Educating the Restaurant Industry

I’m sure it’s happened to you. You ask your server if something is gluten free, they say they’ll check, and come back with an answer. Sorry, no, it’s not. It has potatoes in it.

Wha–? You then patiently explain that potatoes (or rice or corn or many other foods) are naturally gluten free. You, being educated, know that how those foods are prepared may impact whether or not the item is gluten free, but you also know what specific questions to ask.

When Marc Vetri, owner of Vetri and other Philadelphia restaurants, wrote an article at The Huffington Post entitled “I’m Gluten Intolerant…Intolerant”, the deliberately provocative headline set people off. For, I believe, the wrong reason. (For some additional backstory, read his interview at the Gluten Dude’s blog)

Vetri argued that he offers many gluten-free options for diners, such as the risotto rejected by a (purportedly) gluten-free customer. In fact, many of the foods served in most restaurants — how is that for a broad statement! — are inherently gluten free.

Vetri’s article highlights this point. And I think it’s time we started focusing restaurant personnel on how easy it is to make more gluten-free options available to customers…without upending the entire kitchen.

Seriously, this can be done! I’m not talking about adding gluten-free pasta or pizza to the menu. And, unless there is a dedicated area and protocol for making gluten-free sandwiches or toast, no thank you. I’m talking about ordinary, standard menu items that are already GF, or can be tweaked fairly simply to be gluten free.

Steak and sides. Roasted chicken. Fish (leave off dusting it with wheat flour or substitute rice flour for everyone!). Steamed vegetables. Roasted vegetables. Risotto. Many soups. More Mexican/Latin American dishes than I can name.

And so on.

Which leads me back to Vetri’s article. I said the customer in question was purportedly gluten free. Based on the reported interaction, she didn’t seem to have a good grip on what that means (and her finishing a beer that was not GF seems to support this). We, gluten-free people, need to be clear about our requirements, the fact that even a little bit of gluten is too much, and — I believe this is critical — that we truly appreciate efforts made by restaurants to feed us delicious and safe foods.

Patronize them and tell them why! Tell other people why! If you have a blog or other public forum, share the news so people seeking gluten-free options in your area can discover a restaurant that wants their business!

How do you help educate restaurants about gluten and how they can feed you safely?

Tip of the Week

In addition to studying a restaurant’s menu online (if available), call the restaurant before you arrive. Make this call during non-peak hours, and speak with the restaurant manager or head chef. They will be able to assist you with gluten-free options. When you arrive at the restaurant, tell the host and your server you are gluten free. Don’t assume anything!

Menu of the Week

On our first night in Milan, my husband and I made a meal of just Risotto Milanese, a creamy rice dish infused with saffron. Sure, we could have also enjoyed the traditional Osso Bucco, but the risotto was more than enough to make me happy.

While risotto is somewhat labor intensive — the slow addition of liquid and frequent stirring are what makes the rice creamy with a little bit of bite — it can be made in about a half hour to 45 minutes.

  • Risotto Milanese
  • Osso Bucco or Lamb Chops over Arugula Salad
  • Gelato (Talenti makes a good variety of gluten-free gelatos; not all flavors are GF, here’s the link GF options, so read the labels carefully)
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