take months  to develop ideas and mixes – some we still haven’t cracked but we will not give up.

Do you have any top tips for cooking a gluten-free Christmas meal?

Christmas dinner itself is not too bad because the roast is pretty much the same. Just make sure you use gluten-free breadcrumbs and sausage meat. Gravies are also thickened with starches. We have developed recipes for Christmas cake and puddings, plus snacks along the way.

You have a new range of gluten-free mixes out – can you tell us how you developed them?

I got fed up with eating some not very good mixes, so I thought I would develop my own. I have also made them lactose-free, as there does seems to be a correlation between the two diseases and many people suffer from one or both. Again, Bea and I look at popular flavours and tastes, then get to work in the test kitchen. It does take a long time but we are very proud of them. We have started selling catering-size packs now for hotels and contract caterers, too. We are working on a further four products, and are even selling in Spain and Italy.

What would you say are the essential ingredients to have in a gluten-free store cupboard?

Gluten-free flours, gum, starches, stock cubes and pastas are good.

You published a book specifically about gluten-free cooking for kids – what was your inspiration behind this?

We had many letters and emails from the public and Coeliac sufferers, about baby foods up to when kids leave for university.

You’re the ambassador for Coeliac UK – how and why did this partnership come about?

This came about when I asked them to look at my recipes to double check they  were safe. In return, I went to the Houses of Parliament to lobby MPs to raise the awareness of Coeliac disease. I now oversee their gluten-free Chef of the Year competition, which is gaining in popularity every year.

Do you think there is enough awareness of gluten intolerance in the restaurant industry? If not, why is that the case do you think?

No, I don’t think there is. It’s definitely going in the right direction, but they need to be more open minded. I think most chefs still really can’t be bothered because they see very few sufferers. The other problem is many sufferers do not trust chefs, restaurants and caterers. I get many angry emails from sufferers who have been poisoned in restaurants and catering outlets. It’s a difficult one.

Can you tell us what you have planned for the future?

That would be telling, but I do have some very exciting projects in the pipeline…

To find out more about Phil Vickery’s involvement with Coeliac UK and to find out where you can buy his gluten-free mixes, visit his website.

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