Restaurants cater to gluten-free Chicagoans at celiac fundraiser

Restaurants cater to gluten-free Chicagoans at celiac fundraiser

March 28, 2012

Chicago-area residents gathering at the Sheraton Hotel on April 20 will have one thing in common: They either have celiac disease or they know someone who does.

This year at the Spring Flours Benefit for the University of Chicago Medicine's Celiac Disease Center, guests will have the opportunity to visit gluten-free tasting stations offering savory and delicious dishes, talk with 28 of Chicago's finest chefs and restaurant owners, and bid on a variety of auction items -- all while raising money for the Celiac Disease Center. The event is expected to draw a sell-out crowd of more than 500 attendees.

Most attendees at the benefit are not on a gluten-free diet by choice. Rather, they have celiac disease, the world's most common genetic autoimmune disease, and must stay away from foods that contain gluten. Celiac disease affects more than 3 million Americans and can develop at any age. Currently, a strict gluten-free diet is the only known treatment for the disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

"I was diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago. After going gluten-free, my health turned around. I'm now healthier and stronger than I've ever been," said Rachel O'Konis, a Chicago resident and Celiac Disease Center board member. "To me, Spring Flours is really a celebration of my health. It's a great opportunity to connect with other celiacs and to thank local chefs who are committed to serving me safe gluten-free food."

For Chicago-area chefs and restaurant owners, the Spring Flours Benefit has become a way to showcase their gluten-free menu items and better understand some of their most loyal customers.

"We make safe, gluten-free eating a priority in our restaurant. That way, parents don't have to worry and kids can enjoy pizza and pasta, just like everyone else," said Bill Bauer, owner of Marcello's. "We love participating in this event every year. Not only is it a great cause, but it's worth it just to see the kids' eyes light up!"

Participating restaurants donate all of the food and staff to support the annual event, which is the largest fundraiser for the University of Chicago Medicine's Celiac Disease Center. The center uses its funds to provide diagnosis, care, awareness and research of celiac disease. In fact, University of Chicago Medicine researchers have made recent breakthroughs that are likely to lead to a cure for the disease in the next 10 to 15 years.

"Spring Flours is not only critical to our financial existence, but a fabulous way to help increase the quality of life for those with celiac disease," said Carol Shilson, the center's executive director. "We are thrilled that so many can experience this event and are engaged in our work to find a cure."

The 2012 Spring Flours Benefit is at 6 p.m. Friday, April 20, in the Chicago Ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers downtown. The event will feature gluten-free tasting stations staffed by Chicago-area chefs, a specialty martini, and a live auction. Tickets are available through April 10.

The restaurants showcased at Spring Flours include: Café Ba-Ba-Reeba, Centered Chef, Chicago q, The Claim Company, City Park Grill, Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurants, Da Luciano Restaurant, Deerfields Bakery, Harry Caray's Restaurant Group, Marcello's Restaurant, Mastro's Steakhouse, Maya Del Sol, Mity Nice Grill, Mon Ami Gabi, Nacional 27, OMG It's Gluten Free, Osteria Via Stato, Pinstripes, RL, Real Urban Barbecue, Rose's Wheat Free Bakery, Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, Salpicon, Senza, Sweet Ali's Gluten-Free Bakery, Swirlz Cupcakes, Wildfire, Zapatista – Cuisines of Mexico, and ZED451. The martinis will be provided by 4 Rebels Vodka.

About the University of Chicago Medicine's Celiac Disease Center
The University of Chicago Medicine's Celiac Disease Center has improved the care, diagnosis and awareness of celiac disease. In addition, it provides the infrastructure and support needed to advance cutting-edge celiac research, including recent ground-breaking investigations that show great promise of a cure for the disease. As part of the University of Chicago Medicine, the Celiac Disease Center is a 501-c3 non-profit organization, completely funded by donor contributions. For more information, please visit