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Chef wishes gluten-free trend would die

The Savvy Celiac
gluten-free menu
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
For celiac sufferers, gluten-free is more than just a trend.

It was a small portion of a Q and A in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that already has gluten free folks fuming today.

Bryan Morcom, chef at Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis, MN, did an interview with Kathie Jenkins, the restaurant critic for the PiPress.  In the article she asks, “What culinary trend do you wish would die?”

He replies in the article,  ”Gluten free is the one that kills me. I’m sympathetic to dietary restrictions, but everything in moderation. We get five or six people coming in each night asking for gluten free.”

Update: I just got off the phone with Alex Roberts, Owner and Executive Chef at Restaurant Alma.  He says they are sorry about the comments that were published in the Pioneer Press.  Roberts says Restaurant Alma is very welcoming of folks with gluten free needs and celiac disease.  ”We have made efforts to educate our staff and increase our gluten free offerings,” Roberts said.  He says they have even changed some recipes to make them more gluten free friendly.

“Bryan said he carefully told [Kathie Jenkins] that he is truly sympathetic with people who have an issue with gluten,” Roberts said, he added that Bryan was just explaining that he was frustrated with folks who were only eating gluten free because of the food trend and not because it was medically necessary (example: a customer might go to great lengths to get a gluten free meal and then turnaround and eat a gluteny dessert), but he is always happy to help folks with gluten-free needs.

Roberts says they take gluten-free orders “very seriously” and feel that “it is the right thing to do” to have these options at both Restaurant Alma and at sister-restaurant Brasa.  Roberts has issued a statement on this matter and you can read that by clicking here.

Why the celiac community gets frustrated by comments like these

If we folks with celiac disease could do gluten free in moderation we probably would.  One speck of gluten in our systems and we have autoimmune reaction. Regular eating of gluten for us can cause a lifetime of ill health including infertility, anemia, osteoporosis, and cancer.  Not to mention in many cases an immediate reaction like diarrhea or vomiting just to name a few. Want more info on celiac disease? Click here.

The Twin Cities ROCK Facebook page lit up with comments like, “He’s ignorant”, “…I wouldn’t waste my time or money there”.  Folks are also leaving comments on the article itself.

When folks with celiac disease dine out — we bring other people with us.  So that “five or six people” a night  Morcom mentions could realistically be 10-30 people (if we bring friends, dates or family with us) — all of whom now may not choose to dine at Restaurant Alma.

Restaurant Alma hopes you will reconsider, “We want to be inclusive to everyone,” Roberts told me.

This post was written by Amy Leger and posted on the Savvy Celiac. Follow her on Twitter: @AmyLeger.

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Comments (6)

I can understand the frustration

On both sides.

It's very difficult to do gluten-free stuff that tastes good without filling the meal up with lots of protein and little fiber. Gluten-free grains simply don't behave the same way wheat does, so grain-containing dishes don't have the right mouth feel or flavor. Yes, you can use protein and vegetables, but chefs are often expected to also provide some sort of grain. Non-gluten grains are expensive (wildrice, quinoa, etc.), while the cheap ones (white and brown rice, corn) are on the naughty list for other reasons. Others are often contaminated with gluten by being milled in the same place as wheat, barley, or other gluten-containing grains. Even things you wouldn't expect, like soy sauce, contain gluten. So, it's not terribly easy to produce a restaurant meal that is profitable for the restaurant that complies with the needs of those with celiac disease. Beyond that, there are definitely people out there ordering gluten-free because they want to and not because they need to. That increases not only the cost of the ingredients, but also the cost in labor because the ingredients have to be handled separately from gluten-containing ingredients. Very frustrating.

That being said, it has to be frustrating to feel like your disease is being blown off. It's not like a severe peanut allergy where a bit floating in the air will trigger anaphylactic shock, so why not try to accommodate? It's a painful, frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing disease, but it shouldn't shut you in your home rocking back and forth wishing that wheat didn't exist. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for gluten-free food in a restaurant.

However, what isn't reasonable is starting a campaign to ruin a restaurant because the chef admitted that he didn't like having to accommodate gluten-free requests. It was insensitive, but should he have made up some other thing he dislikes? Like the recent pom (pomegranate) or aciai (or however it's spelled) fad? Most fads are easy to accommodate, but gluten-free isn't JUST a fad. A chef actually has to be concerned about whether it really IS gluten-free because some of those that request it might actually suffer from the mistake.

It just not okay

Your right about alot of things. Yes it costs more but i went out for dinner and while my wife and daughter had a large 18" pizza for $20 i had a gluten free one and you know why, because it cost more to make all things considered so they just charged more. If your like me and really cannot eat gluten you have no problem paying more to have it done safely and i did $18 for a small 12 inch pizza, but it was good. They had no problem accomadating me.

And your right nobody should start a campain to destroy this resturant, but i were the owner i would probably give that chef his walking papers and find a chef that is smarter than that. And yes he should have made up some other thing like the pom fad to out instead of something as serious as going gluten free.

I am in the process of starting a gluten free baking company and the one thing that really gets me going is all the "gluten free" thats made in a factory with wheat products. It is not gluten free and should not be allowed to be called so. I am going to great leangths to create a product that people who have issues with gluten can eat without the fear of being as i call it.

Big props to the owner for his apology and addressing this issue head on. Now all he needs to do is find a chef that shares his vision and wont offend his customers.

GF

I'm vegetarian, and I try to be sensitive to other people's dietary needs. But I have to admit a lot of GF people I've encountered have a sense of entitlement that dwarfs the vegetarians and vegans I know, and it's offputting. They expect others to take their diet seriously but don't give it the same respect. There are people in my extended circles who insist on gluten free because it gives them gas, but then eat it anyway. There was one girl who didn't eat the dessert I'd brought but ate the potato salad I'd made at the same time after I told her I was sure there was cross-contamination with the flour from baking.

I know I made a choice about my diet, and sometimes that means sacrifices. There are restaurants I just don't go to, or I go knowing I'm going to eat a baked potato and broccoli.

suggestion

As it happens, I have been thinking lately about the issue of how to impress upon food providers that my gluten free needs are SERIOUS even though other people's requests may not be. Personally, I have no problem giving a quick explanation about the difference between the needs of someone like me (celiac) and someone who chooses to go gluten free for dietary or health conscious reasons. I have several restaurants in my hometown that I feel I have successfully educated about ways to avoid cross contamination. If you go during off-peak times (at least in the beginning) so the staff has time to listen to your concerns and suggestions, this can be done! As a result, I dine at these places frequently and befriended many of the staff. More and more, I have been hearing feedback from some of my server friends that they have had experiences like the chef in the article mentioned, where they go out of their way to follow all of the cross contamination guidelines (often in the middle of a rush) only to find the patron munching on bread or crackers when they serve the meal. As I said, not only do I not have a problem telling a server that I have celiac, I actually see it as an opportunity to educate and spread the word about the disease. But some people don't want to share their personal medical history. So it would never be appropriate for a server to ASK a patron if they have celiac disease in order to determine if they actually need all of the cross contamination accommodations. So I have come up with what I believe is an appropriate dialog for servers in this situation: "Yes, sir, we can certainly accommodate your gluten free request. Do you need us to adhere to cross contamination guidelines due to health reasons? Or will simply eliminating ingredients containing gluten be sufficient?" I would not find these questions offensive. I am curious how others would feel about it.

Celiac

Until you are, or know someone with celiac disease, you will not understand the degree of damage it does to the body. One of my first cousins went undiagnosed until she was over 30 years old. She was skin and bones. She craved food and ate all the sweets she could. Once the diagnosis was made and she stayed on the gluten-free diet, she gained weight and virtually all the symptoms were resolved. There are vegetarian restaurants and Kosher restaurants. Someday I hope there will be gluten-free restaurants.

I totally get his point

I work on a bakery food truck that has gluten free options. We make sure to tell people that while the dishes are gluten free, the environment isn't to avoid a serious reaction for those with celiac. My own sister is gluten sensitive, and it's been work to find restaurants and recipes that won't upset her. For those with celiac and gluten sensitivities, eating out (and in!), is going to be a life long dietary change that requires knowledge and planning.

But let's be real. There are people who are perfectly fine digesting gluten that have chosen to go gluten free for a perceived dietary benefit. It drives me nuts after visiting a celiac support group and showing them how my kitchen is set up, offering my recipes gratis, and seeing what my sister has gone through, to serving gluten free items to people who don't necessarily need it. Would you eat diabetic candy if you didn't have diabetes? I have had instances when people admit to not needing gluten free items who order it anyways and then not being able to serve someone that I know cannot eat whole grain or white flour. The chef never said that he didn't believe in celiac or gluten intolerance. He merely stated that those who can eat gluten have no reason not to.