Gluten Free Safari: Living gracefully gluten free in a gluten-centric world
One of the most important things that you can bring to any dining-out experience as a gluten free epicurean is the right attitude. Remember to smile, and have a little fun when navigating the treacherous shoals of dining out when gluten free --to keep you, the restaurant, and your dining companions happy and healthy.
When the waitress asks, for instance, "what's a gluten?" just smile and ask to talk to the chef. You will find yourself talking to the chef a lot, and that's kind of fun, when you get used to it. Sashay up to the kitchen door and ask when the chef can come out.
If the chef is too busy, and you need to know, for instance, if the mayonnaise used in the salad dressing is gluten-free or not (some are, some aren't), the best idea is to look at the container itself. If the container is a 19-gallon drum, the waiter won't want to bring it to the table, so you're going to have to go to the kitchen door.
Generally, don't rely on the waiter/waitress to know what's gluten-free and what's not. If they have even heard of gluten-free, they often think it just applies to bread (as in, "Oh, so you can't have the sandwiches, how about the pasta?")
If you have time, the best idea is always to call ahead. I know, I know, it's a hassle. But it is especially smart if you will be attending a sit-down, catered event. If you talk to the catering manager and/or chef of the particular hotel where the event is taking place, they both should be able to coordinate a gluten-free meal. Tell them at whose table you will be sitting.
And don't forget to ask for a gluten-free dessert as well! While everyone else is biting into luscious-looking chocolate cheesecake, cream puffs, or mile-high apple pie a la mode, you're going to want something (fruit with cream, sherbet, gelato, or even creme brulee often work) or else you're going to feel pretty well left out of the fun.
Now, for a few realities. Not everyone is all sweetness and light when diet restrictions are involved. Some people will look askance, as in, "Hey, you've got a special diet, why does your dinner look so much better than mine; shouldn't you be suffering or something?" Just ignore them. You suffer enough.
The other attitude that often crops up is related; it involves the idea that since you are the one who is "different," you should somehow shrink into the shadows, nibbling on nuts and fruit shavings from out of the palm of your hand.
This attitude manifests itself as follows: "(sniff) I don't see why the whole world should bend over backwards just because you can't eat what everybody else eats. In my day/my family if someone can't eat what everyone else eats they should not expect to eat/they should bring all their own food/not put anyone else out. (sniff sniff)"
Again, just ignore them. We all know how much time we spend carting around our own food! (And, I dare say, if it were them/their child who was gluten-intolerant, they would also be asking about the food, just as you are!)
Sometimes, you'll end up with a much better dinner than everyone else. At one Internet seminar I attended, I didn't have time to call in advance, and I somehow had the feeling that the dinner would be of the ham sandwich/pasta salad/cookie kind of offering instead of salmon or halibut or steak. The people sponsoring the seminar called the kitchen, and they said they didn't really know how to prepare a gluten-free meal, so I just asked for fruit and vegetables.
After the plate arrived, all around me people were sneaking peeks at the antioxidant extravaganza: pineapple, melon, carrots, beans, strawberries, and more! So, there you have it, in a nutshell (apologies to those who are allergic to nuts!) - gluten free can really be fun.
Copyright, Karen Fleur Tofti-Tufarelli, 2010-2012, all rights reserved