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Paris based Harry Eastwood is the one of the girls behind Cook Yourself Thin, but I came across her via her Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache – a book of cakes that all use vegetables. It is as mad as it sounds, especially the swede one, but these naturally gluten free cakes really are amazing and I think Harry is a real gem for publishing such a unique book, that happens to be mostly gluten free. And with that, I am thrilled to introduce a lovely indepth interview with Harry below:

NGF – Tell us a little bit about your foodie self. I assume you aren’t Coeliac, but do you live gluten free? If so, why and for how long?

I’m not a coeliac no, but I prefer a diet without gluten, since I find that it tends to ‘depress’ my system and makes me feel sluggish, slow and sleepy. I was gluten free for about 5 years, then I moved to Paris and have not able to live quite such a gluten free existence since then! The French don’t really understand the concept of not wanting/being able to eat ‘baguette’.

NGF – Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache is a really unique book. What inspired you to write a book dedicated to so many cakes using vegetables?

When I first wrote the proposal for Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, I didn’t actually know that it was possible to use all these vegetables inside cakes and ‘get away with it’ since it had never been done before… but I felt instinctively as though it was possible. So in some ways, you could say that I wung it and got lucky!

I wrote a book almost entirely of vegetable cakes because I liked the idea of everyone (the gluten free gang, the dairy free, the dieters, even my brother in law Max, who lives without a gall bladder) being able to have cake, without it making them sick or feel guilty. I dedicated the book to Max because I made up recipes that were healthy enough for him to have- and not get an upset tummy. His favourite food in the world is chocolate cake and it was so sad for me to see his face when he had to regretfully say ‘no’ to having it when it was offered… now he gets to eat fantastic cake he’s perfectly well afterwards! It’s the magic of the vegetables that have made all the difference to the cakes.

NGF – Your book is SO naturally gluten free which is what we are all about here, except for just 8 recipes that use spelt. Why did you use rice flour and almonds over conventional wheat flour in your baking?

I use rice flour and almonds rather than wheat flour in my baking because I discovered in the testing phase of the book that the combination of rice flour (which is too short) and vegetables (which are too moist) created the exact perfect balance for the cake’s texture. The almonds are there to provide the atmosphere of the cake with a little natural fat and most importantly, to give the cake good ‘crumb structure’.

NGF – Given most of the recipes in Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache are light on wheat, is this the case for how you eat in general? If so, any tips, recipes or favourite meals?

I prefer to eat as little wheat as possible but as discussed at the top of the interview, it’s not always easy whilst living in Paris. My favourite meals are simple: mostly salads at the moment (I’m writing a book of salad recipes), fish, eggs, meat, fruit. Nothing too fancy or with complicated sauces. My favourite accompaniment is often either a dollop of mayonnaise or a lemon wedge…

My favourite meal of the day is breakfast. I love scrambled eggs with either salmon and asparagus (yippee to the Spring asparagus season having started!), or ham and cress piled over the top, all on a slice of toast. I tend to bring over gluten free bread over from the UK and freeze it. I also like to eat fruit first thing. And my boyfriend is all about yoghurt in the mornings, which makes me laugh because he’s American and he calls it yo-ghurt.

NGF – Complete the sentence – I cannot get through the day without a gluten free…?

A square of chocolate??? I don’t eat food BECAUSE it’s gluten-free. It’s just that the food I love best tends to be gluten-free, if you know what I mean.

NGF – I loved your ‘Trust Me Tips’ throughout the book – do you have any tips from your extensive experimentation for gluten free baking or cooking?

Texture is always an issue in gluten-free cooking and that’s mostly because gluten contains valuable elastin, which helps to thicken sauces and gives bread that chewy tug that’s so delicious. My tips when fiddling with gluten-free recipes are two fold:

1- The best gluten-free food in my experience is the simplest kind. So don’t feel the need to imitate recipes that rely on gluten.

2- And if you are going to play at imitating gluten recipes, then it’s important to keep a very open mind, be lateral in your approach and think outside the box. That’s how Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache came about: it just made cooking sense to me, even though everyone thought I was a total loon. In short, innovate, don’t imitate.

NGF – I am very envious that you live in Paris… Do you have any recommendations for great GF places to eat or shop?

So the bad news about Paris is that it really isn’t geared towards gluten free AT ALL. There is however a relatively new GF bakery, called Helmut Newcake
 (10th) which has managed the impossible and created classic French pastries that are all GF.

In terms of natural shops that carry some gluten free ingredients and products, there are two I know of: Naturalia and La Vie Claire.

NGF – How would you suggest someone with Coeliac Disease to approach eating out when in Paris, or France?

The good news is that it’s always possible to get a wonderful steak frites, or a beautiful grilled fish with green beans… Delicious homemade ice creams and cheeses, fruit at the height of their ripeness are almost always there on brasserie menus too. There’s lots of choice; just be aware that the sauces are almost invariably thickened with plain flour.

Otherwise, for absolute peace of mind, David Lebovitz wrote a fantastic page on his blog all about gluten free eating and shopping. He mentions this restaurant Le Potager du Marais as a good gluten free option.

– Where is your favourite place to eat out – considering special diets?

I’m off to a tiny little place in the 4th arrondissement tonight, where they make wonderful, simple tacos made with corn tortillas. It’s called Candelaria. That’s the kind of place I love to eat. It happens to be mostly gluten-free… Otherwise, I would suggest going to eat oysters and seafood for a truly gluten free treat! My favourite place to do that is in the 16th arrondissement and is a small restaurant called Le Chasse Maree. The owner, Marcel, is a friend of my father’s and he has a fish shop right next to the restaurant. The seafood there is always utterly amazing.

NGF – What does the food future hold for Harry Eastwood…?

Well, I’m writing a book of salads that’s coming out next Spring called A Salad For All Seasons. There will be an abundance of gluten free recipes there too, although once again, I haven’t made it the focus of the book.  I’ve also just shot the pilot for a TV show that takes place all over France but is destined for the UK screens.  And The Skinny French Kitchen has just been nominated for an award by the Guild of Food Writers, in the Healthy Eating category, which is wonderful news. Beyond that, I have no idea what the future holds for me. It’s always an adventure!

Many thanks to Harry for some great recommendations and insight. Check back soon for the review of her book Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache.