Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For people with celiac disease, ingesting just a little bit of gluten (a protein in wheat, barley, and rye) can mean serious problems.
And when it comes to finding restaurants aware of the auto-immune disorder that, according to the New York Times, affects about 1 in 100 Americans, those who are gluten-averse may be having an easier time than they did, say, five years ago, but more understanding doesn't necessarily mean a better dining experience.
What's a restaurant's responsibility when it comes to gluten-free products? I asked several Valley chefs and restaurateurs and this is what they had to say.
Aaron Eckburg Owner, Go Lb. Salt
"To offer" or "not to offer" is a choice. Once the choice "to offer" is made, then the responsibility is undeniable. The term gluten-free means just that: not "mostly" gluten-free or "pretty much" gluten-free, but gluten-free. Those who are gluten intolerant may be able to consume nominal amounts of gluten, but for those who have been diagnosed as celiac's, as little as 20 ppm gluten content can turn their life upside down for days. Cross contamination is something that must be closely scrutinized and scrupulously prevented if gluten-free options are offered. Realistically, gluten contamination is the same thing as food poisoning or allergen components and the responsibility in those cases is crystal clear.
Pauline Martinez Chef and Owner, Perk Eatery
It's so hard for restaurants to keep up with all the dietary restrictions nowadays. For us, it's a space issue -- we don't have any and it's difficult to carry new items that are not fast movers. For places that have the space, it's good to provide an alternative for gluten since it has become so common place.
Chef Maurice Gordon, The Westin Phoenix Downtown
I think the restaurant's responsibility is to make sure there are options for anyone who chooses to dine. However, I don't think restaurants should be required to have gluten-free items on their menu. It should still be the diner's responsibility to alert the restaurant of their gluten allergy and the severity of their allergy.
Michael O'Dowd Chef and Partner, Renegade by MOD, Wicked Six Bar & Grill by MOD
Honor the rise of gluten-free and any other condition that a customer may have. We are in the hospitality business and should be hospitable in doing what we can to accommodate any requests from the people who are paying for us to stay in business. It's the right thing to do and always will be.
Chef Eddie Castillo, AZ Food Crafters
With more and more people choosing gluten-free diets, a restaurant's responsibility lies in educating itself on the meaning of gluten-free and being aware of the fine line between a gluten-free diet someone chooses and celiac disease, which requires a dish be truly wheat-free. Ultimately, the sole responsibility still lies on the patron.
Adam Allison Chef and Owner, Frank. Food Truck
It's something you see more and more everyday for some reason. It should be handled like any food allergen in the restaurant like nuts or eggs. You should know all the ingredients in your food. You don't want to make anyone sick.
Farah Khalid Chef and Owner, Curry Corner
A restaurant should inform their staff about common food allergies. Usually patrons ask beforehand if there are gluten-free items on the menu. However, a simple effort on part of the restaurant owner to accompany the description of the dish with a gluten-free symbol would make it easier for patrons to see what their options are.
Justin Beckett Chef and Owner, Beckett's Table
We always do our best to say "yes" to all dining requests. Although we are not a gluten-free kitchen, we take precautions to ensure our gluten-free guests are taken care of.
Chef Massimo De Francesca, Taggia at FireSky Resort and Spa
Restaurants should offer gluten-free menus or at least gluten-free items. It's become not only a common food intolerance, but a lifestyle for a lot of people. Restaurants should also affiliate themselves with properly licensed food operations for breads and other baked goods.
Chef Gregory Wiener, Top of the Rock
Our responsibility is to provide correct information regarding our products, educate the servers as to what can and cannot be served gluten-free, and ensure cross contamination is not an issue.
Chef Garry O'Connor, The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix
Any restaurant has the responsibility to cater to all requests in an endeavor to ensure everyone has an enjoyable experience. A dietary need -- whether it be a gluten allergy or any other type of restriction -- should not inhibit a person from having a delicious meal.
Giovanni (Gino) Leonel Chef and Owner, La Prima Donna Ristorante & Catering
There is a great sense of responsibility when cooking for someone who has any kind of allergies. We carry gluten-free pasta and gluten-free bread. The beauty of pasta is that with merely three ingredients, the sky is the limit and you can make an amazing dish.
Gary Lasko Proprietor, The Stockyards
I have found that having the guests provide their server with what ingredients affect them negatively is the most efficient way to address all food sensitivities and allergies.
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