Monday, December 28, 2009

To have or not to have a gluten-free menu

I recently read a post regarding restaurants with gluten-free menus where the author is of the opinion that just because a restaurant has a gluten-free menu doesn't mean 'anyone' at the restaurant understands the gluten-free diet. This statement really should be qualified to distinguish between chain restaurants and local/family-owned restaurants.

I agree that a number of chain restaurants with gluten-free menus have not been properly trained on the gluten-free diet, so their ability to prepare a safe, cross contamination free meal isn't guaranteed. This situation is not applicable to our beloved Outback in Roswell, where EVERYONE is trained on accommodating the gluten-free diet from the hostess all the way up to the servers, chefs, etc. This situation is also not applicable to Legal Sea Foods, where all of their staff are also properly trained.

There are gluten-free restaurant training programs out there available from the NFCA and GFRAP, but these programs are only effective if every staff member is trained and not just the General Manager and the chefs. Keep in mind that there is a high turnover number associated with many chain restaurants, so keeping all staff members trained can be a daunting task.

However, gluten-free menus offered by local/family-owned restaurants are usually created by the chef/owner using the utmost care and consideration to provide a safe, cross contamination free meal. In these cases, the availability of a gluten-free menu should evoke confidence that these particular menu items are consistently prepared gluten free and are safe. It is also a huge step on the part of the restaurant to reach out to the gluten-free community and show them that they value their business and care about their well being. Granted some of them are just doing it to make a quick buck, but the majority of them start offering gluten-free menu items because a friend or family member is on the gluten-free diet.

As more and more restaurants make gluten-free menus available, please support their efforts by patronizing them. If you happen to have a bad experience, please give them your feedback directly, so they can take steps to correct the situation.

It has never been easier to eat out gluten-free, so I for one am in favor of the gluten-free menu!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An opinion is an opinion...stop being so touchy

I have been eating gluten free for almost 13 years now and the one thing that remains constant with the gluten-free diet is that all pallets are not created equal. I have been working as a GF Product Specialist for 3 1/2 years, so I get paid to eat and make recommendations on products the store should carry. I don't like all of the products we carry at the store, but we are very customer service oriented, so we bring in the products needed to meet customer demand.

I admit that I have a hard time selling products that are not my favorite, but I would not go out of my way to prevent anyone from buying a product (only if it isn't gluten free) that I don't like, or talk negatively about said product.

Recently I have been surprised to see how many people are taking their review of a product, or their opinion as fact and get offended if you don't agree. Liking or not liking a product is very subjective and it is based on your individual experience with the product. Providing feedback or a review does not and should not equate to influencing someones opinion on a product. Everyone should form their own opinion on a product based on actual experience.

Additionally, a person should not be attacked for their opinion or review of a product. Everyone is allowed to speak their mind and they are not always going to agree on any given topic, but that doesn't mean that they are trying to influence you to purchase or not purchase a product.

Also, don't comment on a product if you have not tried it personally. I have experienced this recently where someone will post feedback from a third party. Why would you do that? Let the person who has the feedback provide their own opinion.

Going forward, bloggers and people who write on websites will have to disclose if they were sent free samples to review and if they have any level of relationship with the company.

Let's just agree to disagree and stop attacking each other. There is nothing I hate more than having to defend my opinion and I shouldn't be put in that position.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Felt like a GF Ritz Carlton Buckhead

I recently attended a Christmas party for my husband's work. I followed my own advice for GF Party Etiquette and contacted the catering department of the hotel throwing the party. I spoke with a very nice young lady who told me either her or the Executive Chef would call me back. They were very familiar with the term/definition of gluten free and assured me there would indeed be plenty of 'safe' food for me to eat.

Imagine my surprise when I was contacted the next day by the Executive Chef himself. I wasn't able to return his call prior to the event, but he gave me his cell phone number and asked me to call him directly. Of course, I lost the piece of paper on which I wrote the number, so when I arrived at the hotel, I spoke with a staff person. I relayed my story and told her that the Chef asked me to inform him when I arrived.

The Chef came out from the back and offered to prepare me a meal in the back to ensure that it was free from cross contamination and asked me what I liked to eat. I told him that I liked just about anything and thanked him for his willingness to meet my dietary needs. To this he replied "it is my pleasure".

About 10 minutes later he arrived with a beautiful plate of food that included: an avocado and tomato salad, sliced grapefruit, shrimp cocktail with a spicy sauce and two beautifully seared lamb chops. The plate was decorated with a palm leaf and each food item was in its own dish with a garnish. As I walked across the room to sit at a table, my food was the envy of everyone. Many heads turned to see what I was eating.

To say my food was good is an understatement. Not only was it fabulous, but I felt like a GF Queen. The rest of the diners didn't have lamb, or the two salads and I am pretty sure my shrimp cocktail was prepared fresh. How wonderful to attend a party and feel like my needs were not only considered, but exceeded in every aspect.

"It is my pleasure" should be the motto of all restaurants and food service industries. I am already thinking of reasons to go back to the hotel and eat for random occasions.

Don't be afraid to eat out and don't be afraid to discuss your dietary concerns with the staff. You never know what lengths the staff is willing to go to meet your needs.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gluten-free party etiquette is Christmas/Holiday party time, which is normally a fun time, but really makes me a little panicky. By following just a couple of guideline you can enjoy yourself and eat a safe meal whether you are attending a catered event, or a meal in a restaurant.

Here is my advice for enjoying a Christmas/Holiday party gluten-free style:
1 Plan ahead by contacting the event facility/restaurant and ask to speak to the caterer/chef. They should be able to identify safe dishes. This should work for events being thrown in a private and public residence.

2 Eat a snack before you attend the event. Having a snack should keep you full during the event, on the off chance that you are unable to determine if there is any gluten-free fare.

3 Stick to those foods that are naturally gluten-free, like vegetables, cheese, salad, unmarinated/unbreaded meat, beans and fruit. Bring some gluten-free crackers with you to enjoy cheese and crackers.

4 Stay away from the dessert options, as there will not likely be a gluten-free one available.

5 Be polite. Remember this is not only a time to eat too much rich food, it is also a time to spend with family and friends.

Have a drink and strike up a conversation with someone new. This is a great opportunity to make a new friend, enjoy yourself and be merry!