Gluten & Celiac: A Chef's Perspective


There are always two sides to every story.

And while we as consumers can bitch and moan about gluten, celiac and all the things that come with it, there is an entire industry that is also side-saddled with this problem.

This would be the food industry.

Not the manufacturers of food (who have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon just fine, thank you) but the chefs who work their butts off each and every day so we can all enjoy a meal out once in awhile.

One of my good friends is a personal chef at a vacation home and he has recently opened my eyes to what he goes through on a daily basis as food allergens have become all the rage.

Here is a recent email I received from him:

The issue for people in the food industry is that we deal with people who have this allergy and that allergy and if I eat a speck of dust I will keel over and expire thank you very much. I think they somehow think it makes them more interesting. Then when you are about to serve the offending item to others, all of a sudden it’s ‘Oh, well, I can have that really – I’ll just take a pill” or “Oh, it’s my wife (husband) – she thinks I shouldn’t have that, but I eat it anyway”. This is after you have spent many hours organizing and researching special meals/menus to suit the person with the allergy.

For those with severe allergies and things like celiac disease, this scenario doesn’t exist, but unfortunately it is all too common and causes huge irritation and frustration on our part. When we meet people who have real problems with certain foods it is understandable that we might question it just a teeny tiny bit until we understand the severity of the illness.

I am part of a group on Facebook for chefs. The current huge gripe is people on fad diets – sending their preferences ahead of arrival and specifying what they won’t eat. They then proceed to eat and drink anything and everything that is not on the diet. We have had the same thing happen over the years with all the diets you can think of. I once even had a hardcore vegetarian from Michigan who flew all the way here with many wonderful and strange products in her bag that she intended to eat, cluttered up my fridge with them and then never touched. She did remain a vegetarian until the last evening when I was preparing ribs when she then calmly informed me that she would have one. Yes, I was incredulous.

This is what celiacs are up against!

That is what we are up against indeed.

Look…if you read this blog regularly (bless your heart!), you know my mantra is “you are what you eat”. I’m a firm believer that diet is the most important thing when it comes to our health, followed very closely by exercise.

And I am all for people giving up certain foods to try to be healthier. And I don’t mean the South Beach Diet or any of those other ridiculous money-making fad diets out there. I’m talking giving up real food items to improve your health.

But please…if you are not 100% committed to your food restrictions, think of the person behind the scenes who is working their tail off preparing your food as you requested (note I said “requested”, not “demanded”…hint, hint.)

Don’t be a pain in the ass if you don’t plan on honoring your requests. Respect their time. Respect their skills.

Chefs of the world…unite!

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25 thoughts on “Gluten & Celiac: A Chef's Perspective”

  1. This is why i avoid eating out as much as possible. It’s just too much for everyone involved! Going to Atlantic City for 3 days next week. I’ll bring breakfast lunch and snacks and will just cross my fingers and hope for the best at dinner time. What a life…..

    1. Lets not forget for a moment Chefs
      that we are members of an industry greater than
      ourselves. The HOSPITALITY industry. And sometimes being hospitable is just sucking up your “pain” for the greater good. In fact that is what is required most times. Perhaps I may suggest that on the whole we take every opportunity we can not only to learn from our clients but let them teach us about what their needs really are. It is in the sharing that growth can truly occur.

      Having had to leave my industry as it is widely known due to my own
      food intolerances and allergies etc might give me a bit more patience for the plight of others. And for that i am eternally greatful. Now I am happier, and healthier and no able to return to my industry but I am returning on my own terms. As a GF chef opening a strictly GF business .


    2. If you mention to a server you have celiacs and they know what that means, you should be good. If they don’t- get out. It’s generally a bad restaurant over all. As far as the Philadelphia Area goes, any of the big names (Starr, Garces, Vetri) will take care of your allergy. The chefs and service staff are highly trained in the subject. Stephen Starr has multiple restaurants in Atlantic City who will be more than happy to accommodate you!

  2. The Fad dieter’s are annoying , but I have worked at a bunch of restaurants and a lot of chefs are arrogant and can’t be bothered to take gluten free seriously because it’s more difficult for them.

    They make it look like they are the victims , someone comes to there restaurant with CD they should quit moaning and just cook without gluten . I know this french chef he was awesome , 1 time on a quite night he asked if I wanted to try some foods but as 90 % of the food had gluten I couldn’t eat anything . But he was apologising and in the end gave me some ice cream best ice cream I ever tried gluten free 😀

    Compare this too other chefs who I have met who have just moaned and called me annoying and difficult and called Celiac’s the biggest problem in there lifes .

    Sure some chefs are great but lots need to lose there arrogance and remember there not the ones with the disease !

  3. I always think the chef coming out and having a quick word with us making a little effort to tell us what we can have etc would be great .

    I don’t eat out much but My Mum who is also a celiac eats a lot at a restaurant because the chefs are great they even have a few gluten free choices on a separate menu . I went to this restaurant once and I didn’t like the desert and the chef instead of moaning suggested an alternative which I ordered and enjoyed . Good chefs are very creative and instead of getting annoyed they come up with alternatives we can eat 🙂

    If all chefs had this approach than there is a high chance we will go back to this restaurant and recommend to other celiac’s.

    A few years ago I went on a cruise , the waiter was a legend , I ordered prawns for starter a lot because I like prawns and I couldn’t eat anything else . A few nights I couldn’t eat any starters but the waiter knew I liked prawns and got the chef to prepare some so I didn’t miss out a course . 1 night mussels ( my favourite ) were on the starter menu , I told the waiter I wished I could have mussels but the sauce was not gluten free . 15 mins or so later he brings me 2 plates of mussels with a different gluten free sauce !

    If the cruise ship was a restaurant I would eat there every time . Us celiac’s go to a restaurant and have a good experience we remember and go back something chefs should think about next time they have a celiac customer 🙂

  4. I am thankful you have blogged about “the chef” side of the story. So many people are inconsiderate and cry “wolf” when they shouldn’t. This, of course, makes it much more difficult for those of us why cry wolf – and there IS a wolf – Celiacs. I think a personal interaction from the chef with the Patron would help weed out the faux “wolf-callers.”

    I recently went to an Americana chain restaurant & was asked specifically: “Did I want a gluten-free menu for dietary wishes or did I have a medical condition?” I thought that question genius!

    Keep up the good work.


  5. Great perspective on many levels. I am a chef but I don’t work in restaurants any longer; I teach cooking classes and consult. I do agree the customers can be very difficult and demanding but not everyone has a personal chef. Most people just want to eat out so they don’t have to cook every meal or might be traveling. Do you all remember the guy who was serving gluten-free people gluten on purpose? Yikes! Such a range of personalities.

    IMHO, one of the big issues is lack of education, not only with the staff but with the chefs as well. I wish more chefs would be creative in their cooking and try cooking without gluten, dairy or soy. It’s not that hard but it’s out of their comfort zone. They should try to eat gluten-free for a week to be in their customers shoes. I did that and 4 days later I realized I had been living with a gluten sensitivity. It was a life-changing experiment!

    Nowadays, there’s a wide range of gluten-free which can be confusing to chefs, waitstaff and kitchenstaff. Hopefully with more information in the news, it will become more mainstream which will help everyone.

  6. I once went out to dinner with my family when I was visiting them in another state. I told the waiter I had celiac disease and was extremely sensitive. When he brought out a special menu for me, my niece piped up and said, “oh I will need one of those as well because I cannot eat gluten either!” so of course the waiter worked with both of us and helped us pick out food that was safe etc. we both ordered from the gluten free menu. They then brought out the bread basket and my neice started eating. The waiter panicked explaining it was not gluten free bread etc. at which point my neice stated, “oh I know, but I can eat bread, it does not bother me!!!” i could not believe what I had just heard and the waiter was looking at me as if he wondered if I was telling him the truth. I could not even speak to my neice or look at her I was so angry and I believe that she endangered my health by her careless and cavalier attitude!!! People just don’t get it….even members of my own family. Thankfully I live on the other side of the country!!!

      1. Unfortunately no…..she is just seven years younger than I….which makes her 30 something…..she still insists on ordering gluten free meals, but then devours a loaf of French bread….she has no diagnosis of celiac or even gluten intolerance…she just decided that she is sensitive and makes a big production out of it then proceeds to eat cake or pie or bread. It makes me so angry because from my perspective no one would CHOOSE to have this condition. It is not fun, nor is it a way to get attention…I would love to just go out with my husband and order whatever I want without cringing in fear of the pain and suffering to follow!!!!

        1. Peggy,
          Is this something you could talk to her about? Maybe say something like “I understand you might have a sensitivity but it makes it very confusing for the waitstaff when you eat bread as well.” Is the gluten-free menu more exotic?

          This must be difficult. Again, if the wait and kitchenstaff had an understanding of the range of gluten sensitivity, they might be able to sift through (no pun intended) the requests. It’s almost like calling it serious gluten-free or casual gluten-free. When I teach a gluten-free class, the first thing I ask is why they are in the class and what is their level of sensitivity. For those with Celiac or extremely intolerant, I handle the class quite differently.

          Hang in there!

        2. The Gluten Dude

          All I can say is “aaarrrggghhh!”

          I know somebody similar. Goes gluten free at her whim. But when we’re at a party or something, she’ll make the biggest stink about it. And then next day, she’ll be eating a slice of pizza.

          Drives me bonkers!

        3. I’ve been there too, had a family member say they’d have a dish that restaurant staff told us had gluten in it because there ‘couldn’t be that much gluten in it’ (curry and rice, I get where she’s coming from, it is frustrating when something *could* easily be GF and isn’t but I’d never take that risk). She gets different symptoms to me, more of a rash, and can put up with it so she “cheats”. Its one of the first things I ask other coeliacs now when I meet them is “and are you good? do you stick to the diet?”. Even then everyone has their own standards. A guy I know doesn’t bother making sure his oats are gluten free, and yet he poo-poos another colleague because she doesn’t have a medical diagnosis. But maybe she sticks to it more strictly, who knows. Its flippin’ complicated!

  7. reminds me of people i know who are die-hard vegans, and try to make you feel guilty for eating meat, but then eat liver pate!

    its no wonder its frustrating to chefs. the goods ones work very hard for us (and I have multiple allergies, which makes them work harder) so I hope you thank them when they take care of you!

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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