Joseph A. Murray, M.D.‘s Mayo Clinic Going Gluten Free (Time Home Entertainment 2014) is the best book to buy before picking up any gluten-free diet cookbooks. His book covers everything from the nitty gritty of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity to understanding how to live without gluten and raise a gluten-free child. Gluten-free is not just about removing wheat flour from your diet – it involves finding out about everything you eat and making sure you understand how to identify all the ways gluten hides in your diet.
Super Chef asked Dr. Murray about gluten-free restaurant dining in a recent interview.
Super Chef: What should you ask a restaurant when dining gluten-free?
Dr. Murray: Depending on what you order, here’s a just sampling of questions from our book to ask:
• What are all the ingredients? If you simply ask about gluten, you may miss some hidden sources, such as malt vinegar.
• Is the meat, fish or vegetable seasoned with anything? Has it been marinated in any sauce?
• Do you dust items with flour before sautéing them?
• Do you toast buns or bread on your grill? If so, can you ask the chef to clean the grill before preparing my food?
• Are you French fries or hash browns made from fresh potatoes and cooked in a separate fryer from other foods?
Super Chef: Can you give SUPER CHEF readers a few tips on dining out with a mixed gluten-free and non gluten-free group? Sometimes a family will have some members who are vegetarians, others who are gluten-free, and still others who have serious food allergies to milk products or nuts.
Dr. Murray: A family meal with mixed dietary restrictions starts long before you’re seated and you’ve placed your order. Your first step is choosing a restaurant with meal options that work for everyone. It’s better to plan ahead, if possible, so you know you’ll have something safe to eat. Call the restaurant during off-peak hours and ask to speak to the manager, owner or chef. Our book lists many questions, including:
• Do you have gluten-free options?
• Can menu items be adapted and made gluten-free?
• What precautions do you take to prevent cross-contamination?
• Have members of your staff completed a gluten-free training program?
Super Chef: Are the cuisines that are more likely to be gluten-free?
Dr. Murray: Gluten-free dining has become a hot trend in recent years, and many restaurants now offer gluten-free meals. However, anytime you eat at a restaurant, you need to be very specific about your dietary needs. Oftentimes, a fine dining restaurant with a knowledgeable chef is your best bet for enjoying a gluten-free meal. A chain restaurant is also a possibility, since chains often have standardized menus and well-established training programs.
Super Chef: Sometimes the wait staff is not familiar with all the ingredients in a dish. Is it best to ask to speak to the chef or are there ingredients to stay away from that might have gluten in them?
Dr. Murray: Tell your server in a firm yet polite way exactly what you can and can’t eat. Ask your server to communicate your needs to anyone who may come in contact with your food. It’s a good idea to carry gluten-free dining-out cards when you eat out to help communicate. The cards contain a clear written description of the foods and preparation methods that are important in a gluten-free diet. Some versions are available on the Web.
In general, consider ordering the simplest dishes – such as green salads, plain vegetables, and a piece of meat, chicken or fish. Avoid breaded or batter-coated foods, prepared sauces or gravies. Salad dressings often contain gluten as well. Ask for balsamic or wine vinegar and oil or lemon juice to dress your salad.
Super Chef: What is driving the increased numbers of people who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease?
Dr. Murray: It wasn’t that long ago that few people had even heard of celiac disease. Awareness of celiac disease is increasing and a major reason why is because the disease is growing in number. The prevalence of the disease has increased at least four times over the course of 50 to 60 years. While genetics are a factor, scientists are trying to find clues from ongoing research as to what might be making celiac disease more prevalent.
Super Chef: What should chefs do to meet the needs of those on a gluten-free diet? Is a gluten-free menu the best way to go or more labeling or more education for the wait staff?
Dr Murray: No restaurant wants you to get a meal that you can’t eat or make you sick. But it is also important to take sensible precautions and speak up. If you feel embarrassed or intimidated by the idea of playing 20 questions with your server, remember it’s very unlikely you’re the most demanding customer the restaurant has ever served. Many diners ask a lot of questions even when they don’t have a medical condition to look out for, so just remember to be courteous.
Sounds like good advise for restaurants and diners alike. Going Gluten Free would make a very thoughtful holiday present for yourself if you are inviting gluten-free guests or for the guests themselves.