With your trip you will have to stay at a hotel or resort. I am going to discuss my thoughts on how to eat and stay safe. I will be talking about breakfast because some hotels and B&B’s offer free breakfasts. Lunch and dinner are different subjects that need to be discussed in great length.
It is very important for you to keep the Gluten Monster away during your trip. If you are in a hurry just grab some fruit, clean it, and leave. If you want to stay, you have to monitor how the wait staff warms the food up. In the past I have asked to see the ingredients from various boxes so don’t be afraid to ask to see packages. You are looking for a variety of things. After I find out if I can eat the food I again observe the staff and how they handle the food I will be eating.
In the hotels where they warm up sausage, eggs and pancakes I have found that I was able to eat the breakfast sausage and the eggs. These products came to the hotel already cooked and frozen so all the staff had to do was put them into the microwave and heat them up. I just asked to look at the boxes that the food came in so that I could read their ingredients. As mentioned, I always wait for a fresh batch of food to come out, and I even go as far as to use a clean fork to serve the food out of the pan or plate before it is dumped into the chafing dish.
I would have already explained to the wait staff in detail of my special diet needs so they will already know that I take my health very seriously. By taking the food out of the pan I hopefully take care of the accidental cross contamination from other patrons. If you take the food out of the pan as it sits there for all to use you are taking the chance that somebody has spilled a crumb into the pan. Be kind to the wait staff and they will help you.
For the other products served at the hotel like fruit be sure to wash it to make sure it is clean. If they are using bulk cereal it is probably not a cereal that you can eat so stay away unless you read the ingredients on the box or are certain that it is gluten-free. Remember that bulk cereals might have different ingredients than the versions that you are used to—or it could be another brand or another type. Hard boiled eggs are sometimes available—just be sure to ask for them right out of the pot or wash them very well. Some of the eggs have vinegar in the buckets to preserve them so be careful to read it thoroughly and also ask the staff if they have poured the end of a bucket into the bucket you are looking at.
In small kitchens like these you will find that the staff will often pour the remaining food back into the container if it can be reused. You have to determine if this is happening. Notice if the containers are very full or empty—will the staff let you open a fresh bucket or box if you ask? If it is early they won’t have much trouble doing that for you because they are going to use it anyway, but if it is at the end of breakfast they might not want to open a new container.
Remember to always have a plan B and to be nice. If necessary have your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper that can be used to explain your illness. Sometimes it is easier for people to read celiac disease so they can understand. I always grab a piece of fruit for later in case I have trouble finding lunch and it is a good snack to have. Once you have your breakfast it is out to lunch.
Gluten-Free at Buffet Breakfasts
If you are at a hotel that offers a buffet breakfast for free it is the same procedure as above. Always try to get a fresh pan as it comes out to eliminate cross contamination from other customers. Try to talk with someone in charge like the manager who could help you if they are not busy. Be nice and explain your illness and how sick your will get. Don’t be afraid to ask for the ingredients. Ask for them to cut or tear the ingredients out of the box for you if possible. Sometimes they have written them down for me and brought it out to our table. Make sure you ask whether they using fresh eggs or “egg products.” Also ask if they are putting something in the eggs to keep them from turning green. If they are using real eggs they have to keep them from turning green. Real eggs turn green from the heat and the chefs sometimes put lemon juice or vinegar in the eggs while they cook them.
Always ask—no matter how silly you think it is—whether they add anything to the food. Seasoning salt sometimes has wheat in it, so ask if they use something besides just salt
and pepper. Remind them how sick you will get if you eat a little piece of gluten and never be ashamed to ask. Always ask for your food to be unseasoned—that also eliminates the risk here.
Whatever you want make sure that you try to get the freshest that they have and also use a clean fork to retrieve your food. Most of the tongs or spoons are going to be used from one container to the next.
If the staff can help you they will, so ask and be patient don’t expect to be out fast. If you are expecting to be fast then you probably will be sick. In some cases you can ask for some fresh products from the back. Find the person who has been helping you and if the food you want is taking a long time to empty or just isn’t getting refilled on the buffet line. Ask if someone can go to the back and get you some food. Hand them your clean fork and ask them nicely if they can use this to get the food on your plate. As long as you are nice they will help you. Always try to ask someone who seems to care about the establishment where you are eating—you will know them.
Don’t forget to ask how they cooked your food. Just because the sausages are gluten-free doesn’t mean they cooked them that way. They could cook them on the same grill that they cooked the pancakes on and you will have bread on your sausage! Most places cook sausage and bacon in the oven but you need to ask how they cook everything. Are the scrambled eggs cooked on the grill—if so can they cook you a small batch on the side? Keep that in mind with all of the food you are going to eat. Don’t forget to be careful and remember about cross contamination
A Sit-down Gluten-Free Breakfast
For your sit down breakfast you want to make sure they cook your entire meal ala cart.
These tips can help you but you do have to make sure that you inform the staff, waitress, manager and hopefully the person who is cooking your meal. It doesn’t do any good if you tell one person and they forget because they got busy. That is why I always try to tell the manager when I enter. In your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper make sure you give them exactly how to cook your meal. Don’t assume they will do it because you told them you get very sick. As a chef myself, if I read something and it told me to use olive oil and not salad oil—I would do as it said. If it said use oil I would grab the closest product or even margarine. Even when busy if you read something it should stay in your head. When you’re busy and someone tells you that table #22 has celiac and needs gluten-free food…well it could get lost if I am busy listening to 20 different orders, so bring a form or gluten-free restaurant card that they can read.
Keep the comments coming and together we will get rid of the Gluten Monster!
Chef Daniel P