Adventures in Gluten (and Sugar) Freedom from a southern blogger chick!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The myth of the Gluten Free meal

There's a story here from my trip to Chicago. You just have to get to it.

When I was in sixth grade, I weighed about 120 pounds and was about 5 foot 6. I was athletic, was very energetic, and didn't look pudgy at all. Yet my pediatrician made my parents put me on diet pills to lose weight.

To accommodate this, my Mother had the lunchroom ladies at Alice Street School strip my lunch tray every day of anything that might be deemed "fattening." Instead of half an egg salad sandwich, I got a plop of egg salad goo. Instead of dessert, I got a cling peach half with syrup. Instead of a scoop of rice sans gravy, of course, I got two scoops of green beans. And anything that resembled a salad was served without dressing.

I was, of course, humiliated that this happened, and I was under such watchful eyes that I daren't sneak something from a friend's tray. Nope. I was stuck with what they thought I needed or deserved. Because I was different.

I had the same feeling I had some 40 years ago in sixth grade this past weekend when I ate at the Hotel Orrington in Evanston, Ill. And to whit, my rant du jour.

As I always do when I travel to a conference or convention, I made arrangements in advance for my meals. I did this in a polite way through the host and then the convention manager. I was assured in the email conversation with the banquet manager that the hotel "knew all about gluten free cooking" and would be able to make my meal a memorable one.

Oh, it was memorable all right. And therein lies the question: How should one react when the gluten-free meal provided is SO HORRIBLE that, even though it is gluten free, that it is inedible? When the customer (me) paid $60 for a dinner that went straight to the trash because it was so inconsiderately prepared?

I knew there was going to be some problems at breakfast. I paid $25 for a continental breakfast that consisted of a vast quantity of Danish, yogurt and fruit. So I asked if there was a gluten free option available for me in place of the rolls.
Sure, the catering contact said. Anything in particular? No, I said. Chef's choice? Yes, I said.

So when I arrived at breakfast, there was nothing prepared. Sign. The server literally chased me around and asked me in a loud voice, "So what you want?" I'd made prior arrangement so there wouldn't be this scene. I hate being this kind of center of attention.... Finally, I said cheese, and he asked, "OK. What kind?" I said a little cheese of any kind would be OK. "D0 you want crackers with that," he asked. Oh hell no.

So 10 minutes later, he showed up with a dinner plate covered in chipped mozzarella and cheddar. Two pounds worth. No decoration, just a chopped plate O cheese.

Oh, I said to myself, this isn't going to be good.

At the banquet that evening, the hotel offered a vegetarian pasta dish (that I could not have) and this dish: rosemary chicken with asparagus and shiitake whipped potatoes. To me, this sounded like it could easily be made gluten free. After all, I spent $60 for this meal, so surely they could make it something edible for me.

Oh, to quote myself, hell no.

We started with the salad. I had to send back the one with croutons. They made me another one, but handed me the oil and vinegar containers to dress it myself. What's in the balsamic vinagrette, I asked? "Don't know." was the curt answer.

Then came the passage of the bread. Even Sodexho at my campus in Milledgeville, Georgia, can make a freaking effort to get me a slice of gluten free bread. There was a WHOLE FOODS two blocks away. But no, I got no bread.

So I patiently waited for the entree.

On my plate arrived a chicken breast so overcooked it crumbled into little sawdust shards when it was cut. I ate one piece and could barely swallow it, it was so dry (and there was only water to drink). I gave Randy a bit so he could see what I faced.
Dry. Overcooked. AND completely unseasoned. No salt. No pepper. No Rosemary.

(Now, I don't want to sound like Woody Allen here, but it was also about a third of the size of those the other diners had. Lousy food and in small portions...) I wondered what they were thinking.

There was no starch at all. When I asked about the potatoes, I was told they contained gluten. I pried further. WHAT kind of gluten. The captain at this point got snotty with me.

Instead of beautiful sauce and seasoning and mashed potatoes, I got: two limp slices of overcooked zucchini, four points of overcooked asparagus. Two mini-carrots, also mushy, and some broccolini that was as stiff as a wire brush.

All overcooked. None seasoned.

I complained to the server, when she took my plate still filled with food. I was ignored.

And then, dessert. You cannot have the creme brulee (all the recipes I know don't have gluten in them). You cannot have the strawberry dipped in chocolate. You can't even have the plain fresh raspberries.

No, you get a slice of watermelon. Under-ripe melons. A few grapes. And some pineapple from breakfast.

The ultimate insult was tasting the watermelon -- it tasted like raw onion. I passed it around to those sitting around me.

Now before you say, "You were just being a bitch," I'll admit it, I was. When someone promises me "no problem" on my meal, I don't expect the discards of the day. Had they said, "We don't serve your kind," then I would have taken my $60 to a place where they wanted to help. But instead, I was insulted, treated badly, and no one even cared. I promise I was quiet about it. I was also polite throughout the meal (I have witnesses).

But I wonder what that kitchen thinks gluten free really means!

I just don't understand it. I really don't. Sometimes, it's like sixth grade again. Would YOU have eaten that slop? I doubt it. I think a rule of thumb has to be simply this: When you prepare a meal for someone, it should be something you'd be proud and willing to eat yourself. Would you, for instance, be satisfied with onion-scented watermelon? I doubt it.

If you don't think you want to accommodate me, do me a favor -- don't offer. I can take it, I really can. For $60 bucks I could have a nice gluten-free steak at a restaurant down the street. Cooked to order. With a freaking potato.

I gotta be honest, few things hurt me more than promising me you can accommodate me when you can't. I'd rather you didn't promise at all, in the end.

It's true, I do still get my feelings hurt when I get visibly left out of things. You know, when someone brings in a cake and I'm the only one who can't have any. But that's different. You made me no promise and I had no expectations. Different scenario entirely.

This isn't.

I paid $60. You said you could accommodate me. You didn't. I was rolled.

There. I feel better now.

Much love, and p.s. I had a gluten free cupcake from Swirlz for dinner instead. At Swirlz, they get gluten free.


11 comments: said...

Thats so disapointingg! I was told by one there is nothing they could make for me, and it would be best if I went somwhere else... I just find it easier not to eat places and bring snacks of my own to nosh on.....

a kelly said...

Sorry to hear you had to endure such bad service. There is so much gluten awareness around it seems inconceivable that some establishments are so out of it.That is just wrong...and especially at that price.

Amanda on Maui said...

Don't keep quiet in those situations. Ask to speak with the manager of the establishment. That is complete BS. Especially them not acknowledging you and even saying you couldn't have fresh raspberries.

I don't think they knew what gluten meant, and obviously the did no research.

If you contact the management and get no response, continue to complain loudly. Write your local paper and share your story. This kind of treatment is unacceptable.

I'm sorry.

Gluten Free Steve said...

You need to complain to th General Manager of the hotel. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. GO TALK TO THEM and explain wtf happened. That is absurd that 1) you shouldn't have had to worry and 2) you were treated quite rudely by the staff.

Though, I do have to admit, I am with you and don't like being the center of attention and try to do the gf ordering quietly. However, you did make me laugh:

So 10 minutes later, he showed up with a dinner plate covered in chipped mozzarella and cheddar. Two pounds worth. No decoration, just a chopped plate O cheese


Anonymous said...

Wow! You truly expressed just how difficult it can be for those of us who attend these kinds of events regularly.
I have to admit, I always do my diligence, ask for what I need etc.
But most of all, I smile and ask to see the floor manager whenever there is a problem.
I NEVER let food that has been cross contaminated to leave the table, so as to not find a crouton in the bottom of my salad. Yes, that did happen when I was first GF.

But occasionally the venue really gets it too.
I went to a convention at the Hyatt in Vancouver BC that had as dessert one of those buffets where everything is glutened.
My waiter asked if I wanted to go and enjoy, I looked him in the eye and asked if anything was gluten-free. He said he didn't think so, and I thanked him but said I was unable to eat gluten.
Don't you know, 10 minutes later he approached the table with a luscious fruit salad, complete with starfruit, and kumquats, for me! I hadn't asked, but the kitchen made my day. And made my table mates jealous.
I will remember that ease and graciousness for a Long time.
Where do you think I'll go when I might want to hold a meeting? The venues will need to get their acts together, especially if they want to host us.

Amy! said...

I've had two similar experiences in the last year and it IS incredibly frustrating.

Julie, the mama said...

I can backup your claim, because when I said, "There ain't no way in hell I'm going to try to cook for you," you said, "No worries. We'll just go to Outback."

They should have just been honest on the front end!

Jean said...

That's horrible. I had a similar experience with catering at a friend's wedding this weekend, but at least I didn't have to pay for it.

I do think there's a lot of ignorance on what gluten is, even in the food industry. It is my pet theory that a lot of people think gluten intolerance is similar to dairy intolerance and because of that they won't serve you anything potentially related to either. sigh.

julie said...

I so hate it when they give me a DRY chicken---like cooking it dry is going o make anything ok---if you can't cook chicken then you are not a Chef----and would a little Salt and Pepper on the chicken kill them....maybe a squeeze of lemon....but oh, no you cant have that it might have gluten I hav hd sooo many DRY chicken breasts that it is just too many to count----what is so funny is that hubby wnted a simple grilled chicken breast when we were outone night---I got DRY and Rubbery (oxymoron) he got juicy and tender----his had salt and pepper and rosemary on it mine nothing---when I called the cook out he said well, salt and pepper have gluten----I told him NO THEY DONT and WHy would you even send this out to anybody you should be ashamed of yourself----and whilehubby had a bakedpotato I got what you had overcooked veggies--I asked why could I not ave a baked potato he said well baked potatoes have starch in them and you can't have starch---ugh!! So I feel your pain
next time you are in the midwest come my way (I am only about 8 hours if that away from the windy city) and I will take you out to a place that understand gluten (owner as CD and yes she does not understand MSG is not glutenbut I am working on that not getting far though) and you can have the biggest burger (san bun) that you have ever seen, or the best best best smoked pork chops that you have ever tasted.
julie (NE Iowa)

Gluten free Kay said...

I can eat like a queen for a week on $60! Since they didn't tell you, I will - YOU DESERVE BETTER!

I'm going to two parties over Memorial Day weekend. I've let my friends off the hook. I'll take my own food. I love packing my little Hello Kitty bento boxes.

I'm just days away from getting my chickens! Can't wait!


a kelly said...

One of my GF coworkers relayed a horror story from a wedding in Michigan last weekend. Even though they thought it had been cleared ahead of time...they told her there was NOTHING she could eat. NOTHING. And they blamed it on the bride and groom.
They left the wedding so they could go eat.
So many still need to be educated.