BEING diagnosed with coeliac disease may not sound like an obvious blessing, but for NAOMI DEVLIN, it sparked a new foodie career path.

GEMMA DUNN heads to River Cottage to find out what it's all about...

Since she and her son were diagnosed with coeliac disease almost a decade ago, Naomi Devlin has dedicated her time to making wholesome and flavoursome gluten-free cooking more accessible.

From bespoke teaching days held in her family kitchen in Dorset, to her booked-out cookery classes at River Cottage – the base of operations seen in chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV series – she’s a woman on a dietary mission, and the latest string to her bow is her much-anticipated debut book, River Cottage Gluten Free.

“I’ve always wanted to write a cookbook,” says the 42-year-old.

“I started blogging almost nine years ago after I found out that I [needed to be] gluten-free, so writing has been a cathartic process.”

Devlin doesn’t have formal chef schooling – but that hasn’t held her back, and the knowledge she’s gleaned as a nutritionist, along with her honest approach to food and vitality, and first-hand experience of living gluten-free, make up for any gaps.

“Maybe I’d have got there quicker if I’d had some training, but in other ways, because I didn’t approach things in the traditional way, I was really open-minded,” she reasons.


“I’d often make things backwards,” she adds, recalling her early experiments with recipes.

“It was a case of me looking at the ingredients and thinking, ‘How would this be good?’, rather than, ‘How can I recreate this dish?’”

It’s a formula that seems to have worked: River Cottage Gluten Free is an authentic collection of 120 recipes – from breads to soups and cakes – for anybody looking to cut out gluten without compromising on taste, plus tips on alternative flours, methods of fermentation and delicious baking ideas.

A key aim for Devlin was to produce a cookbook that empowered people to feel confident in cooking glutenfree – a philosophy that applies to her courses too.

“When people come on my courses, I want them to have a sense that they could go away and do it too. If they don’t do it the same as me, that’s fine; they can experiment. It shouldn’t be precious.”

As for anybody with coeliac disease, being entirely gluten-free is a non-negotiable part of life for Devlin.

However, she acknowledges that increasingly, avoiding gluten can be a lifestyle choice for some people.

“At the beginning, we had a lot of diagnosed coeliacs coming onto the courses to ask, ‘What can I eat?’ Now there are a lot of people interested in expanding what they eat, or cooking for other people who’ve had a diagnosis. The demographic has changed, and the way that I teach them has changed.

“I’m just trying to give people confidence.”

Having attended one of her informative River Cottage courses, I can vouch for that.

Her calm, poised yet fun manner draws a varied crowd, and while the reasons for signing up are interchangeable, Devlin has one vision: to provide a hands-on, demonstrative day, driven by her passion for tasty, not fancy, cuisine.

She applauds anybody seeking to improve their health or wellbeing through diet changes, and isn’t a fan of the “fad” tag often associated with going gluten-free.

“I think it needs to be taken seriously. If someone believes they have an issue, it’s real for them. For whatever reason – if it’s an emotional thing that they need to have certain foods or whatever, that’s OK,” she says.

“There may be people jumping on the bandwagon with no concept of what they’re supposed to be doing, but if people are trying to discover what makes them sick, you’ve got to give that some respect.”