Once considered obscure and faddish, the gluten-free diet has gained significant traction as a valid and respectable lifestyle choice. Just this year, Thomas Keller has released a gluten-free flour, and Barbara Kafka’s gluten-free cookbook, The Intolerant Gourmet, was nominated for a James Beard award. The movement is even on the brink of hitting Main Street America; Subway has entered final stages of testing on their gluten-free bread, and Domino's Pizza has started making gluten-free crusts in select markets.
In the midst of this dietary zeitgeist, enter caterer and former chef Simone Shifnadel, a gluten-free advocate with big dreams. She recently launched a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign to create Zenbelly Kitchen, a gluten-free shared kitchen, café, and community space.
Shifnadel runs Zenbelly Catering, a San Francisco-based company with a focus on organic produce, grass-fed meat, and wild-caught fish. Zenbelly also caters to people with special dietary needs, notably celiacs. Shifnadel suffers from a mild version of celiac disease, and she has tried to weed gluten out of her life as much as possible.
Zenbelly currently operates out of a shared kitchen space in Hunter’s Point called Eclectic Cookery. She calls it a great place to work, but aspires for something better. Rather than disconnected cooks and food artisans punching a clock on a neutral, generic kitchen area, she envisions a true community.
She has already fielded a lot of interest from local cooks, including the proprietor of the gluten-free bread bike delivery service Bread Srsly, an entrepreneur who’s in the process of creating a Paleo diet food truck called CleanEats, and a woman who bakes gluten-free naan and other international breads. Shifnadel loves the idea of sharing a kitchen with all these like-minded food artisans, collaborating and building morale.
Community aside, there is a practical reason for gluten-free craftsmen to share a kitchen. Shifnadel says “cross-contamination” is a significant concern when sharing a kitchen with cooks who use gluten. Though the consequences are less significant for a celiac than for say, someone allergic to peanuts, cross-contamination can lead to hives and lingering digestive issues. With prolonged gluten exposure, this can lead to severe malnourishment and weight loss.
Unlike many shared kitchens, often housed in workmanlike industrial spaces, Shifnadel’s kitchen would be part of a vibrant, 2,000-foot restaurant. She pictures the kitchen area taking up the majority of the floor space, with a small café area in front serving gluten-free cupcakes, donuts, and bagels, as well as coffee and specialty items du jour. This café could also serve as a hub for people in the gluten-free community to stage meetings and educational workshops.
For now, Shifnadel is primarily concerned with raising enough funds to get her project off the ground. The initial days of her Zenbelly Kitchen Kickstarter campaign have been slower than she anticipated, but she imagines it will gain momentum as word spreads. She is currently recruiting nutritionists, educators, and other influential members of the gluten-free community to help advocate for her shared kitchen concept.
“Considering how many people are exploring gluten-free diets now,” she said, “It’s only a matter a time before this takes off.”
Watch ZenBelly Kitchen's Kickstarter video to find out more about the project: