One of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants was recently in the news because it was fined for serving ordinary pasta to a customer who had specifically ordered gluten free pasta. It had “failed to exercise due diligence and take all appropriate precautions that meals were served as requested”. Other restaurants should take note, it seems to be a common failing.
Over the last few weeks I have been away from home and relying on restaurants and hotels. It is a risky business indeed for any one, like me, with coeliac disease. Twice in one week a meal I was assured was gluten free was served with gluten: once it was in hidden in the sauce and once they added bread on the side! Fortunately in the case of the sauce I insisted they double check. The bread was obvious.
But even asking the staff to check if a dish is gluten free is difficult. Maybe even dangerous. I have found some serving staff give a confident answer but based on ignorance. For example, I pick a dish which apparently has no gluten containing ingredients and I am told it isn’t gluten free. I ask why and (rather than mention stock flavoured with barley or sauce thickened with wheat flour) they tell me it contains nuts, or milk, cheese or even, in one case, potatoes! If these people advise that I try another dish which they say is gluten free am I really going to trust them?
And this is before any problems of contamination arise. Croutons added to soup or salads and the disbelief (and sometimes annoyance) from the staff when you insist on a new serving, not the same one with the croutons removed. But how do you know what happens in the kitchen?
It irritates me when restaurants offer gluten free alternatives (gluten free available on request) and then just leave out items: a gluten free dish with onion rings comes with no onions, a gluten free burger comes without buns, but cross contamination in the kitchen aside, at least it is safe.
I have been to some very good places where they provide excellent food and are more than willing to suggest and prepare real substitutes or alternatives; some bring the chef to the table and make you feel very special – they are masters of food and nothing is too much trouble! They aren’t all expensive places either.
I am beginning to think that the places which simply remove the items or can’t serve a desert (apart from ice cream), however posh or expensive they appear to be, are those which serve preprepared food or follow menus set at head office. The meals are cooked and assembled. The chef, if there is one, must be very frustrated.
Isn’t it about time that a restaurant should have at least one qualified person who understands the common allergens and the seriousness of serving them or be required to post a warning notice on the door” “We don’t have anyone here trained to understand food allergens”.
Once or twice my friends have offered to cancel their orders and find another place to eat when they realise that despite the innocuous looking menu (what could possibly contain gluten?) I am unable to order anything except the baked potato (without topping) and lettuce salad (without dressing). But when your friends have settled in and ordered it isn’t that easy.
And to finish with, a conversation from a recent visit to an Italian restaurant:
“I’d like the panna cotta please, surely it is gluten free”.
“It isn’t gluten free, it has cream”
“Cream doesn’t contain gluten. Please could you check with the chef?”
A few minutes later ….
“No, it has gluten. ”
“Yes it says so on the package”