Jilly Lagasse and Jessie Lagasse Swanson
New Orleans-based authors of The Gluten-Free Table
Have No Fear
I know this is tr ue for a lot of people, and for us personally: We stopped going out to eat for a while right after being diagnosed with celiac disease [Jilly] and gluten sensitivity [Jessie]. There was this initial panic, like, Oh gosh, what if I get glutened? People are afraid to bring it up when they dine out because they don't want to offend anyone or seem like picky eaters. But it is a health issue , and I think a lot of people these days understand that. Awareness is definitely becoming more widespread -- it's almost like restaurants expect some kind of allergy question.
Head Somewhere Fab
We've found that fine-dining restaurants tend to be more accustomed to specific dietary requests than chain restaurants are. The approach that works well is simply to be up front and say, "We were wondering whether you could make any accommodations on the menu for us." Or maybe try something funny: "I have a very strong gluten allergy, and I don't want to die on your watch! So let's make sure the preparation of everything is gluten-free." A lot of the time, the chef will actually come out to discuss it with us. If he or she doesn't, our advice is to find the actual person making the food -- just have the cojones and ask! And yes, sometimes, despite your best efforts, you get croutons in your salad anyway. Which is why one of us usually packs a gluten-free granola bar or similar snack.
For a lot of people, when they first get diagnosed, the immediate reaction is, "I'm never going to go to another Italian restaurant." But that's so not necessary! You can still go and have great soups and salads -- and risottos are almost always safe. Plus, most Italian restaurants offer a fish or chicken dish. A lot of places even offer gluten-free pasta now, which is amazing. We love a lot of ethnic foods -- if you go to a Thai or an Indian restaurant, where the meals are rice based, you're usually pretty safe.
Know Your Standbys
Another plan is to order a dish with ingredients you know completely, like grilled chicken or fish with steamed veggies and rice, usually without sauce or salad dressing. Yes, it changes the experience, but we'd still rather get to go out, and be safe , than not. But going forward, we really think we'll see more gluten-free menu options that everyone can enjoy.