Thursday, April 16, 2009

British Reality Show Addresses Food Intolerance

Apparently it's going to be "restaurant week" this week on The Nut-Free Mom Blog! Any other BBC America geeks out there addicted to Last Restaurant Standing? I didn't get a chance to watch the latest episode of this British series about aspiring restaurateurs on BBC America until yesterday (it airs Tuesdays at 9 pm central) but I'm so glad I caught up with it!

For those who've never heard of the show, the premise is that couples and business partners team up to open a restaurant where they are given different weekly challenges and then judged by French chef extraordinaire Raymond Blanc. Then, based on the findings, one restaurant per week is closed. The goal is to run a restaurant and be the business partner of Mr. Blanc, so it's very similar to "Hell's Kitchen" or even a bit like "Top Chef."

Last night, the chefs were told that they had to A) come up with something to "delight" their diners (such as a free appetizer, drink, etc.) and that B) they had to serve people with special food needs. Among those needs were celiac disease and was it instructive to watch the chefs and their waitstaff attempt to deal with this food intolerance!

One 7-year-old girl with celiac disease was given gluten-free chocolate mousse--alas, served with a gluten-filled cookie, despite her mother's careful explanation to the waiter. How I related to that scenario! Another celiac woman was given crostini as her free appetizer--except of course that she can't eat bread!

In the first case the diner had only communicated with the waiter; in the other, the woman had told the manager/co-owner and she checked everything out in the kitchen, only to have a well-meaning waitress offer her the forbidden food.

Mr. Blanc's assessment of these mishaps was interesting--he warned the aspiring restaurant owners about getting sued, for one thing. Important, yes, but so is health. Although he appeared to "get it" when he said "Imagine you are a celiac and you only want to go into a restaurant and trust it. And then you are served bread." Or for many of us, nuts, eggs or milk would all be items we want to trust we won't be given in our food.

The episode proved to me that chefs want to help you if you have food allergies or intolerances, but we must be very clear and make sure the manager and the chef know of our needs--not just the waitstaff. I have nothing against waitstaff, but they are not always briefed to know what to do. In some cases, they are, but always use your judgement. When you are clear and consistent with your requests and make sure someone in charge knows about them, you are helping the restaurant be successful as well as yourself. Think of it that way if you worry about being "high-maintenance."

Watch the show if you can--it airs again on BBC America on Sunday and again next Tuesday at 8 pm central time.

On another note: Tomorrow I will post a restaurant story from one of my readers--please keep your restaurant tales coming! I'll have a roundup of anecdotes on the blog next week.


Anonymous said...

Who are you calling a geek? I will have to catch this episode. The cookie in the ice cream trick is my favorite restaurant sabotage for celiacs. You explain it all and make a big deal and then the gluten-filled cookie is there contaminating the whole dish of ice cream.:)

Jenny said...

Me! I'm a total BBC American geek and proud of it. I love almost every show they've got! :)

I have a feeling we'd like a lot of the same shows. Do you ever watch Kitchen Nightmares? And "Mistresses" is like "Housewives" on steroids, with cooler accents and better scenery. I also love "Ashes to Ashes"--the retro '80s fashions and alternative music is awesome.