Communication is Key
What an exciting time for GREAT Kitchens and gluten-free dining! I can truly say I just had the trip of a lifetime representing the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) on the GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chefs Table tour. Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington were my destinations and the food and conversation were both exceptional and intriguing. I had the pleasure to work along the side of GREAT Chef Ambassador Chef Jehangir Mehta who is a master with spices and showcasing gluten-free ingredients. My favorite dish that he prepared was… well, all of them. But if I had to narrow it down, the halibut with beets and fried onion ring was primo DELISH!
As a true foodie, having the pleasure of tasting some extraordinary gluten-free meals prepared by some of the top chefs in the country was a thrill. In Portland, my favorite dish by Chef Naomi Pomeroy was the quince gallette and Chef Vitaly Paley’s icebox cake… crazy good. Plus, he made me banana bread for a special treat when we arrived for an early morning TV shoot. How sweet is that?
Chef John Howie’s tortilla soup’s spicy broth hit the spotand Chef Holly Smith’s cuttlefish ink risotto had such a mild fish flavor and striking presentation. What a contrast! These dishes celebrated fresh, local ingredients and honored key gluten-free ingredients like tapioca, chickpea flour, sorghum and infused flavors proving that gluten-free options should NOT be boring, bland tasting, or blah-looking – EVER!
All of the host chefs had a keen understanding of celiac disease and many had personal connections. Their interest was sparked by friends or family members that had a need for safe gluten-free meals which generated interest and intrigue in preparing their creations in a gluten-free manner to meet the same exceptional standard and quality as all of their offerings. During their presentations to the guests, they explained that when a “GF” request is made, serving gluten-free foods safely is always top of mind and caution in the kitchen is heightened.
However, I think the GREATest message from the tour was the importance of communication. GREAT Kitchens training emphasizes the importance of communication from taking the order to the serving of the plate. This is an important component in the training for the foodservice community to ensure safe preparation of gluten-free meals for our community. The training stresses continuous communication from host, server, manager, chef and server to get that order right with no mistakes along the way. But the communication doesn’t begin with the host greeting the guest; it really begins with the gluten-free diner. We really need to make our needs known and be clear to the restaurant and chef about what they are. People are eating gluten-free for all kinds of reasons from medical necessities such as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (‘gluten sensitivity’) or maybe other medical conditions, but it’s quite possible the diner is eating gluten-free for the perceived health benefit brought on by the gluten-free fad diet. This muddles the message that we need to ensure restaurants receive. Chefs have requests for all kinds of allergies, diets, substitutions, and even requests from plain old picky eaters.
When you go out to eat, make it clear. Communicate. Use NFCA’s Dining Tips Sheet as a guide. Say “I have celiac disease and I must eat gluten-free for my health. This is not a choice. Can you serve me safely?” See what sort of response you get – you might be pleasantly surprised.
How do you handle dining out gluten-free? What has your experience been like? Tell me in the comments section below or on NFCA’s Facebook page. The GREAT Kitchens Chef’s Table Tour stopped San Francisco today and we’re hitting Los Angeles on Wednesday, so be sure to check for updates on Facebook, Instagram or follow NFCA (@celiacawareness) and Chef Mehta (@jehangir_mehta) on Twitter. Be sure to search for the hashtags #GREATKitchens or #GFChefsTable!
Safe and delicious dining to you all!