Eating Gluten-Free at an Event: Ask, Ask, Ask

March 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm Leave a comment

I’m a sucker for food-centric events. When my mom organized the high school PTA’s annual fundraiser, an evening of restaurant tastings, I wished I would hurry up and turn 18 so I could attend. When I go to festivals downtown, I’m more interested in the food booths than the boutiques. So when my first Appetite for Awareness rolled around this past October, I was ecstatic. Feet-swelling busy, but ecstatic. Table after table of gourmet food and new snacks to try – I didn’t know where to start.

gluten-free bites

This delectable bite was literally at Appetite for Awareness 2010. Literally.

That’s the beauty of Appetite for Awareness: You can start from anywhere in the room. It’s all up for enjoyment, without the constant questioning of “What’s in this?” or “How did you make that?”

At mainstream events, it’s a different story. I learned that quickly when I attended Philadelphia magazine’s Philly Cooks last week.

Like Appetite for Awareness, Philly Cooks pits restaurants head-to-head in the fight for best dish, as determined by attendees’ votes. But unlike Appetite for Awareness, the dishes can contain whatever the chef pleases, so gluten is often on the menu.

I went there to scope out new restaurants and possible recruits for Appetite for Awareness. It was also a chance to see who really knows what about gluten-free. I don’t have celiac disease, but I went there with the community in mind, so I was prepared to speak up.

gluten-free Philadelphia rolls

These yummy Philadelphia rolls were gluten-free

At each table, I asked whether the particular dish was gluten-free, or whether they had gluten-free options at their restaurant.  While there weren’t too many gluten-free options there, I was pleased to find that many restaurants seemed knowledgeable about the need. The chef at Funky Lil’ Kitchen from Pottsdown, PA, instantly responded when I asked about his dish, which turned out to contain farro. “The grain isn’t gluten-free,” he said, hovering a hand over the table. I appreciated his confidence, something I know the community values when dining out.

I also chatted with a knowledgeable chef from Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, based in Glen Mills, PA. I was tipped off about their celiac-friendly offerings by Gluten-Free Philly. The chef said their upcoming spring menu would feature a number of gluten-free dishes, and special icons would make it easy to distinguish them. I can just imagine the fall fare he’d whip up for Appetite for Awareness (hello, pumpkin), so I’m hoping his schedule will be free.

While moseying down one of the aisles, I spotted an actual, full-fledged sign that declared “Gluten-Free” at one of the tables. I bounded over and discovered it was Margaret Kuo’s table, where she was dishing out Edamame and Baby Shrimp sautéed with Jasmine Rice.

Dr. Laskin and Margaret Kup

Dr. Laskin and Margaret Kuo

The gluten-Free dish was also dubbed “Heart Healthy,” as determined by Main Line Health. And who was standing right next to the table? NFCA friend Dr. Keith Laskin, gastroenterologist with The Celiac Center at Paoli Hospital in Paoli, PA. It was wonderful to see a member of the medical community there to represent gluten-free needs. He even had pamphlets from The Celiac Center so he could spread the word about celiac disease.

But the night’s winner, at least according to my new gluten-free friend, Kristin, was 333 Belrose Bar & Grill from Radnor, PA. The chef there not only explained how she often accommodates gluten-free eaters, but also informed me that her dish that night was gluten-free. It was Red Chili Spiked Tuna Tartare, served on a tortilla chip. Creamy. Crunchy. Yummy.

Of course, not everyone was able to answer my questions with such gusto. A few servers said they weren’t sure, but confirmed with the chef – a wise response. One or two tables gave the dreaded “Um, yeah. I think it is.” To be fair, it was a pretty hectic scene, so they may have been flustered or didn’t hear my question clearly. But in the end, I certainly didn’t feel confident in their response.

It all goes to show that, while many restaurants are coming around to gluten-free needs and really learning how to serve safe, there will always be someone to teach. That’s why GREAT Kitchens exists. Is it fun to ask question after question? No. But with enough people asking, chefs are finally turning an ear.

Have you ever been to a food-centric event? How do you find the courage to speak up about gluten-free needs in public?

-Cheryl

Entry filed under: Cheryl. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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