It's Only Food. It's Only Food. It's Only Food.

staring at food

Repeat after me. It’s Only Food. It’s Only Food. It. Is. Only. Food.

I’m not trying to convince you. I’m trying to convince myself.

You see…I’m heading on vacation next week. For the past two winters, we’ve gone to a house that came with a wonderful chef named Kate. Kate rocked my gluten-free world.

Well, two things happened this year. Kate got a new job and we are renting a different house. It too comes with a chef (yeah…I know…poor me), which certainly beats trying to explain celiac disease to a different restaurant each night, but I’m still nervous.

I reached out to the chef a few weeks ago to introduce myself and to find out how experienced he was with the whole gluten-free thang. Here’s part of the email:

I am writing about my dietary needs for the week. I have severe celiac disease and require that all of my food be 100% gluten-free. In addition, I’ll need to be certain that I do not get sick from cross-contamination (cutting boards, toasters, utensils, etc.)

Please let me know your experience with cooking gluten-free (for celiacs, not the fad dieters…big difference). I’d be more than happy to help you and answer any questions you may have.

We have vacationed the past two years at a private villa in Tortolla and the chef was able to accommodate me with no issues by making small adjustments for my meals.

Thank you in advance and again, if you have any questions, both now and during the week we are there, never hesitate to ask me. Better safe than sorry.

Look forward to meeting you and the team.

I like to approach this as a partnership between myself and the chef. I want him to feel like he can ask my anything in the world. Here is part of his response.

Dear Demanding A**hole.

(Just kidding…just making sure you’re still paying attention). Here’s his email.

My staff and I will make the best effort to make your stay memorable and safe.

Unfortunately we never had gluten free meals to prepare at the villa…but…I already made inquiries about your disease and I fully understand that you can’t have any gluten AT ALL including nano quantities.

I also understand that we’ve got to be careful when buying groceries cause I saw that lot of preparations have “traces of” gluten.

Let me know your grocery list and if you have typical menu and or recipes, let me know.

This was just a great response. Did it bum me out that he hadn’t had to do this before? Absolutely. But the guy is a professional and he responded in the best way possible. He researched and he seems to “get it”.

And my final response to him:

I do not have specific recipes. When you make the meals, it may mean just adjusting mine…that’s all. All of us eat healthy so I am not expecting any concerns. If you have any questions about ANY ingredient during the week, please just ask me. Do not leave anything to chance. We’ll get through the week unscathed by working together.

I will be asking tons of questions while I’m down there. Please don’t take offense to it. It’s just what I need to do to stay safe.

Many thanks in advance for all your work.

Mrs. Dude and I had a nice chat last night about the upcoming week. As much as we say that vacation is about the people, we can’t pretend that food doesn’t play a big role in it as well. There are times when I get caught up in the excitement of eating something different that I may not be quite as diligent as I should be. And Mrs. Dude does not feel like policing me for the week. Can you blame her?

So from now until departure I’m going to keep repeating my mantra.

It’s Only Food. It’s Only Food. It’s Only Food.

I’m blessed to be going away, but dang…I hate having celiac disease.

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27 thoughts on “It's Only Food. It's Only Food. It's Only Food.”

  1. It sounds like the chef is willing to learn, and you will be helping him accommodate celiac visitors in the future.

    Vacation is so much more stressful with this dang disease. But I hope you and Mrs. Dude have an amazing time.

  2. It’s a cliche, but I feel your pain. Apprehension about meals out comes with the diagnosis.

    I had my biopsies on 9/11/2013 and came home with a new way of eating. Fortunately both my wife and I cook, so we can cope, but once we leave home, the apprehension sets in. About a week and a half later there was a dinner party for my BIL’s 60th birthday. I called the restaurant in advance, and they said “no problem”. We arrived a little early and I asked to talk to the manager, and he got the chef out to talk to me. Again, it was “no problem”, and he gave me some guidance about what it would be safe for me to order. I gave the waiter my order, reminding him that I was the gluten free guest, but he already knew and passed the word on to the chef. The food (excellent) arrived, I ate, and again, “no problem”. The birthday cake was obviously a problem, but I was offered a fruit plate. And they were right– I had no problems. That place (Froggy’s in Highwood, IL) has it together! So there is hope.

    About two weeks later we took off on a long-planned trip to India, again with much apprehension on my part. In four and a half weeks there I only got glutened once, and that was mostly my own fault (I should have been more skeptical about a dish cooked in a pot sealed shut with dough, even though the dough is not consumed). Lesson learned: cross contamination can be as bad as actually eating something made with gluten-containing ingredients.

    Now we’re getting ready for a trip next month to Honolulu for three weeks in a condo there. Taking an extra suitcase with kitchen supplies (knives, cutting mats, maybe a pan or two, homemade muesli for my first couple of breakfasts, a few things that wouldn’t be worth buying there because of the small amounts used, like some spices), some gluten-free bars that I stocked up on for India and didn’t use, some toaster bags, and anything else we can think of that we could pack and would make cooking and eating there easier. There’s a Whole Foods there, so getting safe GF supplies shouldn’t be difficult (just expensive), and fresh food, especially fruit and veggies, isn’t a problem at all. And there’s even a pizza place that is supposed to have safe stuff.

    It’s an ongoing adventure…

    1. If you trek over to Maui just give my site a glance. I have shopping and dining info available. All free. I have celiac and live on the island. I hope your stay on Oahu is great. Just be aware of the near omnipresence of soy sauce in food prep.

      1. I go to Maui every year and love your site. Yes~~~~it is the soy sauce that is the problem over there (and HERE) Sighhhhh!

  3. Have a good time Dude!!!! Seems like the Chef’s attitude is great! Being right there you should be able to go hang out in the kitchen a little to make sure things are all clear. I know it is “just food” but losing a few days of your well earned vacation would “just suck”!! Sue

  4. I like the attitude but would still be wary. Chefs typically being creatures of habit may not “get it” until they see recipes that deal with the issue. Send him some basic whole food recipes. One for a soup that SPECIFICALLY lists corn or tapioca starch being used as a thickener & an asian dish specifically listing tamary sauce instead of soy.

    By showing him how to avoid the “typical pitfalls” he can still groove with the standard menus while accomidating for the group. Listing things like bread items by vendor will help avoid a week of super expensive sweatsock dough for breakfast each morning. Its no more fair to “wing it” & pray than it is to specifically list each meal you want like he’s asked for…meet in the middle, its a time to educate.

  5. Good luck, Gluten Dude! Enjoy your trip, I wish I could give you some encouraging words. But what do I say to the guy who knows so much and has helped me cope with my gluten intolerance? Not a whole lot – but I am thinking about you and hoping this turns out well! Enjoy your vacation!

  6. Kinda sorta in your same boat right now. Me and my dude had a recent vacation to AR, and we picked a cabin just by the fact that it had a kitchen! I meal planned everything weeks in advance so we could be just fine. Worked great too!

    But I’m a little scared. We are going on a cruise soon, and while the reviews for gluten/allergen dining there are positive and give me hope, its the main thing I’m worried about… seeing as its the one thing that can screw up the whole week. And I’m not just worried about myself. Just recently my dude finally had an allergy test done and he has allergies to wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, and pecans. While not the annaliptic shock type it does give him hives all over and it’s not fun…

    Because of that, along with my intolerance to dairy and rice (! of all things rice brings on bad joint pain 0_0 talk about “Dear Demanding A**hole….”) we’ve gone the whole30/paleo permanently, and both have never felt better… But because of this, I’ve done all the cooking, no eating out, no one else touching our food… I’m scared to have someone else make my meals everyday for 7 days straight! I have almost no trust…
    I mean honestly, if all I have is steak and veggies every night I’m fine but so many what ifs….

    One thing I’m doing is making the chef cards that include the introlerances/allergens. Someone else had suggested to me to include sample meals on the card to help give an idea of what can be done. Still isn’t helping the “what if” thing though.

    1. I just came back from a cruise, they did a great job, even had yummy bread, yes I mean yummy I ate it every night. The buffet was not so good for safety , but the dining room did a wonderful job, 9 nights no glutening, and I do not eat red meat or pork, so my options were more limited. We are even taking another cruise in February.

    2. Cruising is a blast! We’ve gone on Carnival twice with no problems. I do recommend doing the assigned meal time instead of the anytime if that is an option, plus eating breakfast in the dining room, not the buffet. That way, you have the same waiter every night and the maitre d’ can find you easier. The way it worked was this: First night, steak and baked potato with creme brulee for dessert. Torture, I know. I can’t remember if I got GF bread then or not. I’d already called ahead before the cruise, then stopped by the dining room that afternoon to make sure I was on the special list of people who the maitre d’ would hunt down later. The maitre d’ will come by with the menu for the next evening so you can pre-order, including desserts. She’ll also ask if you have any special requests for breakfast. This is where you request pancakes, waffles, or toast if you want something beyond eggs, bacon, and fruit the next morning. I also bring an individually packed bowl or 2 of Chex in case I want cereal. If she isn’t sure if they could make what I wanted GF, she’d have me pick a second option just to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. They could make the chocolate melty cake GF, and when there was apple pie on the menu, I asked if the filling would be safe – I got a bowl of hot spiced apples, not the filling, with ice cream for dessert the next day.

      The next evening, you go to the dining room. My server rocked, and I would have my own little dish of butter sitting there just for me along with a plate with 2 pieces of GF bread there. He’d bring out the appetizers, and eventually the entrees. He also started to set my plate down in front of me once, then took it back, saying “Not yours, not yours, I’ll get yours.” They had messed up and put a crumb topping on top of my meat. I would have caught it if he hadn’t, but it was awesome that he was watching out for me that closely (yeah, he got an extra tip).

      I went on the tour that went into the crew areas of the ship – there’s a small section of the kitchen with a designated chef who makes everything for anybody with food allergies. This does mean that the area is not completely gluten-free, but it also means he’s trained in the fact that small amounts of different things are a bad, bad idea for some people. I love cruising and can’t wait to go back.

      1. Bethany
        Thank you so much for posting this. I read it out loud to the hubs and we were both very impressed.
        I will keep this in mind should we decide to do this someday!
        Thanks again!
        Cheers, IH

      2. I want to respond and say yes its awesome! We got back from our cruise with Royal Caribbean 2 weeks ago and neither me or my husband had any react of any kind.
        As soon as we got on the ship we went to find our head waiter, he wrote down all of the food we couldn’t have, talked to the chef and told us what we could eat that night. Then he gave us the menus for the next day so we could pre pick our meals.
        One day I wanted a fries with my meal, So they cooked ours first before everyone elses meals because they use the same oil for frying. I was thoroughly impressed. He explained all of the kitchen practices and asked if I needed anything different/special and he would come and check on us multiple times while we were eating to make sure everything was ok. I even had a dessert every meal ^_^
        As long as we stayed in the main dinning room and went in for our scheduled time there was no problem.

        Side note, we did bring tuna packs and lara bars for us to eat off ship on excursions, but the dinning room gave us extra GF bread to take with us so we could have tuna sandwiches and not just plain tuna!

        We’ve decided that cruising is for us. We both won’t go to restaurants because the risk is to high, and cooking everything on vacation can become stressful. So yeah. I recommend. It was way better then I expected, and for the first time I felt safe with someone else preparing my food.

      3. Thank you Bethany. Your post is so helpful and gives me hope that hubby and I can once again enjoy cruising. We met on a cruise and cruised for years Looking forward to booking one soon.
        Be well!

  7. You may be over -thinking this a bit, kiddo (and worrying in advance serves no purpose except to give that pretty face wrinkles, so quit that!) Sounds to me like he “gets it” and I think you;re “good to go”.

    My friend is a chef who cooks for 2 or 402 and her take on this situation is the same as mine: A good chef cooks from scratch. This means whole foods. There is very little gluten involved in that, unless there is gravy, a sauce or if he is baking bread or goodies for you.

    Skips gravies & sauces that may have a roux or ask him to use corn starch. There are many tasty treats that can be prepared sans gluten–flourless cakes, crustless pies, ice cream, fruit dishes.

    This is not rocket science, really…it’s just common sense says my chef pal. (and she has a Christmas party of 225 next week and several of them are GF guests. No problem, she tells me)

    Please stop worrying.
    You’re supposed to be RELAXING!! 🙂

    PS If you are really worried, I can come and cook for you all.
    Just pay my airfare. Totally serious. You know I will.

  8. Have a great vacation Gluten Dude. I know how it is just ordering a plain salad is stressful enough. Its only food lol! It sounds like the chef is on board with preparing the food correctly. I’m envious—a chef. You will be okay.

  9. Sometimes I think worrying about having a reaction is almost as bad as actually having one. I went on my first out of town trip last month since being diagnosed in July. I was terrified of eating out, but I researched restaurants beforehand, ate out twice while I was there (only an overnight trip) and had no issues whatsoever. It’s hard not to be apprehensive about it, but I agree with Irish – it’ll just take all the fun out of your vacation! It sounds like even though your chef is not familiar, he will do his best to accommodate. Hope you have an awesome time and some fabulous meals!

  10. I feel your pain. I crack myself up. I know that people say “oh, I still go out to eat.” In the year and a half that I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned that I cannot go out to eat. It’s sad. Recently, I quit my job as a state director of a program. I had to travel all to often. It was fine when I was travelling in-state. I just took a cooler of my own food or found a whole foods. Going to another city by plane is a whole different experience. What cinched the no eating out for me was going to Salt Lake City. I got so sick and I even had the driver take me to whole foods and I got some stuff. Alas, at a business dinner… yuck. So here I am. Sighing. Saying to myself, it’s only food. I’m in control, but I feel like I’m not because I had to resign. I’m still working for the same nonprofit (at least I still have a job), doing grantwriting and some of the director duties from afar, but it feels- some days- like this disease has taken over my whole life.

  11. Dude, you took the perfect approach with the chef … said everything that needed to be said (& in such a nice way too!). And yet, you’ll probably still be crossing-your-fingers behind your back when a meal is served, as we all do when we are out of our comfort zone. Yes, hopefully he will be preparing fresh, all natural foods .. but it just takes that one “unknown” ingredient containing gluten, that will do you in so go over it all again with the chef when you arrive (& don’t feel too bad looking over his shoulder once in awhile) and hope for the best! I’m heading to Santo Domingo with my family in a few months, and will be going through the same thing. By then I will have perfected “I can’t have wheat, barley & rye or I’ll die” in Spanish! Enjoy.

    1. good idea!!
      Maybe you might want to learn to say “malt” too— just in case— or you will be “meurto”.

      Happy Vacation! 🙂 🙂

  12. Good luck, and the chef sounds wonderful.
    I just survived my first big trip, 9 nights on a cruise, they did a good job, no glutening.
    I have read other folks posts, you cannot live in a bubble and refuse to eat out, life is too short!
    We eat out often, and I can always find something to eat, it may not be exciting, but I can eat it.
    When I was told I had to be on blood thinners forever and was given a long list of what I could not eat or do, I was freaked. Forget that, I am careful but I refuse to live my life being afraid.

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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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