Before chef Nadia Sammut was diagnosed with celiac disease and lactose intolerance, food and cooking were not exactly sources of pleasure for her. But when she got to the root of her problem, after years of being ill, she set out to help others like herself and to cook gourmet food in the process. With her chef mother, Reine Sammut, at the Auberge La Fenière, Nadia now presents a 100-percent gluten-free menu, and it’s all haute cuisine.
Back in 1948, Nadia’s grandparents (a Tunisian and a Sicilian Maltese) had launched the Mediterranean restaurant La Fenière, in Lourmarin. Their son’s wife, Reine, studied her mother-in-law’s recipes and built on them, eventually taking over the kitchen. In 1995, the Auberge was awarded a Michelin star; Reine was one of the few women chefs to be granted the award. Meanwhile, daughter Nadia had gone on to study chemistry. Her inability to taste so many forbidden foods led her to develop her sense of smell, to the point where she even worked at the Institut supérieur international du parfum, de la cosmétique et de l’aromatique alimentaire.
And then she got to work developing what she calls Cuisine Libre (Free Cooking), clean food from organic farms, and a menu that, although based on many of the favorites of her grandmother, are created without gluten—couscous, cannelloni, tagliatelle. She opened a pizza truck in Marseille, creating pizza dough from chickpea, rice, and buckwheat flours. She developed a couscous from a Moroccan cactus flour. And eventually, she and Reine shifted the family restaurant into a gluten-free zone.
Nadia Sammut’s Institut de Cuisine Libre now spreads the word on food allergies and food safety, and shares her years of study through cooking classes, private lessons, and trainings for other cooks. Plus, a gluten-free bakery is on the horizon.