When most people hear the name ?Lagasse,? they immediately think of the boisterous chef and television personality Emeril. But what about his daughter, Jilly?
Although she seemed dead set on avoiding the culinary industry when she was growing up, life doesn?t always go according to plan. After battling confusing symptoms for the majority of her life, Jilly Lagasse almost resigned herself to continual misdiagnosis. When she decided to enroll in a makeup and airbrush artistry school in London, she visited a doctor who almost instantly classified her symptoms as a result of celiac disease, and the rest is history.
We were able to chat with the warm and bubbly Lagasse about living with celiac disease and how this journey spurred her new project ?My Year In Food.?
DGF: If you don?t mind me asking, how did you discover you had celiac disease?
Jilly: I was ill my whole life and wasn?t properly diagnosed until 2004 when I was living abroad in London. I had been misdiagnosed with everything from anemia to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) here in the states, but upon the first visit I had with my new general practitioner in London, after explaining the laundry list of ailments that I was dealing with, he instantly said ?I think you?ve got coeliac disease (UK spelling), so let?s do a blood sample and see.? Within a few days, my results confirmed that I did in fact have celiac/coeliac. Within two weeks of adhering to a strict gluten-free diet, my whole life changed! It was truly incredible and absolutely saved my life. If I hadn?t been properly diagnosed then, I don?t know what state I?d be in today, that?s for sure.
DGF: What was the transition like, especially given your father and your culinary career?
Jilly: To be honest, the transition is what forced me into a culinary career! My whole life I thought I?d escape working in the food and restaurant business, even though that?s exactly what I grew up in. But life has a funny way of working out. The irony isn?t lost on me. I did grow up with my father being who he was. I grew up not only exposed to a very broad and incredible culinary world, but I also WANTED to still eat that way.
I refused to give up eating a full, flavorful, and varied diet just because I was diagnosed. If anything, it forced me to be on a mission to prove you still CAN have incredible foods and the dishes you crave. I wasn?t going to give up eating my gumbo, pasta dishes, or even having a birthday cake. So my diagnosis was a blessing in many ways. It not only healed me and gave me my health back, but it also gave me a career I always thought I didn?t want! Pretty incredible really!
DGF: Can you explain what your ?My Year In Food? project is?
Jilly: ?My Year In Food? is my new little gluten-free baby! Simply, it?s me documenting one meal a day that I cook, or occasionally that I?m out eating if I?m away, for the next year of my life! We take a professional picture of the food each night, as well as the occasional video. We were shooting videos each night of every dish to show how I made the meal of the day, but to be 100 percent honest, it got incredibly hard to do, seeing as I travel a lot for work, so it became a bit impossible to keep up with the videos. My sweet husband was shooting most of them and does my photography, so it?s been a fun little project for us to work on together. What a trooper!
I always put up the recipe instructions for people to follow, and I like to shoot a ?before and after? picture, where I show you my ingredient board so you can see how and what I used to make the dish, so you can recreate it at home. All of this, including the videos, will be living on my website that I?m launching: jillylagasse.com.
DGF: Where did you get the inspiration to start the project?
Jilly: This whole project started out simply as inspiration for my next cookbook. Then I started thinking, if I could inspire just one person with these meals?if I could prove that ?Hey, look how easy it really is to eat wonderful and healthy meals.? I would feel like I?ve done my job! That?s truly all I want and all that drives me to cook and share each day: thinking that I could be inspiring someone else out there. Maybe they are newly diagnosed and are in shock, or don?t really know what they can or can?t eat. I want ?My Year In Food? to be a culinary mood board, if you will, where people can go look at these gorgeous pictures of REAL FOOD and see that they, too, can recreate these meals for the ones they love. To me, food is love. It is how I show my love, to cook and share with people, so truly I just want to share the gluten-free love with everyone out there!
DGF: So, can we expect another cookbook in the future? Possibly like a giant collection of these recipes?
Jilly: Yes! This incredibly diverse collection of 365 recipes are absolutely being used as inspiration for my next cookbook. I think that?s how I hope to inspire other people to eat and stay excited about cooking for their friends, family or just themselves?to have something totally different each and every day to look forward to it. That is what makes food fun and exciting to me, to have that excitement of ?Ohhh, what are we making and eating tonight??
DGF: Lastly, what is one piece of advice that you would give a newly diagnosed celiac?
Jilly: My biggest piece of advice would, of course, be from a food standpoint. I think when someone is first diagnosed, the panic sets in of ?oh my gosh, what can I still eat?? It?s so easy to become overwhelmed, but my advice would be to take a deep breath and to look at this diagnosis as a delicious journey, not a death sentence of boring or bland food forever. Embrace this and be so grateful that you are one of the lucky ones who have been properly diagnosed. Your whole life is about to get healthier, happier, and yep?even tastier!
Just know that celiacs ARE COOL!
By Alexandra Shimalla