Celiac.com 05/16/2008 - Knowing the Kitchen on Your Travels
As you travel there is no way around it—you need to eat at a restaurant. If you are like me, you probably don’t look forward towards eating out. I have been trained by some of the finest chefs in the world and there wasn’t enough training to prepare me for eating out gluten-free. Don’t get me wrong, if I was not celiac I could take the menus apart and know everything necessary to impress my wife and order the right food and wine. Yes I even was involved in wine tasting in Palm Beach Florida.
That was then and this is now. Walking into the restaurant, sadly, the first thing I do is ask for the manager and whether or not they have a gluten free menu. I have been told over and over about restaurants that have a gluten-free menu, and yes, this is great, but in these cases I have found that most of the time:
I have had comments that some of you think the chef is going to get mad and that you are insulting them by writing down what you want to eat…my reply—this is hogwash!
For those of you who still believe that they will be upset let’s look at what happens from the chef’s viewpoint during the day at a restaurant. He waits for the wait staff to bring in the order. It is usually on a ticket stating whether the food should be rare, medium or even broiled or sautéed. On the same ticket the wait staff tells them what vegetables or whether they will have French fries or baked potato. Hopefully you see where I am going with this.
As you must have learned by now, if you have traveled to a restaurant, even one with a gluten-free menu, sometimes the staff doesn’t even know what gluten-free means, and if this is the case how could the chef possibly know? Who is training them? They come to work and are told they have to make a steak gluten-free. So they make a steak and put the garnish on it and when the customer gets it they say “wow, this is great, I am about to eat a steak from the gluten-free menu.” HOLD ON! “Oh no, the garnish on the plate is a fancy fruit relish that is made with malt vinegar.” CROSS CONTAIMNATION. What I have been saying from the start. Yes this really happen to me—the liquid from the relish ran down the plate and on my steak—this was a few years ago before I started to use my restaurant/chef skills to order my food.
I have talked with some of my chef friends and not one of them said they would get offended, and it would be just like if someone came in to the restaurant and asked me to make a kosher meal. I am expected to do it right because if I didn’t they would be offended and then they would never return to the restaurant. If I pleased them, however, they would tell their friends about their positive experience. This would mean more money for the restaurant, and that makes my boss happy. Some of you will still doubt me but that is okay because when I walk into a restaurant I expect to be pampered just like everyone else does. Be sure to always have a plan B, and be prepared to leave or not eat your meal if there are problems with it. There are way too many restaurants in a town for me to get sick over a crumb. Once you start talking with the manager or the waiter you will quickly learn if what they are telling you is real or just hogwash.
Another Real Experience
I was given a gluten-free menu at a restaurant and I asked the waiter if he knew what gluten-free meant. He said “yes,” so I asked him whether croutons come on the salad that I had ordered. He said “sure, croutons come on all the salads and they are already made, but I can take them off”. I am not making this up folks, this was at a well known Italian restaurant that is a chain all over the USA. I switched to plan B and didn’t eat there. My wife who loves this place did eat and I went to a party store got some snacks. It might be harsh to some but if the waiter is not properly trained how do I know whether the cook or anyone else there is properly trained? Just because a restaurant has a gluten-free menu means nothing (unless I can verify that the staff was properly trained by speaking to them).
Fast Food Restaurants
If you have followed my articles you will know that I like some of the fast food restaurants. Many of these large chains adhere to strict cooking methods. This is good for us because they stay the same and there is less of a chance for cross contamination. In many cases these restaurants use dedicated fryers for certain foods, for example French fries. So you can usually have French fries and not worry about the batter from the chicken nuggets.
Cross contamination to me is the way the “Gluten Monster” attacks us—when we least expect it. No matter how much you say or ask, if they put your food on the table that just had gluten on it you’re going to get sick. I always ask for the manager to help me. Here is an example of how I order:
Going to Mexican restaurants is one of my favorite options. Much of the food is made with corn. After you sit down, review the menu and decide what you want. The chips are usually corn, but be sure to ask, and if so you can have them with some shredded cheese as an appetizer. Most of the salsas are made with only fresh vegetables. The main items that you ask for is to make sure they use only fresh foods for you. This is why you should ask for the manager when you walk in. The manager should be able to help you order.
If you like hot sauce I would bring it myself. Those specialty items are small and handy to have if you like them. You never know what type they will have and it is nice to eat it with your Mexican meal. If you ask for refried beans and they are gluten-free, I would ask for them to open a fresh can and have them microwave it. Any of the food that is processed I would ask for fresh can and for them to microwave it. If they don’t have a microwave they can heat it up in a steamer, broiler or a sauté pan. You should always be able to eat well at a Mexican restaurant.
How I Order Gluten-Free Mexican Food:
How I Order Gluten-Free Italian Food:
We can’t eat the pasta but some of the mixes that go on the pasta are great. If it is strips of chicken or shrimp, there are many items that can be looked at. With sun dried tomatoes or avocado, those could be added to your entrée or salad. They will have mussels and good meats, you just need to read what they have and make a great meal. When you look at the menu you have to ask or determine, what is sitting on the table by the chef and can I use that for my meal. Every entrée has mizzen pla. (Products in place) meaning that the chef needs everything right next to him to make his meal. If the entree you are looking at is seafood fettuccini with a cream sauce. The chef will need fresh seafood, cooked noodles, sauce, vegetables and seasoning. If this was made up already for the night, the noodles and seafood would be garbage. As a celiac you can take the seafood as long as it is not marinated in something. That goes for most of the items if you read what is in the entrée. Know what is fresh and what is frozen and you will be able to pick apart a menu. Always ask and you will learn for the next time.
In this article I offered examples for a few types of restaurants. I could go on and on. You need to understand how restaurants work to be able to order your food to be made gluten-free. Please don’t limit yourself to the gluten-free menu only (if they have one). You should not be discriminated against because you have a health concern. That is a big word, I know, but we should be able to eat just like the next person can. Our money is just as GREEN as another person’s. I would rather pay a little more if I add something to an item then to be told that they can’t do it. That is why I say that together we can tame the Gluten Monster. When you are traveling there are a lot of restaurants to choose from. Be prepared to wait and not be rushed, try to pick a restaurant that is not busy so the chef is not rushed by 20 other orders. If you follow my approach you will have success eating out gluten-free in restaurants, and your dining experience will be pleasant—like it is suppose to be!
Gluten-Free Travel Hints:
Chef Daniel P.