I have long been impressed with what the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness not only stood for but actually did to help those of us with Celiac disease live a full and fabulous life.  So you can imagine my giddiness when months ago I received an invitation to attend their 2010 Appetite for Awareness in Philadelphia.

First I want to take a moment to thank Alice Bast (who I was lucky enough to dine with at the Rudi’s brunch at the Ritz Carlton prior to the main event) and her phenomenal team most notably the NCFA’s media mavens Whitney Ehret (a.k.a. Director of Communications for the NFCA) and Cheryl McEvoy (Online Content Manager) for not only handling all the details prior to the event but for being truly gracious hostesses (as was the entire team of staff and volunteers).

When I arrived at the Navy Yard I noticed a line of what had to be more than a hundred people making their way into the event – I knew I was in for a real treat.  As  you approached the entrance there actually signs egging Celiacs on to go ahead and eat it all – and unlike many events we actually could in fact eat it all and let me tell you – I felt like I did try to eat it all for days after the event.

When you walked into the massive space there were five distinct areas: a children’s section which was also fun for adults; a product tasting section that spanned both sides of the space; a chef demonstration area; the restaurant tasting section; and yes Virginia, a gluten-free cocktail/beer garden.  It was truly like walking into a fabulous gluten-free parallel universe.

I was greeting by the ever-fabulous Whitney from the NFCA who presented me with materials about the event along with a bag of swag featuring items from many of the vendors at the event.  It made for a good start because, somehow, throughout the rounds I made the bag continued to grow as I found new and exciting gluten-free products to bring to my readers.

There were three chef demonstrations throughout the event (which took place at the on-site Drexel Education Center): Monica Glass from 10 Arts at the Ritz Carlton; Georges Perrier from Le Bec-Fin; and Silvana Nardon, former editor in chief at Every Day with Rachel Ray and author of Cooking for Isaiah

As I made my way around the event I met many old friends and made many more new ones.  There was such an amazing sampling available from companies and restaurants that it was nearly impossible to try them all (notice I said nearly).  One of the most unique was the Dietz and Watson Deli that featured hoagies on bread from The Grainless Baker.

In the restaurant section there was an amazing array of Philadelphia area chefs preparing a smorgasbord of different items for attendees to sample.  You can view the complete list of participating restaurants on the NFCA Web site archive of the event but such great locales as: Bar Ferdinand; Buddakan; Le Bec-Fin; Le Castagne; The Palm; and Zahav

The vendor area was equally impressive with many old favorites and new finds.  I of course ran into the fabulous Jill Brack from Glow Gluten Free who is always so much fun to hang out with and I am holding personally responsible for my weight gain as I eat through boxes of her cookies at a time J.  I also ran into  Andrew Itzkowitz from Shabtai Gourmet – who presented me with their new Kosher Award Winning Yidels (think gluten-free Yodels with REAL ingredients).  He is just an all around great guy and so passionate about his products – well, when they taste like his it is hard not to be passionate.  There was something for everyone including some great new finds of soft pretzels from Dutch Country Soft Pretzels; baked goods from Sweet Freedom; and fabulous brownies from French Meadow Bakery.

The Bear Garden and Cocktail area was a welcome refuge from the hubbub of the event and a great place to catch one’s second wind.  The cocktails and beverages were all complimentary and, of course, gluten-free.  My cocktail of choice was the Boyd & Blair vodka with a bit of tonic and lime – a new brand for me but soon to be a regular.

The entire event was so well-planned and the NFCA’s staff and volunteers were all so helpful and welcoming it was most definitely the gluten-free event of the year.  I know where I will be next October and am eagerly looking forward to what the NCFA has in store for the next Appetite for Awareness – though something tells me I will be seeing my friends at the NFCA well before the next Appetite for Awareness.  My sincere thanks to the NFCA for inviting me and for all they do to raise awareness of Celiac disease.

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