A Local GF Evolution

21 Mar

When I first moved the Berkeley I struggled to find places that offered gluten free options.  Despite being a foodie town, Berkeley has struggled to get on the gluten free bandwagon.  The enthusiasm was, and is, there but the necessary education and safe kitchen practices were simply missing…until now.

Four years later, I am pleased to report that Berkeley is impressively gluten free friendly, improving at an almost exponential rate.  I feel a sense personal responsibility for Berkeley’s improvement, though not sole responsibility. Berkeley’s success is a result of the collective efforts of individual students, community members and nonprofit organizations that work to promote Celiac awareness. In June, I am moving to Washington DC.  I hope to witness and contribute to this, in a sense, evolutionary phenomenom once again.

My father came to visit me last week and I made it a point to take him to as many  GFF (gluten free friendly) restaurants as possible during his stay. It was during this visit when I realized how much Berkeley has changed in the past four years.

La Mediterranee

I always order the same thing at La Med: pomegranate chicken with hummus and chopped veggies. Although my entree option is delicious, I always feel a twinge of jealously towards the people ordering the Tabbouleh, a Greek dish traditionally made with Bulgur Wheat.  Despite having dined at this restaurant over a dozen times, it wasn’t until this most recent trip that La Med told me that they just began offering a GF Tabbouleh, with quinoa serving as a substitute.  I made sure to ask my waitress to let the manager and chef know how much the GF option was appreciated!

Cream

If you visit Berkeley, students will almost invariably point you towards Cream for dessert, an ice-cream sandwich shop that always has a line out the door.  Despite only opening a year or so ago, Cream realized that there is a demand for GF options and began serving GF ice cream sandwiches.  I went to see how they handled cross-contamination and, to my surprise, they did quite well!  Cream keeps the GF cookies on a shelf above the gluten-containing cookies and toasts them on a designated and elevated rack in the oven. The elevation is particularly important because it protects the gluten free cookies from cross contamination via gravity, the last thing you want are little crumbs of gluten falling onto the designated GF oven rack!

Kirala

Arguably the best sushi restaurant in Berkeley, Kirala offers GF soy sauce to customers who ask for it!  The waitstaff is very educated about what the gluten free diet is and what kind of people will want GF soy sauce.  The first time I dined at Kirala, my waiter noticed my packet of Tamari soy sauce and immediately brought me a crystal bottle filled with GF soy sauce.

Filippo’s

It is rare that I find an Italian restaurant that has a GF option.  Filippo’s on College Ave. in Berkeley offers a GF gnocchi.  Unfortunately they used to cook this GF entree in contaminated pasta water!  I found this out the hard way but used my negative experience to improve my community’s GF options.  I wrote a letter to the manager explaining what was wrong with their kitchen practice and he followed up with me in person to show me the improvements the restaurant had made for GF customers. Click here to view sample letters to restaurants about cross contamination concerns. When I talked to Filipo’s about cross-contaomination they had no problem making a change and seemed genuinely glad for the feedback.

These are just a couple of examples of how restaurants can make small changes to their establishments to accommodate GF customers.  Have GF soy sauce in the back, designate oven racks for GF foods, these are cost-free, low maintenance changes that restaurants can make but, despite being a small change, can make a big difference for many customers.

If you have a local restaurant that you used to love before being diagnosed try talking to them about becoming gluten free friendly!

If the restaurant seems very interested in catering to the gluten free population tell them about GREAT Kitchens, an official gluten free training program for restaurant kitchens.  There is no harm in asking! At worst, you educate a restaurant and get gluten/allergens on their minds and at best you get your favorite restaurant back onto your list of dinner options!

-CC

8 Responses to “A Local GF Evolution”

  1. Alexa April 4, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Hi there CC- I’ve never commented before, but just to say I think your site is AWESOME! Very practical, great tips for staying safe and healthy, socialising, dealing with other people, eating well. Beautiful.

    Thanks for all your hard work, we’re appreciating it over here in England, you’re an inspiration🙂

    • Gita April 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      I visited the CPK in Fresno, Ca after hierang they now offer a GF pizza crust (haven’t had a take-out pizza in years) and was pleasantly surprised. The chef came over and talked to me, and explained the procedures that he and his staff go through to ensure the pizza is clean . He explained that different utensils are used for all aspects of the pizza prep and cutting, and that as soon as it is used, it is immediately washed and put back into a specific area away from other utensils. They prepare and bake the pizza on foil to help with cross contamination from other crusts as well. While still hesitant because I have heard it all before and been glutened I had absolutely no issues with the pizza I got there. I was happy that the chef wen out of his way to come talk to me, rather than my having to ask for him.

    • Cc Gluten Freed April 25, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you find the site useful especially because I was nervous creating the blog because it is kind of different from all the other GF blogs out there that mostly write about food/recipes!

      Do you have GF support groups in England?

    • Cc Gluten Freed April 25, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you find the site useful especially because I was nervous creating the blog because it is kind of different from all the other GF blogs out there that mostly write about food/recipes!

      Do you have GF support groups in England?

  2. Hiroyuki April 19, 2012 at 4:07 am #

    I tried the pizza and will not be back for that or any other GF dish they offer. The pizza I thought was good but didn’t feel well after antieg it, but that wasn’t the main reason that will keep me from going back. When we ordered the New GF Menu Item- Bang Bang Shrimp, I double checked with our waiter to be sure it was safe to eat. He admitted to not really knowing anything about gluten free diets and went and asked the chef if the fryer was designated as gluten free. He confirmed that it is definitely not used separately and they fry all their items in the same fryer. I am gluten free and my husband is not but will often stick to the diet in support. The managers then came to the table, again not too knowledgeable about gluten free diets, they just pointed to the disclaimer on the back saying that there can be cross contamination. That doesn’t sound like a gluten free item to me I was quite surprised at the incompetence from such a large food chain. Looks like they jumped the gun on the gluten free menu and won’t be winning back all their lost customers just yet. My husband then wrote an email to the company and they have yet to replay beyond a lame generic auto-message.

    • Cc Gluten Freed April 25, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

      Sorry you had a bad experience! CPK has taken GF pizza and the bang bang shrimp off of the menu because of cross contamination issues. It is really an interesting story though. A customer felt ill after eating there and explained about cross contamination when it comes to gluten free cooking and CPK fairly quickly pulled the menu items and started working with a couple of GF food restaurant training programs so that they can get it right.

      It seems like a lot of restaurants start to offer GF options before they do their homework. Luckily, CPK is making a great effort to get trained and be a safe eatery for GF customers.

  3. Hatanbaatar April 19, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    my boyfriend found out he has lcieac in 2001, I found out in 2008 shortly before I met him . After two months of eating nothing but sushi and fritos, he made me gluten free crab cakes and clearly knew the way to my heart!but having both of us be lcieac is extraordinarily important I think makes a huge difference. We know what the other one feels like when glutened something that I believe is impossible to explain to anyone who isn’t lcieac. we also get excited together about new foods we find we can have, and new restaurants with GF menues, it really has been I believe a part of our relationship that really contributes to us being as happy as we are. My boyfriends brother has it as well, and his wife eats gluten free because its jsut easier for them and has learned to bake and cook gluten free for him very well and you can tell it makes a difference for them as well, contrastingly.. his cousin who has a gluten intolerance but not lcieac seems to cheat much more because her fiance does not stick to a gluten free diet. Just my two cents it’s made a huge difference in my life having the most important person in my life be gluten free

    • Cc Gluten Freed April 25, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      I can totally relate! My Dad, Uncle and brother are all gluten free (although they aren’t actually celiac or intolerant, they just do it to be supportive). It is so nice going out to eat with people who, not only “get it” but are working just as hard as I am to find GF options.

      I just wrote a post about GF support groups and how important it is to make sure you get a few gluten free allies to make complying with the diet easier. Seems like you already have this🙂

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