Interview with Thomasina Miers, Celebrity Chef and co-founder of Wahaca
Fresh from giving birth to her second child, former Masterchef Winner and co-founder of the excellent Wahaca chain Thomasina Miers kindly agreed to give us an interview on gluten-free eating. Clearly passionate about food in general, throughout the interview the depth of Tommi’s interest in the rise of Coeliac and gluten-intolerant cases and the causes behind them became apparent. For those of you with a gluten intolerance that haven’t yet been to Wahaca, I really suggest you get down there as soon as possible – very few items on the menu contain gluten; the food is fresh and delicious and the atmosphere excellent and unique to each branch. Anyway, without further ado here follows my conversation with Tommi:
Your staff seem very clued up on the menu; particularly which items are gluten free and which aren’t – is this deliberate?
It’s a big part of our training. You’re very kind to say that though, occasionally we have had people come in who have been given the wrong things and have shown us we need to be aware what’s on it. Naturally a lot of our food is gluten free – like our corn tacos. We knew at the beginning we had that health element already there and as time passed our customers influenced this as we were popular with people with gluten allergies so over the years they have helped shape the menu. The waiters are really well trained on the menu anyway – they have to be as it is quite big – but as part of the training we have a smaller allergy-focused menu that they get trained on, so yes we are definitely conscious of this.
In some places even the corn tacos have wheat flour in them – was it a conscious decision to limit what has gluten in it on the menu?
That wasn’t really for the sake of gluten but the sake of the tortilla. A Mexican corn tortilla doesn’t have wheat flour in it, so there was no need for ours to. From the word go we worked with a great supplier who also knew Mexico really well so it was never a viable option. The corn tortillas you can buy with flour are just not very good quality so we wouldn’t put them on our menu.
Why do you think there’s been a boom in gluten free options over the last couple of years?
I have a theory about gluten intolerance and coeliac – there’s been a huge rise in really bad quality bread and if you talk to certain food scientists on bread and flour – in fact a book on bread called ‘Bread Matters’ by Andrew Whitely – wheat has natural poisons in it and the old slow-rise way of making bread gave it a chance for all the poisons which are part of the protein to break down before they entered your body, making the bread easier to digest. After the war, when we started industrializing our food chain as we were so scared of running out of food, the Chorleywood method of making bread (referenced in the intro of this book) was basically a fast rise. All supermarket bread uses this technique, and 98% of the population are eating it; it gives no chance for the natural poisons to break down so they are just ingested. I make bread at home from scratch and buy sourdough or bake it at home – we only eat bread made the traditional slow way. There has definitely been a big rise in Coeliac and gluten intolerances and I am really interested to see whether there is a link because this modern bread that we eat, especially the white stuff that has had all the fibre taken out of it – I question whether it has any nutritional value at all and whether it does anyone’s body any good. I’m really into food and especially bread – it’s magic, so I’m interested in the cheapening of food.
What would be your advice to people going to Mexico?
Corn tacos would automatically be gluten free. The North deals more in flour so flour tortillas are more common but in the South you’re more likely to get corn which is delicious and gluten free. You can still eat lots of stuff in the North that doesn’t involve flour – just avoid the flour tortillas. I doubt that gluten allergies are recognized in Mexico.
What more can be done by establishments to accommodate people with intolerances?
At Wahaca we make every effort to avoid cross contamination but we’re not a factory so can’t guarantee that every dish hasn’t been in contact with something with wheat in it. I know a few people have said it is unacceptable as I’m massively allergic and you can’t guarantee that, and I’m not sure what more can be done other than making it clear that cross contamination may happen. We’re lucky as our products are largely by virtue gluten free, whereas if you went to an Italian it may just not be the place to go to.
Why are people cutting out gluten even without disorders?
I personally again have a massive belief that good quality bread is really good for you – I’d give it to my children. I’m not someone who cuts carbs, but I would never eat mass produced bread. The way most bread is made in this country is not a good way. I spend a larger proportion of my weekly budget on food shopping than other shopping. Some people may argue that’s because I have more money than others, but I would say I’m a good housekeeper – I can make food last – if my bread goes stale I’ll make breadcrumbs out of it. I work out ways to stretch ingredients and I can buy cheap ingredients and make them last. For me the nutrition of my children is important to me so I naturally spend more money on ensuring the quality of their food is good. I don’t think good quality bread needs to be cut out of diets unless you’re massively allergic to it. There’s definitely more of a culture in Europe to spend more on good quality food.
What would your 3 course come dine with me menu involve?
I’d begin with cerviche with tostadas, definitely.
For mains a delicious chargrilled steak with a few amazing salsas on the side, sautéed potatoes and a salad and some sautéed greens with a kind and garlic chilli sauce.
And for desert I’d go for something chocolatey – yes, maybe a sorbet with tequila poured over it and chilli chocolate truffles to end the evening with coffee.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Thomasina, it’s been a pleasure.
Now try our take on Tommi’s three course gluten-free menu!
Wahaca’s new Spitalfields branch: http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Venues/Wahaca-to-open-fast-casual-format