Real Food. Healthy Fuel. For a Happy Life.

Dear Prue,

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Dear Prue Leith, Albert Roux, Mark Hix et al,

We need to talk.

I write in reply to your recent letter to the Telegraph attacking EU regulations that force restaurants to detail which items contain allergens.

With the greatest respect, you are missing the point. Isn’t the very essence of food to nourish?

All disease begins in the gut” Hippocrates understood this over 2,000 years ago. Whilst 1 in 100 people are diagnosed Coeliac, it is estimated the actual number of people with Coeliac disease is much higher as it is difficult to diagnose.  The average person with Coeliac Disease waits 10 years before diagnosis.

A growing number of people are gluten sensitive, experiencing an astonishing change in health, outlook and energy levels when they stop eating gluten.

There are many, many more people with dairy, egg, and nut allergies some of which can be life threatening.

In your letter you state;

“The regulations will reduce the spontaneity, creativity and innovation that restaurants and others in the industry have enjoyed up to now.”

I couldn’t disagree with this more.  The EU regulations are not enforcing food is cooked without certain ingredients rather that each dish clearly states what ingredients it includes. Real, fresh good food is naturally free of many allergens, you don’t need flour to make a reduction?

We live in age where it is very easy to sub ingredients with healthy alternatives such as almond milk, coconut oil and enjoy a renewed creativity with new ingredients.

I have transformed my life and health through understanding what my body can and can’t tolerate and am very thankful to understand the impact of food on my health.

Nothing is impossible.  The Urban Poser creates stunning grain and dairy free patisseries, best seller’s Danielle Walker and Michelle Tam both reclaimed their health through food.

It is a fantastic achievement to reclaim health through food and something as food lovers we should applaud and support.

It is a privilege that someone whose health is directly effected by food, is willing to put their trust in a chef, and show a mutual respect for their team and business.

Surely anything which helps to safeguard a diner’s health should surely be applauded not condemned?

These diners are invisible. Massively under provided for, yet represent a potential large segment of the market, but currently resist eating out for fear of cross contamination.

You are the bastions of our proud food heritage. Your cookbooks proudly stand on my kitchen shelves, please re-think your position.

Tabitha

Tabitha’s Gluten Free Dishes 

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63 Responses to “Dear Prue,”

    • Jean Lawrence

      It is clear to most of us that it is essential that we know what we are eating, The suggestion that this is going to cause untold problems to those that produce the food we eat is very difficult to understand. Those of us who cook our own food are very aware what ingredients we are putting into the food.
      When we have guests, we are able to tell them exactly what is in the meal, if asked. This would lead us to assume that, either establishments are not aware what they are offering for consumption or they are ashamed to admit what is in the food they are providing.

      comments made about the problems this will cause W.I. and cake stalls at schools and summer fetes are well behind the times. We have been telling people what we put in our cakes for a long time now. time to be accountable I think

      Reply
    • Vicki James

      If these Chef’s want to treat their gift as Art then do so; if they want to make money by having people patronise their eating establishments and pay for their service they should toe the consumer line like all other food outlets. To disregard a condition like this and complain that it’s all a ‘bit too difficult’ to cater to their customer’s is outrageous. This wouldn’t be allowed in a) a different industry and b) with a different type of illness. My allergy suffering lg is only 1, I hope we stamp out this discriminatory attitude before it actually affects her. These guys are the leaders of the industry. Shame on them.

      Reply
      • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

        Well said Vicki. It wouldn’t be tolerated but because it’s still so widely miss understood the attitude appears to be ‘so what’ these regulations are a first step to address this and the letter to the Telegraph just highlights the ignorance amid contempt but we can change this and will do so through spreading our message and empowering Chefs with the knowledge.

      • emma

        I completely agree, but unfortunately this is not the only industry – I’m currently battling with Virgin Atlantic to provide my 5 yr old son with a meal that is nut free and egg free as he is allergic to both those things. We are flying to Florida in August and unfortunately have already booked and paid for the tickets as I really did not think it would be a problem in this day and age for them to provide an appropriate meal for him on this 8+ hour transatlantic flight. Apparently it is a huge problem for them, and one they’re not willing to entertain a solution to. Bearing in mind the meal is part of the cost of the ticket….. 😦

      • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

        I have heard of another family with a similar dilemma where the food was available but only in first class (different airline) but equally shocking. I am going to start a petition/campaign to the airlines. Watch this space!

  1. Pippa Yates

    Yes! Well said! – You would have thought that a chance to show case their talents in the face of allergy ‘obstacles’ would give them even more opportunity to be creative and innovative!

    Reply
  2. tracey

    well said my lg is one of the ones of which certain allergens that are life threatening they can and would be fatel for her (dairy being the worst it almost killed her once before with just a drop of milk) people now sadly just dont care and think of money before health x

    Reply
  3. Gina Barraclough

    Well said, been a Coeliac for 10 years now and when this new law came in I was looking forward to being able to eat out, but not if the chef’s take this view!

    Reply
  4. Lucy Holtum

    To me I’m afraid I think it is just pure laziness. They can use any ingredients in a dish they like- they just have to make a note of it and then make sure that the allergens are noted and that info is made available afterwards. I really don’t see how that is stifling creativity. Most chefs will record the details of a recipe they sell in their restaurant anyway, otherwise how else do the staff replicate it many times!

    So many people have food allergies and intolerances that it makes sense in this day and age to cater for them.

    I thought the golden rule of hospitality was to give the customer what they want?!

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      I think a lot of it is born from a lack of understanding but I totally agree I don’t understand the big deal when all ingredients need to be recorded and it’s just helping the customer.

      Reply
  5. Kim Hughes

    I’ve been a coeliac all of my 42 years. And whilst I have seen many improvements and changes for the better within the food industry, I still experience problems when eating out. I face the usual issues but also struggle to trust in the chefs knowledge and ability to ensure my meal is GF. Hence I stick with steak, no sauce or plain fish. The challenge for the chefs should be to ensure each individual is catered for and has a meal that is wanted and enjoyed, not something we have to settle for. Come on guys, get creative and make us all feel equal.

    Reply
  6. Sarah

    Thank you!
    I could not agree more!
    My mother taught me how to cook using heat and a little time to thicken sauces, it’s not absolulty necessary for flour to be used in dishes. I can’t see how reducing the amount of processed rubbish in our food is a bad thing.
    If you are looking to reduce the man hours needed to comply with new regulations it’s simple, only use fresh natural ingredients, then it is easy to document. If someone has a nut allergy they could die from lack of information. For a Coeliac, non disclosure of gluten could be contributing to stomach cancer.
    Personally I wouldn’t want to be eating anywhere that shows so little respect for their clientele. I am both by the way, nut allergies and Coeliac, so for me, my life actually depends on trust and accuracy of information.
    It must be so nice to have the luxury of being able to live is a slap dash world without fearing for your life.

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      I agree with you too Sarah. I was saddened to see a place I have enjoyed eating in, in the past with an outstanding foodie reputation on the list. I’m hoping it’s just the owner not the chef but I won’t be going back!

      Reply
  7. ro3406

    Well said! If the chef in my local pub can not only manage it but envisage a totally gluten free kitchen why can’t a top chef? The thing is, we’re not even demanding that they feed us, just that they let us know whether we can eat something safely and not end up seriously ill. I was very disappointed by the original letter and am pleased that this blogger has responded on our behalf. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Mandy

    I would have thought that an innovative chef worth half their (low sodium) salt would be up for the challenge of creating a menu that could be enjoyed by as many people as possible. See it as an opportunity to be inventive and develop a better understanding of food: find new ways to utilise the properties of different flours and ingredients just as we are doing at home. If the restaurant experience is about people enjoying the food surely there can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ menu anyway. Maybe Anna Jones could give them a few tips, she seems to have discovered the joys of alternate ingredients to some extent.

    Reply
    • Sam Ishizuka

      As a mother with an intolerance to casein and two kids with the same intolerance, we tend to pick places to eat out at that have simple foods. Half of the foods on most restaurants’ menus we can’t eat, but with labelling of all ingredients, our choice might be increased, as we’ll know what we’re eating instead of guessing. I am surrounded by kids with whea, nut and egg allergies, all from young ages and their parents would really benefit from knowing what they’re buying for their kids and avoiding that horrible trip to hospital.

      Reply
      • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

        Thanks for sharing Sam let’s hope you have more choices soon. It’s crazy there isn’t more out there. It’s a great untapped market and one we could all benefit from some entrepreneur(s) decent chefs getting stuck in, in.

    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      You would hope so wouldn’t you. I am a big believer in hope and the world is changing. I believe they’ll get there in the end. And if they don’t they’ll simply be left behind!

      Reply
  9. Tina

    I’ve been Coeliac 10 years now, took 10 years to find out what was wrong!

    Eating out was such a treat & pleasure & felt like my left arm had been removed when I first realised my life as I knew it had changed forever. I remember my friends all saying they were going out for pizza & I politely made an excuse, went home & cried for hours. The emotional side is far harder than the diet control. These days it’s much better, Pizza Express, TGI’s etc all very good experiences & I can eat out with my family.

    Anyone that provides food should be fully on board with providing safe & exciting food for all. Embrace the challenge of unusual ingredients… chefs you’ll love it once you get your heads around it.

    I dream of a time when I can sit down in a resurant & feel confident I won’t be ill afterwards & enjoy some gorgeous GF desserts too.

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      I do believe things will only get better. Eating out has always been one of my biggest pleasures in life I try and ignore the occasional eye rolls from waiters or worst still unhelpful comments from some family members and try and remember it just comes from a place or little knowledge. Thank you for sharing it all helps get the message out there!

      Reply
  10. Lynne Langmead

    In the original letter I believe they said that someone with an allergy simply needs to speak to the chef to arrange for suitable food……
    That just demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how embarrassed people can get discussing their issues AND not ALL chefs will deal with this request in the same way. Deep down there is still anxiety about whether a mistake will be made.
    The new ruling makes everything transparent and will be a huge help to people with allergies. Chefs stand to profit if they embrace this, as people who have been too afraid to dine out will come to the restaurants who deal with this the best!
    My coeliac son is 13. I want him to grow up in an environment where he isn’t embarrassed by broadcasting his allergies in a restaurant. If everything is clear and transparent, no embarrassing conversation needs to take place with potentially several members of staff and then only if you are lucky, the chef as well.
    Finally, it isn’t enough to say that GF options are available on menus! That could mean anything!

    Reply
  11. Yvonne Hamlett

    As a pub owner and chef specialising in fresh local produce it astounds me that any chef let alone the top guys can say this inhibits creativity, it actually should make you more creative. In fact if you try many items are so much better for being gluten or dairy free. Pastry is fabulously short snd doesn’t go soggy. Yes it does take some planning making sure you prepare desserts do there is no cross contamination, but we make a great range of gluten snd dairy free puds including the ever popular sticky toffee pud, chocolate fondants, crumbles and salted choc caramel tarts. The plus side is we have a great following from diners with intolerance and allergies and when they eat out in a group they choose us as we can offer them a great menu to choose from aswell as their friends. As for listing alergens if you cook from fresh ingredients what is so difficult? Look at it from a business point if view its a great untapped market.

    Reply
  12. Juliette

    Great points you make here! I have just been diagnosed after suspecting it for a while. I too was really pleased to hear about the new legislation, I’d still speak to staff to let them know before ordering food, but to know that they knew about allergens and Coeliac was great! The chefs who wrote that original letter to the Telegraph have lost my respect. They had a couple of years before it was made law to complain, yet they wait three months afterwards to make a fuss.
    If people like me can make alterations when cooking fresh meals, alternate flours etc then I am sure Chefs can manage! I’ve taken it as a challenge, perhaps they have no sense of excitement over food anymore? All the cakes and meals I have altered accordingly have worked out brilliantly, gone are the days of cardboard alternatives for people who can’t eat gluten. Plus being able to trust an establishment will mean those who have allergies will bring their friends and family along with them too, win win!
    It’s difficult enough for these conditions to raise awareness without people like them making these comments, fuelling the lack of understanding among those who are unaffected by such illnesses. Raising awareness means more people will think to get themselves tested if they have health issues, and then having restaurants with record books to look through will help them adjust too once they are diagnosed.
    Let’s hope this is the last we hear from the naysayers!

    Reply
  13. Helen Ward

    I was appalled that such well respected chefs should come out with such a flimsy objection. What sort of message does this send to the rest of the industry? Thomasina Myers said that the onus should be on the customer to ask for allergy information. My daughter recently ate a buffet lunch at a meeting in a London hotel. My daughter did exactly what Ms Myers feels is the correct approach: She notified them in advance that she was coeliac, she asked staff what she could eat that was gluten free and was given totally incorrect information, resulting in her becoming extremely unwell and having to leave the meeting. This is why the new regulations are needed, to focus the minds of chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers on the need to provide correct information so that we can eat out safely. If they choose not to cater to the needs of people with allergies and intolerances that’s their choice – we will choose to avoid their establishments.

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      Thank you for sharing. It is exactly these too common experiences that make the regulations necessary as you point out so well. We must vote with our feet and one day the penny or lack of them will drop.

      Reply
  14. Debs

    I long for the day when I can go into a new restaurant and ask for allergen information without first apologising for being ‘the awkward one’ or steeling myself for eye rolls and sighing. The few places I have found locally that cater willingly for my coeliac diet (as well as allergies to yeast and carrots!) I return to again and again. And I tell others to go there too. Our online community is a powerful tool and these ‘celebrity chefs’ would do well to remember that.

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      That day is coming and as you so rightly point out our online community is a powerful tool. As you say a good experience breeds customer loyalty and you become their advocate and send your fiends everyone is happy. A few small considerations and they get loyal customers, free referrals and viable dependable trade.

      Reply
  15. Ann

    Great response, a really good chef can create lovely gluten free dishes, like my husband does!

    Reply
  16. Tracy cunningham

    I was considering booking a gluten free cookery course at none other than Leiths cookery school in London. Perhaps not.
    Trial and error at home will get my creative juices flowing.
    Well done Tabitha.

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      Oh how funny I didn’t know they did them. I’m sure it would still be very good. I’m hoping the support of this ridiculous letter was not directly by Prue but an angry business suit somewhere in the Leith organisation….

      Reply
  17. cookingwithoutgluten

    I was not a lucky one to be an average 10 years without diagnosis. It took 20+ years for me and major health crisis to be diagnosed, and even then it was sort of accidental, as the specialist told later my GP, that he was sure it was all in my mind. It took 7 years to recover to be able to eat as “normal” coeliac and not tolerate may be 10-12 products. Remembering all that our eating out is mainly sushi or very careful consideration for any new place. But I am lucky in another way, I absolutely adore to cook and bake and I can truly confess now, that none of my lifelong career of research scientist highlights gave me the satisfaction I got out of making the loaf of gluten free bread, tasting better than many artisan breads I had in pre-coeliac era, or perfect dumplings dough, softer and tastier compared to the wheat alternative. Gluten free life is not life of limitations, it is a delicious life with many exquisite opportunities. Even if offered a safe fix, I would never go back to gluten.
    As it usually happens in life, ignorant people make wrong assumptions about things they know nothing about.
    Irena

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      What a great outcome to your experience and I couldn’t agree more it’s not about a life of limitations. I now have a life and health that exceeds anything I’d previously experienced. Your baking creations sound exquisite.

      Reply
  18. Carol Wilkie

    As a chef and the wife of a coeliac, we have to get this right. We don’t have to create every dish allergen free, we just have to know what we are using and pass this info on. And surely we should know what our ingredients contain anyway? Good fresh wholesome food is what our work is about. It should be that way for everyone who eats it.

    Reply
  19. Jacqui Kruzewski

    I’m just an average home cook in my 50’s who learnt to cook through the school system, by observation (of my mother mostly) and trying recipes. When I found out I was unable to eat gluten I did a lot of online research. Within six months I learnt to successfully convert most gluten containing recipes to gluten free, very easily. My family tell me the GF versions are often better than the originals.
    If I can do this, with my limited knowledge and no training, surely a top chef with all their training and experience can produce a list of ingredients for the items on their menus to enable the public to decide if they may eat in that establishment and, if so, what on the menu is suitable.
    We do not have to feel apologetic because we exercise control over what we eat and drink. Everybody, surely, has that right, for whatever reason. But what better reason than not wanting to be made unwell?

    Reply
  20. Lush

    Just last week we were in a restaurant where we asked the waiter to tell us the gluten free dishes (we had eaten there before & knew they had some). He went away to check with the chef, came back & declared the whole menu, including the bread & cake deserts, gluten free. Now as we ourselves run a totally gluten free bakery & cafe we knew this was hocum.
    The kicker was at the end of the meal, he presented us with some complimentary shortbread & served them saying, “oh you can eat these as they probably only have a little gluten”.
    Clearly he thought we were worried about our figures not our compromised gut health!!
    It is frustrating to get this kind of response but if the chef does not lead then the whole restaurant fails.
    For most people, gluten free & allergy dining is not a lifestyle choice but a serious health issue.
    Shame on these chefs for making light of a very serious situation. The new laws do not mean they have to make every dish have no allergens or gluten . It just means they need to declare possible allergens & allow the diner to make an informed decision.
    How would they feel if someone had a fatal reaction after eating their food? You can bet they would be scrambling to blame the diner.

    Reply
  21. Carrie

    Come on Chefs… This is an opportunity to release more of the amazing creativity inside you. I want to be able to boast about incredible flavours, tastes and textures when I dine out. I don’t want to have to carry an Epipen with me everywhere I go just in case I get poisoned by a chef that hasn’t taken the life threatening allergens in their kitchen into consideration. By embracing the changes you will actually be improving the health of our nation.

    Reply
  22. Lynne Langmead

    One final comment from me (I could go on for hours…..)
    Above everything else it should be about food being safe and knowing what’s in it. A conversation isn’t enough.
    Recently I was told that all food was gluten free at a buffet for my son after many discussions beforehand. Amazing, I thought, how nice for him to not feel uncomfortable and embarassed. On the day, I just casually asked for confirmation (I nearly didn’t) and received a blank look and was told no, this wasn’t gluten free!
    My poor boy stood in the middle of a very busy buffet with an empty plate for about 30 minutes while staff scrambled around to find him something gluten free. Even when something was given to him, that doubt is still there isn’t it? We were away from home at the time and nowhere else to eat. New rules wouldn’t have allowed this to happen. Yes, it’s loads better than it used to be, but people with allergies shouldn’t be treated as an inconvenience or sometimes people think they are on a faddy diet! Stopping now, must go to work!!!

    Reply
  23. Tracy cunningham

    I agree whole heartedly with the comments regarding chefs taking the lead. Know what’s in your food. Make your staff know what’s in your food. It is called Good Practice. This is drummed into staff in other work places and industries across the globe. Why would you not want to give good customer service? A recent visit to a large restaurant of the American diner variety showed just how different visits can be. Upon asking the waitress for the gluten free menu ( of which I had seen the previous month) I was abruptly told to visit the website where I could see a list of all ingredients used in the restaurant. I obliged thinking she was young and probably new. Unfortunately the site was down due to work being carried out. I pointed this out to the waitress who stared at me with a blank expression. Yes, we left. Not a very good advertisement.

    Reply
  24. themessylittlepanda

    I have coeliac disease and recently wrote on the Guardian CiF about it. I think it’s a good thing that we are having this debate, as ugly as it can get sometimes. Things have to change, whether the industry likes it or not. Allergies and intolerances and the increase in coeliac disease are a modern problem and we don’t know the reasons (we can hypothesise about strains of wheat, pesticides, additives etc but really we don’t know) but it’s not going to go away. It’s down to them to adapt.

    I would love nothing more than to be able to eat a proper baguette, fresh pasta, all of those things I miss. GF alternatives are getting better, but they’re not the same – I know that, I get it when chefs don’t want to cook with something that doesn’t give the same results as flour does. I don’t want to be that awkward diner, I don’t enjoy pissing off chefs and waiters. I wish they would understand that this really isn’t a choice for me and millions of others, and stop bloody whinging!

    Reply
    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      Well said. I don’t want Chefs to have to adapt their dishes to be GF but realise that naturally so many amazing dishes are GF. I am now grain free (originally for health reasons) but now from being a huge pasta lover would choose spiralized courgetti over fresh pasta!

      Reply

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