Posts filed under ‘Beckee’

GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour Update from Portland & Seattle: Communication is Key

What an exciting time for GREAT Kitchens and gluten-free dining! I can truly say I just had the trip of a lifetime representing the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) on the GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chefs Table tour. Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington were my destinations and the food and conversation were both exceptional and intriguing. I had the pleasure to work along the side of GREAT Chef Ambassador Chef Jehangir Mehta who is a master with spices and showcasing gluten-free ingredients. My favorite dish that he prepared was… well, all of them. But if I had to narrow it down, the halibut with beets and fried onion ring was primo DELISH!

Halibut with gluten-free onion ring

If I could only pick one favorite, I think the halibut dish would be it.

As a true foodie, having the pleasure of tasting some extraordinary gluten-free meals prepared by some of the top chefs in the country was a thrill. In Portland, my favorite dish by Chef Naomi Pomeroy was the quince gallette and Chef Vitaly Paley’s icebox cake… crazy good. Plus, he made me banana bread for a special treat when we arrived for an early morning TV shoot.  How sweet is that?

GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour Update from Portland & Seattle: Icebox Cake

This gluten-free icebox cake was to die for!

Chef John Howie’s tortilla soup’s spicy broth hit the spotand Chef Holly Smith’s cuttlefish ink risotto had such a mild fish flavor and striking presentation. What a contrast! These dishes celebrated fresh, local ingredients and honored key gluten-free ingredients like tapioca, chickpea flour, sorghum and infused flavors proving that gluten-free options should NOT be boring, bland tasting, or blah-looking – EVER!

GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour Update from Portland & Seattle: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour Update from Portland & Seattle: cuttlefish

Perfectly delicious

All of the host chefs had a keen understanding of celiac disease and many had personal connections. Their interest was sparked by friends or family members that had a need for safe gluten-free meals which generated interest and intrigue in preparing their creations in a gluten-free manner to meet the same exceptional standard and quality as all of their offerings. During their presentations to the guests, they explained that when a “GF” request is made, serving gluten-free foods safely is always top of mind and caution in the kitchen is heightened.

GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour Update from Portland & Seattle: Beckee Moreland

That’s me – talking about GREAT Kitchens.

However, I think the GREATest message from the tour was the importance of communication. GREAT Kitchens training emphasizes the importance of communication from taking the order to the serving of the plate. This is an important component in the training for the foodservice community to ensure safe preparation of gluten-free meals for our community. The training stresses continuous communication from host, server, manager, chef and server to get that order right with no mistakes along the way. But the communication doesn’t begin with the host greeting the guest; it really begins with the gluten-free diner. We really need to make our needs known and be clear to the restaurant and chef about what they are. People are eating gluten-free for all kinds of reasons from medical necessities such as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (‘gluten sensitivity’) or maybe other medical conditions, but it’s quite possible the diner is eating gluten-free for the perceived health benefit brought on by the gluten-free fad diet. This muddles the message that we need to ensure restaurants receive. Chefs have requests for all kinds of allergies, diets, substitutions, and even requests from plain old picky eaters.

When you go out to eat, make it clear. Communicate. Use NFCA’s Dining Tips Sheet as a guide. Say “I have celiac disease and I must eat gluten-free for my health. This is not a choice. Can you serve me safely?” See what sort of response you get – you might be pleasantly surprised.

How do you handle dining out gluten-free? What has your experience been like? Tell me in the comments section below or on NFCA’s Facebook page. The GREAT Kitchens Chef’s Table Tour stopped San Francisco today and we’re hitting Los Angeles on Wednesday, so be sure to check for updates on Facebook, Instagram or follow NFCA (@celiacawareness) and Chef Mehta (@jehangir_mehta) on Twitter. Be sure to search for the hashtags #GREATKitchens or #GFChefsTable!

Safe and delicious dining to you all!
- Beckee

November 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm Leave a comment

The Pacific Northwest Tour Continues: The GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour Visits Seattle

After receiving such positive feedback in Portland, the GREAT Kitchens team headed to Seattle for its third stop on Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour. With the same mission of working with restaurants/foodservice professionals across the country, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) set out to share information on the importance of not only providing gluten-free options, but also providing ease of mind for those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (‘gluten sensitivity’) through safe protocols and practices

Upon arrival, the NFCA team headed to KING-TV to participate on the New Day show, alongside one of Seattle’s partner chefs, John Howie.  During the segment, Chef Ambassador Jehangir Mehta created a special gluten-free dish, featuring halibut from Washington, as well as lentils and chickpea flour to showcase alternative gluten-free ingredients.  Chef Howie created a delicious quinoa salad, featuring fresh vegetables and olive oil, a perfect accompaniment to Chef Mehta’s dish. The show’s host, Margaret Lawson, asked questions about the tour, proper gluten-free protocols and how chefs can get involved with GREAT Trainings.  Besides becoming educated through the GREAT Kitchens training program, Chef Mehta spoke on the segment about a call for gluten-free recipes to be featured in an upcoming cookbook.  For restaurants interested in submitting a recipe, they can be submitted at www.GREATChefsChallenge.com.

Want to watch the segment? Check out Chef Mehta on the New Day Show at this link.

Portland Stop: New Day Appearance
GREAT job by Chef Mehta and Chef Howie on the New Day Show!

- The Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour Team

November 5, 2013 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Snapshot of the 15th International Celiac Disease Symposium

Last month several members of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) team participated in the 15th International Celiac Disease Symposium (ICDS), the most comprehensive celiac disease meeting in the world. Held September 22-25, 2013, in Chicago, ICDS was a whirlwind conference with a chance to meet with NFCA’s distinguished Scientific/Medical Advisory Council and catch up with fellow colleagues from all walks of the celiac disease field. We also enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people and, finally, put faces to names of individuals we regularly work with remotely.

In her October 2013 newsletter note, NFCA President Alice Bast shared some highlights from NFCA’s experience at ICDS 2013. But this was just a sneak peek! Some of our NFCA staff have compiled an informal list of discussion topics and statistics that resonated the most. To give you an idea of individual interests, we’ve categorized the meeting highlights by staff member.

Head to NFCA’s Research News Feed on CeliacCentral.org to get all the highlights!

- Kristin

October 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm Leave a comment

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to NOLA

I knew when the Mardi Gras parade came down the main aisle of the exhibit hall with the band playing Dixieland and masked characters throwing beads that this was not going to be your typical food show. With lots of revelry and champagne, the 60th “Toast to Talent” Louisiana Restaurant Show was a full three days of fun, southern hospitality and amazing aromas and tastes. Fortunately, my husband Dave and son Cole agreed to come along. Since we are all in the foodservice business, we could learn a few things at the show and explore the city together at night.

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Toast to Talent Poster

Louisiana Restaurant Association Show 2013

When Sandy Riddle, Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Exhibitors, called to invite me to speak at the LRA show this year I was so excited, but a bit sad too. I hadn’t been to New Orleans (NOLA) since my 20’s, before my celiac disease diagnosis (or as I like to call it “pre-CD”). I remembered all the amazing food like gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya and beignets, which of course all contain gluten, and all but the beignets contain roux. (Roux is a mixture of flour and butter cooked together until bubbly and brown. The desired color depends on what you are preparing and sometimes it can take a good long time of stirring and waiting to get the perfect color and taste.) But I was hopeful that I would find some new flavors and gluten-free foods while exploring the city.

I’ve met some really nice people at various shows across the US and always enjoy that first day when I’m able to meet fellow vendors setting up in the same aisle. It’s also a good time to check out which spots will have safe food choices when you need a nibble to keep up the energy and pass the time. Luckily, I happened to be smack dab next to one of the most popular exhibitors, Your Way Cuisines, a gluten-free roux company. Kristie Buford and her husband Chad are brand new to the gluten-free industry and saw a need and decided to fill it. They have created two roux bases made from corn and sorghum and they’re delicious. I have not had gumbo in 20 years and the gumbo they prepared with their product was full-flavored with a nice, smooth back heat.

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Beckee Moreland at GREAT Kitchens Booth

That’s me! I truly love getting restaurants to understand safe gluten-free food preparation through the GREAT Kitchens program.

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Presentation Poster

Speaking at expos like the LRA Show are amazing opportunities to raise awareness of celiac disease and the reason so many of us need gluten-free options.

Evenings consisted of strolls through the French Quarters from Bourbon Street to the Riverwalk. We tried to get the full NOLA experience, a concert at Preservation Hall, a ghost tour, shopping and people-watching on Bourbon Street.

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Ghost Tour

The start of the ghost tour – spooky!

Of course my guys had to find the bar, “Spirits” from the TV show Bar Rescue and purchase some kind of voodoo potion.  We did find some tremendous restaurants that offered gluten-free options. Red fish was a popular entrée at many spots especially at Redfish Grill. The chicken with jambalaya risotto was succulent and spicy at Bourbon House and the service was impeccable. We really loved the music, atmosphere and Caribbean flavors at Rum House in the Garden District.

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour and GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to NOLA: Dave and Cole with Spirits

My husband Dave and son Cole at “Spirits,” enjoying their “voodoo” potions.

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Dave and Cole

Dave and Cole

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Concert at Preservation Hall

The Concert at Preservation Hall

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Tacos and Black Beans

Gluten-free tacos and black beans. Yum!

By day, I enjoyed meeting many of the chefs and restaurateurs from some of the famous and well-known establishments. We talked a great deal about the increasing demand and requests for gluten-free options, and how GREAT Kitchens, an online training course from NFCA, would be a valuable tool for staff to learn about safe preparation. When I was able to take a break from the exhibit, I found some tremendous booths showing off their gluten-free spice blends and recipes to create Cajun cuisine so I’m looking forward to putting my samples to good use. But by the end of the week, I was feeling a bit crabby; swampy heat can take its toll on a woman from Nebraska! NOLA certainly delivered new flavors, new recipes and new friends – even on a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-Free Gumbo, a Ghost Tour & GREAT Kitchens: My Trip to New Orleans: Beckee and the Giant Crab

By the end of the trip, I was a tad crabby…pun intended.

- Beckee

September 4, 2013 at 11:00 pm Leave a comment

Gluten-Free Pizza: Las Vegas Style

I LOVE pizza – cold pizza for breakfast, hot, gooey, cheesy pizza with thick or thin crusts and toppings of all kinds: pesto, pepperoni, olives, onion, even anchovies. So when I was diagnosed with celiac disease back in 1992, when very few gluten-free products existed, I concluded my love affair with pizza was pretty much over. Making gluten-free pizza was a chore I could handle, but it just wasn’t the same.  Eating pizza out of the box and sipping an ice cold beer while watching a movie, and hanging with the family or friends seemed impossible or too depressing.  During a pity party, I even told my husband, Dave, my last request before I died was pizza delivered to my death bed with a cold brew as my last meal. (What’s one last jolt of poison when your about to take your last breath anyway?) I’m so glad gluten-free has come so far that I can pick a more extravagant last meal….maybe chocolate croissants.  Never in my lifetime, did I expect to live to experience gluten-free pizza so accessible and tasty.

Gluten-Free Pizza: Las Vegas Style: Gluten-Free Pizza in Oven

Gluten-free pizza has certainly come a long way in the past 20 years!

Recently, I was honored to speak at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas on behalf of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). Gluten-free pizza is a HOT trend and operators across the country want to know what it takes to include gluten-free as an option for their customers, so I was thrilled to be asked to attend. Over 7,000 pizza operators attend this show annually to taste the latest, greatest ingredients, find new equipment, and attend educational sessions to learn how to make their business more successful. The energy at this show is over the top and the events are show stoppers. These operators are serious competitors, too. The contests happening right on the “All Pizza, All-of-the-Time Show Floor” included Bake Offs,  Freestyle Acrobatic Dough Tossing, Pizza Challenges, and Demonstrations for pizzas, salads, and beer brewing.  What an amazing experience.

My educational session, “How Pizzerias Can Serve a Gluten-Free Pie” included 3 panelists. As moderator and speaker, I provided education about serving diners with gluten-related disorders, the importance of training and safe preparation. My panelists, GREAT Kitchens grads (a training course from NFCA on safe gluten-free food preparation) Adam and Debbie Goldberg from Fresh Brothers, LA area, and Willy Olunds, from Willy O’s in Michigan, gave the attendees real life experience in serving gluten-free pizza. These experts gave different perspectives since Fresh Brothers has 8 locations and Willy O’s is an independent operation.

Gluten-Free Pizza: Las Vegas Style: Willy O

Willy O himself with his delicious corn-based gluten-free pizza.

Willy invited me to tag along during his pizza competition in the non-traditional category. (No gluten-free category yet, but maybe next year.) According to Willy and his wife, Carla, this is highly irregular to allow non-participants in the competition area. I felt honored and so impressed with the intense passion each competitor brought to their pie including Willy. His unique corn-based crust and decadent ingredients made for a pretty impressive entry.

Elizabeth Falkner

Iron Chef Redemption challenger Elizabeth Falkner doing her kale demonstration.

Other GREAT experiences included hanging out with the staff at Venice Bakery. (Their booth was amazing and so was the pizza!) I also sat in the front row and watched Iron Chef Redemption challenger Elizabeth Falkner demonstrate kale salad (crispy, fresh, and blanched kale) and actually met her after the demo. She’s really cool.  I had some time to check out the exhibitors, so I  said “hi” to  old friends like Joel Schut from RW Bakers, Pamela and Alison from Pamela’s, and the DeIorio’s team.  Best of all I made a new friend, Denise San Filippo (a fellow gluten-free gal) from Schar. Denise and I hit the strip one night and had a fabulous gluten-free dinner at Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel.  From our window, we could see the Eiffel Tower and watch the Bellagio fountain show. (Sometimes this job is grueling!) Our waitress was well-educated about allergens and gluten which gave us confidence in our restaurant choice especially when she answered all of our probing questions correctly.  She even brought us toasted gluten-free bread and warm olives for our starter. Denise had the scallops and I tried the Lemon Chicken with shallow Pom Frites. (Shallow means fried separately in a pan not a deep fryer.) It was delicious, especially the fried potatoes.

Gluten-Free Pizza: Las Vegas Style: Venice Bakery

Me and the Venice Bakery Team

Gluten-Free Pizza: Las Vegas Style: Beckee and Joel

Me and Joel from RW Bakery

Eiffel Tower

Our view from our gluten-free-friendly restaurant.

With every expo and conference I attend, I have the opportunity to meet new people and can’t help but feel ecstatic over the progress we’re making.  20 years ago, I thought I would never eat pizza again.  Now, there are people seeking information on how to make both delicious and safe gluten-free pizza.   And, to be able to be a part of that is a GREAT feeling.

- Beckee

April 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

Traveling Gluten-Free: What I’ve Learned in 3 Years

I’ve become quite an expert at traveling. As Director of Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), I’ve visited over 25 cities and worked in a dozen or more states within three years (my latest NFCA trip was to Atlanta, Georgia two weeks ago for the KeHE Summer Selling Show).  I can maneuver through airport security with ease and efficiency, flipping off shoes and jackets and pulling out bags of liquids and my laptop in seconds. And since I have celiac disease, traveling means “always being prepared and aware” so I’ve created a list of “must-haves” snacks, which airports have safe choices and how to find gluten-free friendly and not so friendly restaurants anywhere in the country. (I use the Find Me Gluten-Free app to sort out potential eateries. This is a dining locator not an endorsement of gluten-free options. You still need to investigate by reading the reviews, making a call and asking questions.) I’ve also had to be proactive and advocate for myself and others with gluten-related disorders when it comes to attending business dinners, conferences and events by identifying my dietary needs on conference registration forms, plus notifying event coordinators, hotel hospitality and general managers.

Gluten-Free Travel: Udi's Gluten-Free Products at the KeHE Show

Udi’s Gluten-Free had lots of products on display at the KeHE Show.

This is all part of trip preparation. It takes a bit more time but I always feel it’s important to be an advocate for not only myself but for all people with gluten-related disorders. And while I’m traveling around the country, I feel it is my job and honor to be the voice for people with celiac disease everywhere by spreading education, awareness and understanding. (You may not want to sit next to me on a plane…you’ll get an earful.) I have learned that if we don’t politely ask, people may not think our dietary needs are necessary. If we don’t carefully express our needs, many may not think there are any. If we don’t calmly mention the mistake, serves and restaurants will never know there is a problem. If we don’t ask if they have completed NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens gluten-free training program, restaurant operators, chefs and servers may not think they need it. But, if we remain patient and plant the seed, the growth will come.

Gluten-Free Travel: Enjoy Life Staff

Enjoy Life staff were at the KeHE Show too.

Here is my list of must-have gluten-free snacks to take with me on the go:

  • KIND bars
  • Gluten-free crackers (If you keep these in a tin, they’re perfect for packing in a suitcase)
  • Individual servings of hummus and nut butter
  • Fruit
  • Jerky sticks
  • Cheese sticks
  • Mix nuts, dried fruit, gluten-free pretzels or chocolate chips
  • Go Picnic boxes (Not everything by Go Picnic is gluten-free, so be sure to check before purchasing)
Gluten-Free Travel: Poster Cut Out with Park Jae-sang

Did I mention I “meet” some interesting characters on my gluten-free travels?

I’m always looking for new travel-friendly gluten-free foods. Comment below with your go-to travel snack to give me some fresh ideas!

- Beckee

February 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm 2 comments

A GREAT Coincidence

GREAT Kitchens logoLast February, I received a random phone call on my NFCA line. It was a mother, Jenny Tierney, who seemed pretty devastated. Her teenage twin daughters had just been diagnosed with celiac disease.  (All of the staff at NFCA answer all kinds of calls from newly diagnosed patients and others in the food industry or healthcare field. It’s a great opportunity to walk them through the resources available at CeliacCentral.org.)

After a review of NFCA’s resources, Jenny felt a bit better and she agreed that she could handle adapting to the gluten-free diet at home and working with the school, but her biggest fear was sending the girls off to camp. The girls had gone every year since they were very young to this amazing camp for most of the summer. The solution was easy.  I shared information about GREAT Schools, Colleges, and Camps and suggested she have the camp contact me.

A month later, I received an email from a college girlfriend Sara, who lives near Kansas City. Sara told me about her neighbor, Kathy Dix. Kathy and Sara had been chatting, and the topic of gluten-free foods came up. Sara is always telling people about her gluten-free college pal and my job with NFCA.  She thinks it’s amazing how 20 years ago when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, it was considered a rare disease and food availability was scarce. Over the years, Sara has referred me to anyone interested in anything about gluten-free. She also cuts out articles related to celiac disease and gluten-free from newspapers and magazines and sends them with a note saying, “Reminded me of you,” or “Hey isn’t this cool?” or “Wow, this gluten-free stuff is everywhere.”  Gotta love her for it.

Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe

The camp sure looks like fun!
Photo credit: Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe Facebook page

Well, it just so happens that Kathy needed gluten-free training for her camp. She’s the director of a girl’s camp in upper Minnesota called Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe.  A conference call was set up to talk to the staff to understand their needs and how NFCA’s GREAT Camps program could help. On the call, I perceived the compassion and love the staff seemed to have for their mission at the camp, and how vested they were in giving all their campers a complete experience. They were ready to sign up and complete the course.

Toward the end of the conversation, they revealed that their interest in learning about gluten-free protocol for the camp staff had to do with twins that returned every year. These twins had been diagnosed with celiac disease recently, and Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe wanted to live up to its “Strong Spirited” name and ease the girls’ mother’s concerns about sending them to camp while they were still learning the gluten-free diet.  Kathy’s goal was to ensure that these young women would continue their “growth in self esteem, deep seeded friendships, and memories to last a lifetime,” and the first step in achieving this goal was becoming GREAT trained, allowing the girls to continue their summer tradition of attending Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe.

Small world, isn’t it?

- Beckee

July 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

A Life Saving Diagnosis: 20 Years Gluten-Free and Counting

Whenever this time of year rolls around, I get this feeling. It’s the feeling that I’m forgetting something like a birthday, anniversary, or special occasion. It just so happens that this year the feeling is especially strong and I remember what’s coming.  June 13.

On the 13th, I will be celebrating 20 years of gluten-freedom and the day that was literally life changing.  Not only did my diagnosis with celiac disease save my life, but it changed it as well.

After giving birth to my healthy baby boy, Cole, my body fell apart and I displayed the classical celiac symptoms – weight loss, fatigue, vomiting, depression, and weakness. I wasn’t even able to climb stairs or turn a faucet.

Mommy and Cole at 2 weeks old

Sick Mommy Holding Baby Cole at 2 Weeks Old

Eventually, I was hospitalized, had a small bowel biopsy, and a positive diagnosis. With Dave holding my hand and Cole in my arms, Dr. Dalke described celiac as a “rare” disease affecting 1 in 2,500 people.  Dave whispered, “I knew you were special but not that special.” Turns out, I’m not really that special with 1 in 133 people living with celiac disease. But I was lucky and the gluten-free diet renewed my health, energy, and disposition.

Mommy and Cole at 6 months old

Healthy Mommy and Cole 6 months after diagnosis

Usually on special anniversaries, gifts are in order.  On my special anniversary, I’d like to share a few of many exceptional gifts I’ve received over the years as a result of my diagnosis.

GIFT 1 – Love of Cooking

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is learning to cook well. You’ll never go hungry and you’ll always have friends.

Learning to cook from scratch was a challenge, but I loved the process.  Before gluten-free products were everywhere and labels read “GF,” I learned to season with fresh herbs, spices and pure ingredients to make sauces and dressing from scratch. I learned which herbs and spices produce which flavors and enhance certain foods. My spice cupboard is more like a pantry!

GIFT 2 – Share the Love.

Hosting dinner parties and sharing meals with friends and family gives me a chance to show that gluten-free doesn’t have to be horrible, difficult, or medicinal. Clean, fresh, pure and easy are my approaches to cooking. Hostess tips include set a beautiful table, involve guests, and have plenty of wine.

Chinese New Year Table

Annual Chinese New Year party menu – homemade egg rolls, blood orange salad, stir fry veggies, steamed rice, Asian bbq pork, sweet rice cake, and Gewurztraminer wine.

GIFT 3 – Friendship – 2 GF BFs

My two gal pals, Jill and Mary, also have celiac disease. These great women have my back in crisis, tragedy, sickness, and gluten episodes. They share my frustration over gluten-free labeling, restaurant mishaps, and family dynamics. We celebrate the GREAT gluten-free life over amazing dinners, annual holiday cookie baking, and family milestones. I cherish them.

Me and My Gluten-Free Friends

Me, Mary, Janna, Jill on Janna’s wedding day. The food…totally gluten-free

- Beckee

June 4, 2012 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Gluten-Free on the Road: GREAT Kitchens in Michigan and Minnesota

Every day, new restaurants are going online and completing NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens training and educating their staff about serving gluten-free to people who depend on verified ingredients, gluten-free protocol, and a celiac savvy waitstaff. They’re learning why it’s important to greet special diet guests with confidence and know how to answer questions to build trust. Owners and managers across the country are hearing about GREAT Kitchens at their local restaurant association and American Chef Federation meetings, through U.S. Foods distributors, and of course, the celiac community.  Thanks for your help!

GREAT training is better than “good enough,” and I’ve had the pleasure to see firsthand the result of GREAT training while traveling for business and pleasure. I can’t tell you how excited I get when I know I’m going to a city where GREAT Kitchens exist, and I can be a secret diner to check out the effects of GREAT training.  There are hints of GREATness that stand out in GREAT Kitchens. Check out some of my travel spots and their outstanding service:

W.O.W. – East Lansing, MI

I ended up in East Lansing, MI, in October 2010, to speak at a local health food store for their Celiac Awareness campaign. On my way back to Detroit, where I would be speaking the next day, I stopped in to meet Steve Pollard at Guido’s pizza parlor in Okemos, MI, just outside of East Lansing. Steve was one of our first GREAT Kitchens, and his staff is well-trained in gluten-free protocol.

Gluten-Free Pizza at Guido's in Michigan

Gluten-free and amazing!

The pizza? Well, it is simply amazing. Soft, tender crust handmade crust with perfectly placed toppings made me teary to think that Steve was serving these sweet pies daily to the lucky East Lansing folks.  Now almost 18 months later, Steve’s moved his gluten-free operation next door. W.O. W. ( With Out Wheat) deli and bakery has fantastic gluten-free breads, sandwiches, rolls, pizzas and dessert.  GREAT progress!

Beckee and Steve Pollard of Guido's Pizza

Beckee and Steve from Guido's/W.O.W.

Hint of GREATness #1 – Taste has not been compromised by gluten-free status.

Pizza Luce – Minneapolis, MN

Staying in Minneapolis for a wedding weekend in September gave me the opportunity to taste a bit of the Mini-Apple’s famous pizza spot, Pizza Luce. Pizza Luce has 5 locations in Minnesota that are all GREAT trained. At the downtown location, the servers were gluten-free informed and the gluten-free options on their menu extensive.

Gluten-Free Pizza at Pizza Luce

One of Pizza Luce's yummy gluten-free pies

Confession…I ate there twice and could have placed an order for the road. What is it about eating in a restaurant that you know has GREAT status, and all will be well with the tummy? It’s seems you have to try everything that’s offered and more. As the director of GREAT, I know what’s supposed to happen when a dining establishment takes training seriously.

Hint of GREATness #2 – The waitstaff welcomes you with a gluten-free menu, say they’ve been trained, and can answer ingredient questions with ease.

More spots and hints in my future blogs!

-Beckee

See the full list of GREAT Kitchens in the U.S. at www.CeliacCentral.org/kitchens

April 20, 2012 at 10:03 am Leave a comment

Gluten-Free Dining: We Don’t Really Want to Be “Special”

Last Monday, I decided to step away from my desk for a much needed day off. A mental vacation, a road trip to do a bit of shopping, and lunch with my best gal pal would be the perfect way to spend the day off! After stocking up on herbs and spices at Penzeys and checking out the furniture store sales, I met Kyle at her favorite restaurant.

Kyle and Beckee

Kyle and me

History Note: Kyle and I have been best friends since freshman year in college. People mistake us for sisters because we kind of look alike and think alike. We stood next to each other when we married our mates, and we birthed our babies exactly one week apart. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, Kyle immediately learned about my diet, figured out how to feed me and threw a dinner party. Over the years, we’ve taken a few ‘girl trips’ where the days consisted of coffee on the patio, shopping, researching fabulous gluten-free dining spots, and ordering everything gluten-free so we could share plates. She is truly a GFBF (gluten-free best friend).

Lunch at the Biltmore

One of our previous "girl trips" - Lunch at the Biltmore

Kyle has been trying to coax me into dining at her favorite restaurant for years. It’s not that I hadn’t eaten there; in fact, I had dined there many times 20 years ago…BC (before celiac). I had not stepped foot inside since because they didn’t offer gluten-free options until recently, and I had been leery of dining there before important business trips or meetings for fear of possible cross-contamination. I just couldn’t take a chance.

So I decide, what the heck, it was close by and they have dynamite salads. How can they screw up a salad, right? Plus, it’s a Monday and surely they won’t be that busy. Plus, Kyle knows the owner/chef and staff well, and I was curious about their gluten-free menu.

I arrive to a packed room. Kyle waves to me from the bar where we plan to sit. After hugs and catching up, we ask for menus. Kyle asks for the gluten-free menu before I do…she’s so excited. We wait.

Eventually, the bartender comes back and spouts off the daily specials. We ask for the gluten-free menu again. He turns away, digs under a pile of menus, and puts it in front of me. Laminated and single-sided, it lists about ten choices. Salads and entrees were listed with instructions about what to leave off the dish. No prices, no restaurant logo, no description of the dish, no GREAT Kitchens seal either, but I knew that wasn’t going to be there – they haven’t gone through our gluten-free training.

I had a bad feeling. It was a busy lunch, I could see the kitchen staff hustling, and I had a gluten-free menu that didn’t really give me much guidance or confidence in the outcome.

Kyle looks at my menu and offers hers with colorful descriptions and prices to help me choose a few options to investigate. She waves over the owner, asks me to dig out a business card, and makes an introduction. (Kyle is extremely proud of me. She’s the one who gave me confidence and support to start a gluten-free consulting business 5 years ago, which lead to my dream job with NFCA.) With a smile, she hands him the card and says, “This is my dear friend who works for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. She is the director of a program called GREAT Kitchens.” The owner took a look at my card and replied, “So, am I under investigation?”

Was he kidding? He didn’t look like he was kidding. Did he need to be investigated? We laugh it off, and I ask for some help choosing lunch. The tortilla strips on the salad are fried in the same oil as breaded foods, but the menu doesn’t mention it. The grill does not have bread products cooked on it – good news. The salad dressing ingredients…I can tell by his face he isn’t really interested in sharing the recipe. I order the grilled salmon salad with vinegar and oil on the side. I notice the owner pop his head into the kitchen to possibly alert the staff.

Our salads arrive in front of us. They are fine. We eat. We pay the bill. We leave. Hugs and back on the road.

Driving home, I just felt terrible. I had an hour to stew over what had just happened. I wanted to cry because I just felt awful. My food was fine. No cross-contamination, the salmon was perfectly cooked, the greens were fresh. But I still felt horrible, empty inside. I had just been to a well-known restaurant that many people would give a four star rating for exceptional service, food quality and ambience. Not so much for me…maybe a half a star for their gluten-free guests.

The next morning Kyle called and said, “Have you ever been treated so poorly in all your life? I can’t believe how rudely we were treated. And that menu, how could you call it a gluten-free menu with nothing to help you make good choices? I’ve been getting madder by the minute thinking about it.”

Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first time dealing with restaurants that offer gluten-free options/menus to keep up with the trends but don’t really understand the customer. This past year, restaurants offering gluten-free options rose 61% according to foodservice consulting firm Technomic. Gluten-free guests have made progress in getting the attention of the restaurant industry by requesting options. But we have a long way to go to make sure they understand that special diet customers don’t really want to be special. They want to know that their food is safe and that their needs are understood. They just want to enjoy their lunch with a friend.

- Beckee

Learn more about NFCA’s gluten-free restaurant training program: GREAT Kitchens

February 28, 2012 at 10:49 am 7 comments

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