Kickin’ It Up a Notch
The Lagasse Girls Offer “Big Flavor, Bold Taste & No Gluten”
What happens when the daughters of a celebrity chef get diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? First, they learn how to re-create their favorite home-cooked recipes gluten-free and then, “BAM!” – they write cookbooks to share those delicious recipes with the rest of the world.
Jessie and Jilly Lagasse, better known together as the Lagasse Girls, are the daughters of famed chef Emeril Lagasse, whose catchphrases are perhaps just as popular as his show and restaurants.
Jessie was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity in 2001. After a trip to Italy for her 21st birthday left her 10 pounds lighter and suffering from headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms nearly every day, Jessie went to three or four gastroenterologists over a period of six months – all with similar incorrect diagnoses and prescriptions for heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) medications. Finally, Jessie decided to seek the help of a naturopathic physician and after just two visits, she received a report of nearly 25 different foods to which she was sensitive or allergic.
“When I finally had that diagnosis, I remember sitting in the parking lot of the doctor’s office, looking at the list, starting to cry, and saying, ‘What am I going to eat?’” Jessie recalled.
Armed with her new diagnosis and list of foods to avoid, Jessie began an elimination diet and went six months without eating anything on her list. She could eventually incorporate some foods back into her diet, but gluten was not one of them.
Just three years later, her sister Jilly was diagnosed with celiac disease. Jilly was ill most of her life, which led to numerous misdiagnoses of everything from anemia to IBS. It wasn’t until 2004 when she was living in London and registered with a new doctor, that she finally got an answer. The doctor instantly knew her symptoms sounded like celiac disease and had her tested right away.
“When he explained what it was, I thought he was mad. How could I be suffering so much from what I was eating?” Jilly said. “I didn’t make the connection at that time.”
Within two weeks of receiving her diagnosis and starting a strict gluten-free diet, Jilly began feeling a huge difference in her health. “It was like I was a new person. It was absolutely life changing,” she said. “My hair started to grow back, I slept properly, I had energy – it was amazing.”
Jilly had a slight advantage in starting her gluten-free diet. Not only had her sister been on the diet for three years and was willing to share tips and advice, but Jilly also was living in a country where dietary restrictions and allergies were better understood and accommodated.
“For me, it was such a blessing that I got to move abroad and that I was living where they had aisles in every grocery store of ‘free-from’ food. It was such a more commonly known illness,” Jilly said. “In the United States, it wasn’t known about at the time and it certainly wasn’t being diagnosed properly, in my experience.”
Luckily, awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is increasing, and being diagnosed in the early 2000s has allowed the Lagasse Girls to see and be part of this change.
“One of the things I’m so excited about now is that there’s an increase in awareness and an increase in the number of people being tested,” Jessie said. “Because of the increase in awareness, the market has followed suit and there are hundreds of gluten-free products out there now that really taste fantastic. That is such a huge plus for those who are learning about it now because you don’t have to go without.”
Not only are there more gluten-free food products available, but more gluten-free cookbooks as well, including two by the Lagasse Girls.
Their newest book, The Lagasse Girls’ Big Flavor, Bold Taste and No Gluten was published in October 2014 and features 100 recipes – from family favorites to classics to comfort foods that the Lagasse Girls know and love. This book, the girls said, has allowed them to showcase their own unique cooking styles – Jilly’s being more ethnic-inspired and Jessie’s being more classic and family-oriented.
The recipes in this book are as the title suggests – full of big, bold flavor. This recipe for Mediterranean Quiche, for example, will help you “kick it up a notch” in your gluten-free kitchen!
By Malory Speir
Photos by Chris Granger