It’s National Gluten-Free Day and it seems like the perfect time to share our experience dining out last weekend because there were two valuable reminders: first, never assume and always ask questions, and second, there is always an opportunity to educate others. Here is the back story….
Backstory: We were dining out in NJ to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. Earlier in the week, my Dad had done some preliminary research and chose an Italian restaurant that offered Gluten-free pasta and pizza. He spoke with a manager over the phone about their ability to cook it safely for my son. All sounded good so he asked me to check it out.
I followed up with a phone call and spoke to someone who also assured me they could prepare gluten-free food safely and free of cross contamination. Both of us asked questions, received the “right” answers and we made a reservation for 15 people.
Fast forward to Saturday, we arrived at the restaurant and when everyone went to the table I stayed back to speak with the owner. I casually introduced myself, said I had spoken to someone earlier in the week and thanked him in advance for making sure my son’s food was prepared safely. He replied by saying he was happy to be able to offer gluten-free food. Something about the way he said it though made me uncomfortable. Can’t exactly say what it was, but I proceeded to say that my son was going to be wanting the pasta… they prepare it in it’s own water, right? Silence, and a head shake. “No, we don’t do that,” he said. Silence and panic on my end. “How about the pizza?” I asked. How do they prepare that? They cook it on the same surface as the regular pizza. Hmm. Cross contamination everywhere. 15 people in the other room waiting here to celebrate my mom and it’s looking like nothing to feed my son.
Over the course of the next 5 minutes, I gave the owner the Cliff notes version of celiac and cross contamination. I used restaurant language and said it needed to be treated like a gluten allergy. The owner got it. He said he thought he was doing the right thing offering gluten-free food — he had no idea about the cross contamination concerns. The conversation moved into problem-solving mode. They put up a pot of water for my son (new pot, straight from the dishwasher), agreed to use separate utensils, strainer, etc and they decided to bake the pizza in the foil pan it comes in. (Yes, my son got both pizza and pasta because everyone was eating appetizers and he was hungry so we ordered him a pizza appetizer.)
The pizza and pasta arrived together at the time of everyone else’s main courses. But it was ok, we felt like they were prepared safely, and they were delicious!
Most importantly, we educated another restaurant on the difference between eating a gluten-free lifestyle and eating gluten-free for celiac disease. There is a big and important difference and the more people we educate the better it will be in the long run.
So my 2 messages this National Gluten-Free Day: Never assume that someone else knows how to prepare your food safely if you have special needs: Keep calm and ask questions until you’re comfortable. And educate, educate, educate whenever you can…. people want to do the right thing, they sometimes just don’t know.