House call: Caroline Quentin

“Caroline was diagnosed with coeliac [disease] six years ago, and now keeps an entirely gluten-free kitchen, safe from any hint of cross contamination.”

We’ve had a friend crush on Caroline Quentin – star of sitcoms, docs, comedy dramas and the odd cop show – since, like, forever. And now we’ve visited her slightly gingery Devon kitchen, we like her even more…

Take a look at Caroline Quentin’s kitchen. Notice anything? Yep, it’s colourful and light; sure, it’s got that cool contemporary- but-rustic thing going on; and yes, we imagine the open-plan style makes it great for dinner parties, too. But look again – there’s something else that you haven’t picked up on…

Okay, so we’re being a bit mean here, ’cause what we’re on about isn’t something that you’ll be able to tell from a photograph, no matter how intently you study it. Caroline’s kitchen is, you see – and as well as all the things listed above – totally gluten free.

Ahead of Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week (9-15 May), we popped around to pay the Devon-based patron of charity Coeliac UK a little home visit, to chat with her about living with the disease, and find out how to spot potential symptoms. (Oh, and just have a bit of a nosey around too, if we’re honest.)

This adopted Devonian has been living in these parts for a good 12 years now, having been inspired to move out of London, in part, by fellow local Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage TV series.

“He just has such a good ethos,” says Caroline. “And I love what he can do with a joint of meat. It makes me very happy!” The house that we’re sat in has been home to Caroline, husband Sam and their children for about 18 months now, having been all but derelict when they first got their hands on it. Good job, then, that the Men Behaving Badly and Jonathan Creek actress has developed quite a thing for property renovation.

In fact, by the time this mag is in your hands, she’ll be jetting around the world to film an enviable new series, Extreme Dream Homes, that she’s presenting.

Back to her home, though, and the kitchen, she tells us, was first priority. She designed it herself as a social space, where you can both cook and entertain at the same time, making the kids’ dinner while helping them with homework. Even the huge table that we’re sat at, scrawling our notes and sipping our cuppa, is the result of a sketch by Caroline on the back of an envelope.

Surrounding the kitchen are 40 acres of land, where the family grow everything from runner beans to garlic, shallots to soft fruits. These pastures are also home to seven chickens, which are kept just
for eggs, and sometimes pigs, too – when Caroline has a good stretch of time at home to look after them.

Caroline was diagnosed with coeliac six years ago, and now keeps an entirely gluten-free kitchen, safe from any hint of cross contamination. 

“A bit of wheat flour the size of a grain of rice will see me out of action for a good few days,” she tells us. “I’ll be in bed for at least one.”

She runs us through a comprehensive list of symptoms (“constant anaemia, bloating, mouth ulcers, headaches, even depression…”), describing how the effects of undiagnosed coeliac disease gets progressively worse over time, and how important it is to be aware of the signs.

“I know what a difference [being diagnosed] made to me,” she says, “and I don’t want people to live with it. I’m evangelical about it; people are suffering when they don’t have to. You don’t even have to start taking anything to treat it, just cut a few things out.”

But once you’re diagnosed, what then? Caroline doesn’t pretend it’s a walk in the park, especially not initially, but says the changes needed aren’t as drastic as you might think.

“It was a bit of a struggle in the kitchen at first,” she admits. “But that’s because I just didn’t know about all the alternatives: brown rice flour, chickpea flower, cornflower… It’s really difficult to go out and eat, though, so I mainly eat here. With the best will in the world, a lot of restaurants just don’t understand. They’ll cross contaminate by using the same knife, or whatever. Whenever I do go out with my friends, I can pick as carefully as possible what I eat – but I’ll still almost certainly get ill afterwards.”

There’s a shelf on the back wall of Caroline’s dining area, lined with a host of cookery books, may of which are – unsurprisingly – gluten free.

“Phil Vickery has some really good gluten-free cook books,” she says, running her eyes over the collection. “His baking one is fantastic. Healthy Gluten Free Cooking is good too, by Darina Allen and Rosemary Kearney. They’re really good for family meals. We also use Ottolenghi at least once a week.”

Inspiration also comes from whatever there is a glut of in the garden, but Moroccan food is a fave (“the dishes are great for coeliacs, so we do a lot of Moroccan cooking”) as is Indian, with Caroline having spent plenty of time on the subcontinent.

“I’ve learnt a lot about Indian food,” she says, “and I cook it with gram flour. I love it, and we’re always doing a veggie balti or rogan josh. I sometimes just make a masala sauce to go with various veggies too.”

Luckily, husband Sam is also a dab hand in the kitchen (“he can just open a recipe book and create anything in it”), and does a killer gluten-free Pavlova with stem ginger. “He also makes steamed syrup puddings for the kids,” Caroline says. “They’re the biggest, stickiest, most glutinous puds… but I can’t have any.”

What does she miss the most, though? “Good, crusty white bread,” she says. “You just can’t replicate it. Gluten free versions are not the same.”

You can get the next best thing online, though, Caroline reckons, from Artisan Bread Organic. The poppy seed loaf they do is a particular fave, FYI.

Having talked ourselves hungry by this point, we finish our tea, say our goodbyes, and keep our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to navigate our way out through the remote Devon roads rather more successfully than on the way in. (Yeah, totally glossed over that earlier…)