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I’ll take my dinner without a side of sarcasm, thanks

I have been struggling with how to share a bizarre and upsetting situation that happened after dining at a restaurant in Norcross. I recently learned that the chef and owner openly mocks gluten-free diners calling them offensive names. The same chef also sent me a harassing message through Facebook. Said chef was responding to my Tweet ‘I wish there were more gluten-free choices on the menu.’ Instead of offering any level of customer service, the chef questioned my premise, aggressively with shouty capital letters. Here is the exchange:

Saw your comments somewhere about more gluten free choices at NF. Not sure I understand. There are two pasta dishes and we serve bread. Literally EVERY OTHER ITEM on the menu is gluten free. Please clarify. Thanks.

Here is my reply:

Many of the small plates have gluten components like the pork belly BLT, the dumpling on the octopus, bread crumbs in crab cake, clam chowder thickened with wheat flour, breading on the fish for the fish and chips. Everything is fried in a shared fryer with wheat and unsafe (that is normal). Most kitchens don’t have the space to dedicate a fryer, so fried food is usually unsafe.

He replied:

You’re right. I will work on that. Thanks for your feedback.

This is disturbing on two fronts. One, because the chef doesn’t seem to understand what gluten is, and two, because he has forgotten that he is in the hospitality industry. How does his confrontational approach directed at a patron solve the issue or make me feel welcomed to dine there again? Thanking me for my feedback after yelling at me feels like such a cop out. And there hasn’t been a peep out of him since the exchange.

I have celiac disease and understand that dining at a restaurant that doesn’t serve dedicated gluten free cuisine comes with a risk. I also know that those who falsely claim to have an allergy to an ingredient when they don’t is frustrating to chefs; however, until the next trendy ‘diet’ comes along, the restaurant community (and the gluten-free community) have to deal with this challenge.

As a restaurant consultant, I urge staff to treat all gluten-free/allergen-free orders the same by following safe handling protocols. It isn’t up to the staff or the chef to judge why the patron is ordering the way they are, rather it is their responsibility to accommodate them with a safe meal to the best of their ability.

Shouldn’t a professional chef be able to handle allergy requests without complaining and openly mocking those who have no choice but to follow a gluten-free diet? How does this behavior affect the staff’s ability to take food allergies/intolerance seriously? Gluten-free diners shouldn’t have to wonder if they are being judged when placing an order and we shouldn’t be treated with such disrespect or contempt either.

The restaurant industry need to understand that the gluten-free diet is the only ‘treatment’ for the millions who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It is a genetic autoimmune disease that chose us, not the other way around. We are forced to live a gluten-free lifestyle indefinitely and will gravitate toward restaurants that can and are willing to accommodate our dietary needs without sarcasm.

For this reason, I am sharing the name of the restaurant and the chef, so you have the knowledge and the choice of dining at his establishment. The chef is Jay Swift of Noble Fin.


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