Inside the only Michelin-rated gluten-free restaurant

A restaurant in Chicago is doing gluten-free right. In fact, Senza is doing it so good that it received a Michelin star for its efforts, making it the only Michelin-rated gluten-free restaurant in the world. But don’t get the idea that this is some kind of health-foods trend restaurant. Head chef Noah Sandoval approaches the gluten-free concept from an angle of creating a menu that everyone can enjoy, not just those who are phasing wheat out of their diets. For online culinary arts program students, it is a lesson in how creative limits are the mother of invention.

Celiac disease is a condition that renders a person unable to digest gluten – a protein found in wheat and wheat products (such as flour). Given the ubiquity of flour and other wheat products in the culinary world, there are very few restaurants for people with extreme cases of celiac disease. Even the slightest cross-contamination with wheat or flour can cause these highly-sensitive individuals to get sick. Senza, whose name comes from the Italian word for without, seeks to provide these people with a place in which they can enjoy a high-quality meal without fear of cross-contamination.

Sandoval himself is not a celiac and enjoys foods containing gluten on a regular basis. As such, he was a bit hesitant to take the position at Senza when he learned that it was a gluten-free concept. In an interview with Food Republic, Sandoval revealed that he was a bit scared when he first took on the job, especially because he didn’t feel he was sufficiently educated about gluten-free cooking. Luckily it has become much easier for Sandoval, whose menu is now celebrated even by those who can eat gluten regularly.

The food at Senza is a product of the modernist cuisine movement. Dishes are artfully plated and include exotic ingredients such as oxalis, podda and allium in unique preparations and combinations. Sandoval perfected his modernist technique while working at the lauded Chicago restaurant Schwa under head chef Michael Carlson. Before moving to Chicago in 2007, Sandoval worked in the kitchens of New Orleans and Richmond. Senza is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and features a multi-course tasting menu or a smaller prix fixe menu. Each menu comes with a wine pairing for an additional cost. A dinner at Senza proves that just because the food is gluten-free, doesn’t mean its flavor-free.

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