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Traveling and Eating Gluten-Free Meals at Small or Moving Restaurants
Celiac.com 06/03/2008 - As you travel and experience the sites of the world you are going to have to stop at a restaurant or destination that has a small kitchen. Let me tell you a little bit about myself so you can understand that I also started in a small kitchen.
Chef Daniel P's Autobiography
I started working at the age of 13 and began my work in a very small tourist town and was promoted up from busboy to dishwasher. I was so fast at washing the dishes that I was promoted up within a month to cook. I went from the buffet type restaurant to an ala cart restaurant and buffet line. At the age of 17 I was completely in charge of the kitchen—this included all ordering, menu making, staff hiring and firing, and every task a person would do to run a successful kitchen. I didn’t know how to cook though—at least not compared to what I learned later. Yes I could do the basic menus but I wanted more and I left to climb the ladder of a big kitchen—so I set my sites on gourmet food. At that time I saw that Prince Charles from England was visiting Palm Beach Florida. I saw that he visited two places while he was in Palm Beach—the Palm Beach Polo Ground and he also visited the Breakers Resort. I applied at both places when I came to Florida and both wanted to hire me.
Every one has to start somewhere and you as the traveler are the ones who are going to train the future cooks or chefs. Yes you—the cook is going to learn from you as celiac patrons, so you need to do the right training. Let’s use the example of eating on a train that cooks for their patrons as they travel across the country. I like to think of a small boat or train as two of the most difficult places to prepare a gluten-free meal. They both are going to be small, and both have the potential to get bumpy while the cook is preparing food. This means there is a good chance an accident can happen and of course cross-contamination.
These kitchens probably keep their fires contained in the stove or flat top burners. By keeping the flame for cooking contained in a box, this means they have less chance of a fire starting and that is very important if you are on a river or going down the train tracks. The cooks are going to use sauté pans, hard top grills, ovens, steam boxes and possibly microwaves. If you know that you are going ahead of time to these types of restaurants you should see if they can send you the menu ahead of time so that you can look it over.
Hint: If you know your destination for any of your trip, see if you can get the menu before you arrive, as most places always have their menus prepared ahead of time. If you get the menu you can make up your Chef Daniel P Restaurant Form before you go.
I would try to spell out your entire meal in great detail. I also use this technique for all mom and pop restaurants. You are not insulting a cook or chef by asking them to prepare your meal a certain way. Every day the cook receives orders from the waitress on how to prepare a particular meal. Just because you are giving the instructions yourself only means to the chef that you are very serious about how your food is prepared.
What to Eat And How to Cook Your Meal
In these type of restaurants that are small and have limited space you have to try to eliminate any mistakes that the cook might make. How…you ask? Try some of these ideas:
- Notify them ahead a time if you can. Let the train, boat or any restaurant know that you are coming. Make sure you tell them the date, time and how many people will be receiving special meals. Don’t be upset if you get there and no one knows that you are coming, it is just part of the business.
- Have their phone number available so when you arrive in the city you can call a few hours before you arrive to eat. Just remind them again that you are planning on eating at their restaurant and ask them when their slowest time is.
- If it is a train or boat ask if you can eat at the last seating time (unless they indicate that an earlier time is slower). Feel them out to see when the best time is for you to order a specially prepared meal.
- During your phone call, ask who you should ask for when you do arrive for your meal.
- Make sure you arrive with your Chef Daniel P Restaurant Form and a pen or pencil.
- When you arrive ask for the manager or the person you talked to on the phone.
- Tell the manager in great detail about your special diet request. Let them know you will be writing out your request that will specifically tell them how to prepare your meal.
- Ask if there is anything you should know about the kitchen or the chef—anything that could help you in preparing your meal and making it as safe as possible.
How the Cook Prepares Your Food:
- Sautéing: To me is one of the safest ways to have your food prepared. No matter if the cooks are in a small or large kitchen. This is how I might write it down for the cook to see: “Sauté 1 whole chicken breast in olive oil, make sure the pan is very clean and does not have a crumb on it.” When asking to sauté you can ask for them to make a quick sauce in the pan. That is what I do, even if it is just to squeeze a lemon on your food, this can add some fresh flavor.
- Hard Top Grill: I don’t recommend using this unless you are the very first ones to arrive. During the day when they cook on the grill pieces of food stay on the grill for the whole day. You can ask them to use the razor blade to scrape the grill. Even using the razor blade it is not 100% and food from other meals may get on your food.
- Steamer: This is a good way to cook as long as your food is the only one in the steamer. You can ask them to wrap the food and this will keep all crumbs off of your food. Example: “Please wrap a piece of salmon up with some saran wrap. Place it on a holey pan so the steam can circle salmon."
- Microwave: This is great for potatoes or vegetables and a good way to keep food safe. I always ask for my veggies to be micro-waved. This is a great way to get a baked potato. Even some fish and other entrees can be cooked in the microwave. Example: “Could you please cook a potato and my vegetables in the microwave. Put them in a dish then cover with saran wrap.”
- Fryer: You must stay away from a fryer in small kitchens (unlike fast food chains and some bigger restaurants). They use the fryer for everything and that means that everything could be in it. When they cook your French fries, the crumbs from the chicken nuggets could get on your food.
- Boiling: This is another great way to cook food. You must ask them to only cover the food product that they are cooking. Some fishes, vegetables and other meats can be cooked this way. If they have a steamer I would ask for that first since they don’t have to wait for it to get hot. Example: “I would like two eggs boiled or poached in just enough water to cover the entrée so it won’t take so long. You could have the cook put a small amount of water then cover the pan and steam it.”
- Broiler: Sometimes small kitchens that are moving are not going to have a broiler. It is the fear of the open fire that could cause a fire in the kitchen. If they do have one you could ask for this example: “I would like a piece of salmon on a metal plate. Cook it until it is done, then splash it with white wine before plating.”
The main idea you take into small kitchens is this: It is a lot like cooking at your home (unless you have a huge kitchen). Those kitchens are made small but can put out large amount of meals if needed. Those menus are made to accommodate the small amount of storage also. You need to really know your menu and the ingredients they are using. Unlike a large kitchen you might not have the extra supplies that a big kitchen has. They just don’t have the room and you need to think of that. So if it is a river boat or a train, when you look at the menu some of the items will be canned products, because canned products are so much easier to store than refrigerated items.
As you look at the menu take the item you would like and ask them if they can cook it in a sauté pan or maybe in the oven. This is a very safe way to have your food prepared.
When I was employed at the resort and we would often have banquets for over 200 people. If the meal was New York strip steak we would put the steaks on the broiler and mark the diamond char marks in order to get the steaks cooked exactly at the same time. We would then pull the steaks off and put them on large sheet pans. Just before we needed the steak, we would put them in the ovens and cook them until they were the proper temperature. The customers never knew that the steaks were cooked in the oven and not the broiler. The char marks on the steak made everyone believe that it was broiled.
The point is that you can have your food baked as long as you don’t get sick—for me that is the most important thing. When I do eat out, I don’t care too much about the taste or temperature of the meal—my number one goal is that I get a gluten-free meal and that the restaurant doesn’t ruin my vacation.
Also, you have to be very careful when you send your food back. Just remember how busy the cooks are and whether or not they are going to remember your specially ordered meal when it comes back to them. If they are busy in the back and the waitress says to the cook, “Cook it more,” what do you think happens—will they take as much time as they did the first time? These are the types of questions that you have to ask yourself when you are sitting at your table and thinking about sending your meal back.
I know that we all expect a perfect meal when we pay for it. Sometimes it is just easier to ask them to only warm it up in the microwave. Something to think about is that the microwave is like a closed room where it is not likely that your food will get contaminated. Most kitchens, especially smaller ones, have a microwave like the one that you use at home. If you do need your meal cooked more, try to explain it to the manager and remind him that you will get very sick if it gets contaminated—ask the manager nicely if you can watch and see if the cook does it right.
Another thing to remember when you are eating in these types of restaurants is that they are small and that means the kitchens are small too. The cooks are going to be right next to each other—only arms and shoulders apart. Remember; if you don’t think they will be able to feed you properly always have a plan B, so you can still eat. Plan your meal to be as simple as possible for them to prepare and you will be able to conquer the Gluten Monster and have a wonderful train or boat experience!
Chef Daniel P.
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I am a Ex chef of the rich and famous. A celiac for 7 years now. WHAT I AM DOING NOW: *Going to restaurants and business and teaching their staff, prepare and serve gluten free meals. courses at a local college. *Making all my own celiac food from scratch. *Helping others to work out there problems involving food. **GOAL:To teach my knowledge to every one who needs it so they can go on a trip or out to a restaurant and not fear the GLUTEN FOOD MONSTER! Visit my site: http://chefdanielp.comView all articles by Daniel Moran