An Educational Gluten-Free Restaurant Experience

I think I have made it clear in the past that I do not eat out often, and I really don’t, maybe a couple of times a month, if that.  I assume a personal risk each and every time I dine out, as cross-contamination lurks everywhere, despite the best intentions to lower that risk.  I try to reduce my risk as much as possible because that is all anyone who walks in my shoes can do, reduce risk for gluten exposure, because it is our own health and well-being at stake.  If I ate out every day or even a few times a week, I would be exposed to cross-contamination entirely too much for my own good.

Want to know the funny thing?  I don’t worry about getting physically ill from being “gluten-ed,” because I do not react to gluten that way.  I do not exhibit the “classic” symptoms of celiac disease, but that does not mean I am not reacting to gluten nonetheless.  I often envy the folks that do go through the GI symptoms because at least they know they have come in contact with the poison that has the potential of taking their life one day.  I do not get that “flashing warning sign.”  I could eat out everyday and accidentally eat a crouton crumb, etc. and would not physically know about it… but that toxic protein is still wrecking havoc on my body.  I may not know about it today or even a week from now but I could find out about it years from now if I get handed another major medical diagnosis, like cancer.

Yesterday was one of those days that I decided to enjoy a lunch date with my husband at one of my favorite places dine, Bravo! Cucina Italiana.  My local Bravo has quite a few gluten-free menu options (including GF pasta) and the staff is always helpful in assisting me to find a safe option. I have spoken with the manager, Fred, in the past about celiac disease and we had a wonderful conversation about the gluten-free diet, cross-contamination, etc..  Fred told me that it has “been difficult to keep GF pasta in stock because his distributors are always out, due to the popularity of the gluten-free diet.”  That still bafoodles me, that I am actually living in a time that I once could only dream of!  Fred often has to go to the store himself to buy GF pasta for his patrons!

I ordered my usual Bravo Chopped Salad, which does not come with croutons but I still go through the spiel of asking that it be made in a fresh bowl, etc., because it just has to be done.  I also ordered the Penne Mediterranean, subbing GF pasta spirals for the gluten-filled Penne.  My local Bravo has recently been carrying Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Pasta (they used to carry DeBoles, which I do not care for but the Trader Joe’s GF pasta is actually pretty good!).  Quick note for my local ABQ’ers, if you decide to go to Bravo (ABQ Uptown) be sure to let your server know right away if you will be wanting the GF pasta, it takes about 20 minutes for them to prepare it because they start a fresh pot of water to cook the GF pasta in, so “Bravo” to Bravo on that one! 😀

My salad arrived and I mindlessly started to eat it because I have never had an issue before at Bravo.  About 6 bites in, I detected a crispy crunch in my mouth and as I looked down, there it was: a fried piece of Crispy Pasta.

See the little gluten visitor that found it's way into my salad?

I stopped eating the salad and when our server came over, I kindly pointed it out to her, to which she apologized, took the salad and went to speak with the manager.  The restaurant had started to get busy for the lunch rush so Fred didn’t come by my table personally, which I will admit was disappointing because I thought it would be a good learning experience.  Fred may have also assumed that I would go all wackadoodle on him about it, but I no longer get angry when these things happen because I was the one who decided to take the risk by eating out in the first place.

Getting angry is not productive and I certainly do not want restaurant managers to quit providing gluten-free options because they don’t want to deal with “disgruntled” gluten intolerant guests.  I have found that by being calm and kind, restaurant managers are much more receptive to further education, and adapting better protocols to better avoid repeat incidents.  I used to be a restaurant manager and I can tell you from personal experience, the people that screamed the loudest… I just wanted to quickly resolve the issue at hand then prayed I would never have to see them again.  Yelling may get you what you want in the short term, like a comp bill; but it will only come back to bite you later.  I think that kindly raising awareness and taking a moment to educate are much more effective than getting angry, because really, if you have already be “gluten-ed,” the damage has already been done and getting angry will not change that.

I will still go back to Bravo, (although I will comb through my salad first!).  I will also probably lay low on dining out for awhile so my body can heal from whatever damage that was done; because I am reacting internally, regardless of the fact that I am not bent over in physical pain.

Warning: ADD Tangent …

I really want to emphasize something to newly diagnosed “asymptomatic” celiacs and/or people with Dermatitis Herpetiformis (I have both), who do not have the “classic symptoms” of celiac disease and may be tinkering with the idea that maybe they really don’t have a problem with gluten afterall, just because they do not “feel bad” when they eat it (yes, I am speaking from personal experience).   Just because you are not in gastrointestinal distress, does NOT mean your immune system is not reacting nonetheless.  Celiac Disease and DH are Autoimmune Diseases, to which there is no cure, and only strict adherence to the gluten-free diet will reduce your risk for all the potential complications associated with untreated CD and DH.  While gluten exposure does not have an immediate physical consequence for folks like me, there will eventually be a price to pay, and potentially, that could be with one’s own life.  How much risk are you willing to take and do you understand the potential consequences?  How badly do you really want that gluten treat you miss so much?  Have you ever asked yourself why?  I did, and after a lot of hard work, I realized it never had a single thing to do with the food itself.

If you are newly diagnosed with celiac disease and are having difficulty coming to terms with your diagnosis, or simply want to know more FACTS, I would like to recommend two books that have personally helped me get out of that denial phase (I definitely went through the 5 stages of grief after my diagnosis) and into the acceptance phase.  Both books can be found here, on The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research website.

  • The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free by Jules Shepard.
  • Fast Facts: Celiac Disease co-authored by Dr. Alessio Fasano, Medical Director of the Center for Celiac Research; Dr. Carlo Catassi, Co-Medical Director of the Center for Celiac Research; and Dr. Geoffrey Holmes

Learning the facts and getting to know my diseases have been instrumental in reaching the place where I am today, happy. 😉

Gluten-Free Event in Asheville, NC

I wanted to let everyone know about an upcoming event in Asheville, NC with Tiffany Janes. Tiffany is known as the gluten-free warrior of Atlanta and is considered the most discriminating gluten-free diner around! She works as a gluten free consultant in the Atlanta area and was recently given a Top Health Blogger award for her gluten-free lifestyle blog. You may have read Tiffany’s articles on Triumph Dining’s Essential Gluten Free Blog, Celiac-Disease.com, Gluten Free Works and in Delight Gluten Free Magazine.

When: Saturday, March 6, 2010
Where: Posana Cafe; Asheville, NC
Time: 10am (please note the time has changed from 10:30am to 10am)

The topics that Tiffany will be discussing are gluten-free dining and food shopping. There will be a Q& A session as well. The helpful Triumph Dining products will be for sale at the end of the event. Attendees will be able to check out demo copies of the Restaurant Guide, Dining Guide and Dining Cards during the event.
Door prizes are being donated by: Udi’s Gluten-Free, GoPicnic, Gluten-Free Naturals, Surf Sweets, The Grainless Baker and Shelley Case. For those who haven’t been yet, Posana Cafe (www.posanacafe.com) is a completely gluten-free restaurant that has amazing food and baked goods. The event will be in the lovely back room at Posana Cafe. The owners have graciously donated the space even though they have a luncheon in the space right after the event.

If you have questions for Tiffany, please contact her at: makemineglutenfree@yahoo.com.
Tiffany also writes the Gluten-Free Travel Examiner page.


Gluten Free at Burger King!

Another fast food restaurant has been bit the gluten-free bug!

Click here for a downloadable list of menu items from Burger King that are gluten-free.

While it is certainly exciting to know we have yet another option available to us, please consider a few tips to keep you as “safe” as possible, before going to Burger King (or any restaurant for that matter) because cross-contamination is always a possibility.

  1. Never go through the drive thru. Take the time to go inside the restaurant and ask to speak with a manager first.
  2. If possible, go at a time that is not during a meal time “rush.” If it is not busy, the better your chances of reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
  3. Kindly ask the manager to oversee your order, I have learned the hard way to never trust my health and welfare to a teenager (not that they do not care, it is just part of the nature of adolescence).
  4. Limit how often you go. The more you go, the higher the risk of getting “glutened.” The more frequently you get “glutened”, the more more harm you do to yourself in the long run. Make it a treat, it is healthier all around! Gluten-Free does not equal fat-free. This is a perfect example of how the gluten-free “diet” is not a weight loss plan!

Managing celiac disease is a matter of personal responsibility, so always remember to ask the next question… 🙂