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No Reservations

I live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain’s adventures on “No Reservations.”  I can’t say I want to BE the man, especially not his liver or lungs. Instead, I’d like to be one of his pals who get to share the laughs, late nights, and pure love of food…just once.  (I doubt if he’d ever consider dining with a fuss bucket like me, with all my dietary no-no’s. But a girl can have her fantasy, right?)

Tony does have the life. Wouldn’t it be delicious to swagger around the world with a film crew, communing with the locals who take you to the places to dine on the best regional cuisine, and get paid for it? To relish the beauty, flavors and soul of the food and land, with comrades who dig it as much as you do? To spend hours in fellowship with those who chew, chug, and moan with the same appreciation for every morsel and sip?

Just once, I want no reservations.

To experience the submission that Tony considers one of the true pleasures of dining – whether it’s sucking marrow from a bone in a primitive hut, or dabbing caviar with tiny spoons by candlelight – would make me complete.  I want to totally submit to a dining experience. I want it for all of us who must eat gluten-free. Some say it’ll never happen.  With celiac disease and all the planning and preparation that go with dining out, it’s difficult to put your faith, trust, and stomach in the hands of a chef, kitchen staff, and wait person…completely. With no reservations.

Gluten-free appetizer

The dishes at Appetite for Awareness prove that gluten-free can be safe AND delicious!

For the celiac community, “no reservations” often has the opposite connotation. As in, “No reservation. No table. No food.” Once, after a long day of speaking engagements, I headed to a hotel property near the Detroit airport searching for hot food and a cozy bed.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I was famished.  After calling the finest “made from scratch” restaurant in the complex, I was told by the manager that they could not accommodate a gluten-free diet.  I thought they must just need an explanation regarding my special diet needs. Nope, they refused to serve me.

Luckily, another chef at a nearby eatery (whose dining room was closed) prepared a simple but lovely piece of fish, potato, and fresh green salad perfectly and safely.  Two restaurants from the same hotel chain with different attitudes and different reactions to a guest’s request.

So why do chefs and restaurateurs have reservations about serving gluten-free options?  Some think it takes too much time, or it’s too difficult. Others don’t know how to prepare food safely, so they opt out. Some think it’s a trend or fad that will go away. We also can’t forget those who think they don’t need special training for gluten-free options. “All you have to do is take out the wheat.” How scary is that?!

And then, there is the one chef (let’s hope only one) who thinks the gluten-free diet is BS, so he serves wheat-laden pasta to those requesting gluten-free pasta. It’s so wrong on so many levels, it’s almost hard to comprehend.

What some chefs don’t get is the knife that just sliced the bread can’t be used to cut the baked potato. What some cooks don’t realize is the ladle used to spread sauce on the traditional pizza crust can’t be used to spread sauce on a gluten-free pizza crust. What some waiters don’t understand is that people who request a gluten-free option most likely would rather not have to bother them for such a need. Our request isn’t a choice; it’s a medical condition.

What the above-mentioned chef doesn’t realize is this: Those with celiac disease who eat gluten in a restaurant probably won’t react to it until later, when they’re stuck in the bathroom all night.  (I’m sure vacations have been ruined by this chef’s intentional glutening.)

I really love my job. As director of NFCA’s Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives, I’m privileged to offer affordable, gluten-free training to those in the foodservice industry and improve quality of life for those with celiac disease at the same time. NFCA’s comprehensive training program is called GREAT (Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training), and we offer it to Kitchens, Schools/Camps, and Dietitians. GREAT restaurants provide safe gluten-free options, train their staff, and make a commitment to follow safe protocols. As a result, they reap the benefits of having loyal customers who bring tables of 4, 6, and 8+ with them time and time again.

National Restaurant Association Show 2010

Teaching chefs what's what at last year's National Restaurant Association Show.

We need your help spreading the word about NFCA’s GREAT program (www.CeliacLearning.com). I know sometimes it’s difficult to speak up and demand safe gluten-free choices, especially because we are grateful for those who put forth an effort to serve us. But providing a GREAT solution helps all gluten-free diners. People are getting sick, their health is at risk, and NFCA wants to end that.

Don’t just fantasize about eating at a famous or local hot spot. Promote GREAT training for a GREAT dining experience, so you can enjoy your food and conversation…with no reservations.

-Beckee

April 1, 2011 at 11:14 am 5 comments

A Tale of Two Turkeys

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Turkey

Gertie, my turkey

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and friends and express gratitude for all we have AND to eat the best food ever. I don’t care what others say… Thanksgiving is all about the food, and it’s my absolute favorite meal to prepare.

This year, I had the privilege to set 15 places at two tables and work some gluten-free magic in my own domain. Being in control of the menu and ingredients can be an advantage if you worry about ingredients, preparation and cross contamination in the kitchen. Just make sure you have plenty of extra hands to assist so you can enjoy the day without exhaustion! Of course, the magic occurs when all are able to give thanks for the food on the table and not even know that every bit is gluten-free.

Beckee and Dave

Fierce competitors

My husband Dave and I have a love for each other and cooking competitions (Bobby Flay, Iron Chef, Top Chef) so this year we agreed on a “Turkey Throwdown.” I dug out my favorite Martha Stewart Turkey 101 recipe for Gertie, the 12lber that included a rub down of butter, stuffing of onion, apples and herbs, and a continued basting of butter and wine.

Gluten-Free Turkey on the Grill

Fred, Dave's turkey

Can it get any better than that? Dave thought so.  The grill master used a combo-recipe for Fred (his 12 lber) that included brining, basting and indirect heat, with a touch of apple wood thrown in for smoke- all on his big ol’ grill.  Both cooked birds were perfect specimens – brown, juicy and tender.

Family reviews and votes were mixed. Each bird had such a distinctly different taste…there was no comparison. Actually I think the family was just playing nice because of the holiday. In my opinion, Dave was the winner …this year.

-Beckee

December 3, 2010 at 2:18 pm 2 comments

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