An Open Letter to Chefs and Restaurants

11 Jun 2010, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in chefs & restaurants, wellness

Dear Chef/Restaurant Owner:

We have had a long and loving relationship, you and I. For as long as I can remember, you have been an integral part of my passion for living. I have worked in your kitchen, eaten in your dining room — and championed your philosophy from different corners of the world. You have given me so much pleasure, and I hope I’ve been able to show that appreciation in some tangible way. Your passion has often been my reason for getting up in the morning, and for that I thank you.

Our relationship of late, however, has hit a road bump. You see, for medical reasons, I’ve recently needed to eliminate gluten from my diet. This is not a phase I’m going through, or a low-carb diet — it is a matter of living as a fully functional human being vs. being in excruciating physical pain. It’s been a difficult adjustment, but I’m getting better with it every day.

The biggest hurdle, however, is this: I’ve tried to dine in your restaurant lately, but I have often left your dining room in tears, because there isn’t much for me to eat. Some of your dishes send my mental mouth whirling, where I crave a taste of your yuzu sauce, or a bite of your scallops — but I cannot order them, because one of the ingredients in that dish will make the rest of the evening — and the next few days — a veritable hell for me.

At first, I didn’t want to pester you. I am the last person who wants to diminish your creativity and dedication to texture, to flavor…to an incredible experience for the palate. I did not want to be that customer. I’ve discovered something important, however, and I thought it was critical to tell you: There are many more of me in your dining public than I had ever imagined.

May I request that we work together?

If you could give me a dish that would satiate my palate, yet be totally safe for me, I would joyfully enter your dining room as often as possible. I would tell others like me that your restaurant is the place where we can enjoy a meal anxiety-free, where choosing from the menu is not an exercise in futility, and where the chef is not cursing at me for ruining his combination of ingredients. Where the kitchen staff understands that if bread has even touched what I’m eating, there could be trouble for me.

Where the servers do not see me as a difficulty to be dealt with — but as someone who supports and champions what you all do for a living.

I’m not asking for a whole menu of my own. I simply would love a couple of dishes that would leave my mouth giddy. Much of what you’re already cooking is 80% there, so I’m hoping this is not an unreasonable request. (I do, however, need to recognize Tinto in Philadelphia for a most unexpected treat: An entire menu of gluten-free tapas dishes. What an evening that was.)

And if you could please, please teach your servers that an errant chunk of cookie in my whipped cream is not just an “oops,” but a mistake that will leave me doubled over in pain on the subway ride home, I would be ever grateful.

Will you work with me?

And if you are already working with me, but I don’t know it, will you tell me so? I’d like to know — and share with these gluten-free brethren of mine — where you are, so that we might thank you with our patronage.

With love and respect,