This week I had a wonderful time meeting new people in the food world while eating amazing food at one of the Gluten-Free Chef's Tables during the GREAT Kitchens tour. Our dinner took place at the restaurant, Imperial. Known for it's delicious food and for its nationally known chef and owner, Vitaly Paley, who has won various awards, as well as winning a battle on the Food Network's Iron Chef America. Joining him was Chef Jehangir Mehta, who is not only the owner and executive chef of two well-acclaimed restaurants, but who also participated in Food Network's Next Iron Chef. 

There were high expectations for the food, and high expectations have a way leading you towards disappointment. But not this time! The food was fabulous, and I loved how the chefs did an amazing job tying each course together with specific flavors. 

I didn't bring my camera, but my husband kindly took some photos for me on his phone. While they can't do justice to our beautiful food, they do allow you to get glimpses into our delightful evening.

But before I get to our amazing menu, a few words about The GREAT Kitchens Program, which is a project of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Our whole five-course meal was completely gluten-free, and unfortunately that can be hard to get at a restaurant. But gluten-free diners deserve gluten-free food that hasn't been gluten contaminated as an everyday option (not just as part of a tour).  So many restaurants in our area have awareness of this issue, but so many don't. One local restaurant served us one of their "gluten-free" meals that we found out afterwards had gluten in the form of soy sauce in it. And that's just one story out of so many. Thankfully Chef Paley at the Imperial is one of many in our area who does a great job catering to the gluten-free diner. But more restaurants need the training and knowledge. 

In order to help restaurants meet this very pressing need, the GREAT Kitchens program is a very inexpensive program that allows individuals, as well as whole staffs, to learn how they can serve gluten-free guests. Once they have done the program, a restaurant can apply to officially become GREAT Kitchens certified, allowing gluten-free guests to know that well-trained staff members are serving them. This is a wonderful opportunity that will allow restaurants to tap into a specific market, and for gluten-free diners to able to eat with peace of mind. I know I would be more likely to eat out at a restaurant that was listed on their GREAT Kitchens registry! 

Now onto our menu! 

The night started out with a cocktail named Rickshaw that was amazing! One of the ingredients that was so special was a locally made sorghum whiskey specially brewed for Chef Paley. When combined with bonal quinquina, cocchi americano rose, and hibiscus rose bitters, it was delightfully well balanced. It was so fragrant that I smelled it as soon as they started serving it. 

Served with the cocktail was Spiced Popped Sorghum, which was a delicate "popcorn" like dish that played whimsically with the sorgum whiskey in our cocktail.

Soon after came a Curried Squash and Goat Cheese Fritter that were perfectly fried to be non-greasy, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Then came Chickpea Pancakes (well spiced - perhaps with coriander and black cumin) and a delicately spiced shrimp on top. 

Next came our first course of paper-thin Oregon Albacore Tuna Sashimi served with a delightfully tangy orange yogurt sauce and tapioca two ways. I have learned to really enjoy raw fish in recent years, but this by far was my favorite dish featuring it. 

Our entree course featured slow roasted breast of veal served with an incredibly rich (and nutritious) smoked marrow butter, grilled frisee, beef fat roasted sweet potatoes, and bordelaise. First, I love slowly cooked meat (it's my preference when cooking many different cuts), so this was just down my alley with its very tender texture. But they also had a contrasting spiced crust on the top of the breast that was a perfect complement to the tender meat. Being someone who considers herself a "traditional foodie", a main dish featuring beef fat and marrow butter is perfect. 

And finally, a delicious Milk Chocolate Icebox Cake was served that featured roasted bananas, walnuts and toasted meringue. If you've never tried roasted bananas, put it on your to try list! Ever since I made ice cream featuring roasted bananas, I've been a huge fan. 

But here's the deal: A dinner like this, clean of any gluten contamination, should be available to more diners on a regular basis. I am so grateful to the chefs and restaurants involved in this tour as it brings more awareness and training to such an important aspect of many of our lives.

Special thanks to the Imperial, Chef Paley, Chef Mehta, and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness for the invite to a lovely dinner. 

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