Saturday, November 28, 2009
A friend to the Gluten Free
A few weeks ago, Randy and I went to Atlantic City for our anniversary. Before we went, I did a search for gluten-free dining establishments. Luckily, I'd read The DC Gluten-Free Examiner Site (written by my Twitter buddy Sandra "Maryland Celiac" Robins) and had seen this piece. I was delighted to find that there were gluten-free offerings at four of the restaurants at Harrah's, where we were staying.
This post is about that person -- James W. Harris II, the Chef. You GOTTA love a guy who has a NFCA GREAT certification on his card! (Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training program)
I was thrilled. We went in search of him as dinner time approached. In the quaint Italian restaurant called Polistina (where Tony Bennett was dining at the same time, by the way!) we found a gluten-free diner's hero. For James brings in gluten-free food, on his own, from the specialty vendors, for diners who need it. He oversees the preparation, trains the staff and chefs in the ins-and-outs of things like cross contamination and preparation of items (they know how to read labels for gluten items!) And best of all, the hostesses of the restaurants IMMEDIATELY get Chef James when a gluten-free diner comes into the restaurant.
I like that. A lot. He's a role model for the gluten-free restaurant chef. And he made me feel incredibly special.
It's a level of treatment that I've received at only one other place, frankly, in more than two years. And it's a level of treatment that got me to eat three of my five meals in Atlantic City in his kitchens.
Imagine: Warm gluten-free bread with butter at dinner, and gnocchi with marinara. Or maybe some freshly made hollandaise sauce on fresh poached eggs and gluten-free toast. Or maybe some pierogis? Or lasagna? All gluten free? And these are the top-notch, top-of-the-line product out there, certified GF and prepared with enormous care.
I too up way too much of James Harris' time Friday and nights, talking about gluten free issues. He is first and foremost certified by the NFCA -- he participates in their cooking events. He got interested in cooking gluten free when we cooked at a restaurant where one of his managers couldn't eat the food because she had gluten issues. So he created the food she could eat.
He gets great support from his chefs, including Mike Laurenza of Polistina's and David Suscavage, the chef at the grand buffet on Saturday and Sunday. They, too, have learned about the seriousness of the gluten-free diet and are quick to help accommodate a gluten-free client. Mike was absolutely adorable and attentive, making sure everything on my plate was perfect. By the end of the night, he said, "You're part of the family now." So kind!
And Dave, well, he really scurried around for me at the buffet. He even called James at home to find the gluten-free bread he left out for me! A wonderful guy! We had a great time!
But James Harris -- well, I really can't say enough about this remarkable chef. When I told him I wanted to bring my Gluten-Free Girlz (Jennifer, Julie and Lori) back for a gluten-free weekend, he said he'd take us on a walking tour of Gluten-Free Philly while we were there. When I told him I couldn't get a certain Atlantic City Bakery bread (gluten free) here, he offered to send me a care package. I promised to send him the contacts of some of my favorite gluten free bread and desserts.
But I mostly want to say THANK YOU to James Harris. You see, it's caring, concerned people like you who make travel and dining safer for gluten-free people like me. You're a Celiac Hero. And I thank you from the bottom of my gluten-free heart.
Much love, and I hope to see you soon!