Reader: Why is it all chefs believe they are experts in gluten allergies?

Categories: Cafe Society

Lori Midson
Jason Lebeau at Coohills.
For the most recent Chef and Tell, Lori Midson interviewed pastry chef Jason Lebeau of Coohills, who revealed that "only the people who went somewhere else first...and had dinner there" only eat dessert first. But it was his response to another question that raised the ire of one reader.

See also:
- Chef and Tell with Jason Lebeau of Coohills
- Denver's Gluten Free Gladiator is Mr. May
- Reader: Gluten-free diets are not a fad

Asked what trend he'd like to see disappear in 2013, Lebeau responded:

The gluten-free fad. I've read that only about 1 percent of Americans are truly celiac, yet everyone seems to think they need to eat gluten-free these days. Eat some fresh fruit or a chocolate bar if you can't have gluten.

Says this commenter:
I just read your interview with Jason Lebeau.

I must say it might be an off-the-cuff comment for him but it shows a greater problem in some Denver chefs and definitely in the culinary world. Why is it that all chefs believe they are experts in gluten allergies? His comment of "I just read this article blah blah" that immediately makes him a better expert on gluten allergies than people with the allergy, allergist, scientists, doctors, nutritionists and the science community combined. That kind of blasé statement leads to no respect for a gluten-free menu in kitchens even when present.

Celiac is one thing, then there is "gluten sensitive" which is more of an allergic reaction (vomit, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms). We had one chef who admitted to placing flour in gluten-free items. WTF? I'm not gluten-free; my fiance has sensitivity to it and the effects are brutal.

In addition, claiming those that are gluten-free should limit their options not only was contrary to everything he said prior about being places being dated and narrow. Denver is like in the top five for cities that have gluten-free options. I know theirs will always be cross-contaminated. Going to culinary school does not in an way equate a science degree.

What do you think of how Denver restaurants handle the gluten-intolerance issue? If your diet is gluten-free, where do you eat? And if you go for gluten, what do you think of the gluten-free trend?

Post your comments below. And watch for a new Chef and Tell interview to be posted here later this morning.

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Hi Everyone, I'm lactose intolerant so I do not eat dairy and certainly don't go to a pizza place expecting to get dairy free cheese. So Ridic. 


I don't understand all the concern over whether people are gluten sensitive or CD. How is this different from providing service to a diabetic? To someone with a yeast allergy? Or lactose intolerant? Hell, for that matter, it's really the same as serving Meg Ryan from "When Harry Met Sally" -- no food touching, everything on the side.
It boils down to, is the customer right, or does the chef run the show? Each and every restaurant will be different. It's up to the Chef or server to say "Sorry, we cannot serve in that manner", or be accomodating to the request. The requester knows they are asking for something special -- and truthfully, if the request is denied and the requester is upset, Shame On Them! But no shame on the restaurant for not accomodating each and every request. That is their perogative. "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Specials, No Service". 


I applaud anyone in the food industry who has the guts to point out how ridiculous this gluten free fad is. Yes yes we all know someone who "really is" gluten intolerant blah blah blah and I do believe some people really are allergic to gluten as there is someone out there who is allergic to everything. But give me a break! We didn't even know what gluten was 10 years ago, how did these supposed gluten allergic people survive then?! And I guarantee if you went to any other country in the world and asked for a gluten free menu they'd laugh at you. Only in America are we so spoiled that we literally look for things to be allergic or intolerant to when there are people in other countries who would be elated to get any food, gluten or not.

Chris Cole
Chris Cole

... The same reason people who are not doctors but "claim" to be "allergic" do.... An overwhelming influx of personal experience due to this stupid fad... Idiot

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Personally, I think that there are a lot of self-entitled diners out there who expect that their every dietary whim (or, more occasional requirement) be met by every restaurant they enter.  If you have severe, life threatening allergies, or are zealously committed to the current dietary trend du jour you probably should be eating at home where you can carefully monitor every morsel that enters your mouth.  

Having said that, if a restaurant chooses to market themselves as offering gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free, peanut free, paleo friendly, yadda yadda menu options that's their choice but they'd better deliver on the claim because peoples' health (mental or physical) depends on them keeping true to their claims.  God forbid I should accidentally consume a carbohydrate - oh the remorse!


A person who suffers from TRUE Celiac Disease should not even step foot in an establishment that primarily deals with flour (i.e. bakery, pizzeria). A TRUE CD, will be "poisoned" just by flour in the air. If you are "gluten sensitive", you are full of sh*t. You are either CD or you're not. People who claim they are "gluten sensitive" are just looking for a reason to have their friends, family, and co-diners take pity on them.

There is no true "gluten sensitive". You're either CD or you're not. Quit trying to make something bigger than what it is. I know this one gal who claims she is "GS" and makes the huge project when going out to eat. Her problem? She's just a fat f*ck who doesn't know what the terms diet & exercise mean. She thinks if she doesn't eat "bread" or "carbs" she won't gain weight. Well, back in the 90's, we called that "Atkins Diet."

Unless you are truly a Celiac, I don't think ANY restaurant should cater to you. If you are a true CD, and if I was, I would ONLY enter an establishment with 2 kitchens--regular and GF--which, by the way, there are less of those in Denver than in other places. I've been to Las Vegas, San Fran, and New York establishments with 2 kitchens, and have YET to come across it here (they may exist but I have not heard about it or been there).

I say quit this GF crap and move on. True Celiacs rarely go out to eat in fear of being "poisoned".


Restaurants should always take food allergies seriously, but  I see nothing wrong with Lebeau's comment, either. He just states the simple fact that true celiac disease is quite rare, yet it's become a huge fad to be gluten free, with way higher percentages of diners than could be possibly be medically necessary demanding gluten free items. There is pretty much zero science behind the current anti-gluten rage. Also, it is debatable whether "gluten sensitivity" really even exists, and if it does, it's also likely only a very small percentage of people that have it. I do find it ironic that someone calls out chefs for not knowing their science about gluten, yet they seem to have no grasp of the actual science itself. I also get upset personally by the anti-gluten fashionistas, as my late uncle had true Celiac disease. It can be quite debilitating. The little tummy aches and claims of general malaise of the anti-gluten crusaders only trivializes the disease.

I think this blurb from WebMD from perhaps the top Celiac researcher in the nation sums up the gluten-free diet fad about the best I've seen:

"Stefano Guandalini, MD, who is president of the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease, says the true prevalence of gluten sensitivity probably will not be known until biologic indicators exist to diagnose the disorder.

He adds that one very real danger of following a gluten-free diet is eating too much fat and too little fiber.

Guandalini is medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

“Someone who needs to be on a gluten-free diet and is closely monitored can benefit tremendously from it,” he says. “But for everyone else, embracing this diet makes no sense.”'


I married someone who is celiac and am in the industry, taking care of guests on a daily basis. The last question I always ask someone who is sitting at my bar is, "Are there any allergies I should be aware of before I place your order." The look on someone's face when you ask that question is always priceless because—and I read this somewhere—99% of all servers and chefs don't give a shit about allergies. (kidding, of course)

But it doesn't have to be that way, and regardless of where this pastry chef read his article, people turning up with an autoimmune conditions are only increasing due to the "Monsanto-style" ingredients in our food (Thanks USDA!). This is a recent thing—as early as the 1980s—and our bodies are only just beginning to react negatively to packaged, processed foods. 

In order to heal the stomach and reverse the effects of autoimmune conditions, people have to be conscious about what and where they eat. We have a hard time dining out because the effects of my wife being glutened are absolutely terrible, so we avoid places that don't offer allergy consideration. Guess we'll put Coohills on that list. Perhaps Lebeau should go talk to his new General Manager about allergies and how to approach them in the future. I hear he's pretty knowledgeable on the subject.

WillieStortz topcommenter

I'd rather eat dinner with a hemophiliac, vegan; than spend one minute listening to some anti-gluten nutjob whine about their fantasy allergies.

Do us all a favor, stay home and eat some Udi's gluten free bread, that way we can be spared from the incessant preaching of the gluten free, flavor free lifestyle.

Mantonat topcommenter

@nyislander33 I know people who were diagnosed with Celiac disease 20 years ago and it wasn't easy for them then. Options even for home cooking were few and far between. So when you say "We didn't even know what gluten was 10 years ago," what you really mean is that you didn't even know what gluten was 10 years ago. If your attitude about the evolution of health and medicine were more common, people would still be swinging dead cats over their heads at midnight on a full moon to cure consumption. 

Many other countries in the world have far more advanced attitudes about gluten sensitivity than in the US. Italians have been making high-quality wheat-free pastas for years and even the producers of the best flour for pizza dough have come up with gluten-free flour.


@kizmiaz731 OK, now you've gone off the totally opposite deep end and ruined the argument for everyone. Nice job.

Mantonat topcommenter

@Jon_S What's your stake in the game? Why would you care whether people choose to avoid gluten or not, since I am assuming you aren't a baker, you don't work for Con-Agra, and you don't rely on people buying your wheat-based products to make a living. The fact is that annoying people are annoying, period. They can be annoying about their beliefs on gluten, their new-found knowledge of craft brewing, their religion, etc. I had to move to another seat at the bar the other day because a woman would not stop talking about her fashion choices.

There are also plenty of people in Denver who follow a gluten-free diet and you'd never know about it. If they feel better, why does anyone need to criticize them? As for eating too much fat and not enough fiber, wheat products are probably one of the poorest sources of fiber out there because there's almost no soluble fiber in wheat flour and even the insoluble fiber (read: bulk) comes with a lot of calories (read: stuff you need to burn off, just like fat). If you need fiber, eat vegetables and fruits.

But really, no matter what the effects of gluten are, to tell a group of people that they should just stay home is insulting and uncalled-for. Except for annoying people, they should just stay home. There's no cure for that.

Mantonat topcommenter

@WillieStortz The hemophiliacs and vegans have all stricken you from their guest lists. They said they'd rather have dinner with an anti-gluten nutjob.


@Mantonat @Jon_S Wow, Mant, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Not your usualy non-partisan self.
I didn't read anywhere, in either the original Q&A or in Jon's post, anyone saying that gluten-free people should just stay home. Yes, *that* would be insulting.
However, what both DID say was that more and more people are claiming "gluten-free", regardless of whether they are or not. These fads come and go (I recall the early 80s where being bulemic was "in". How crazy can people get!).
I'm not exactly sure what point Jason was trying to make though. Are people asking him to make gluten-free pastries? He can always say "Sorry, no" if he's that put out. People with dietary restrictions are used to looking at food they cannot eat. It's a disability, same as any other. 

Jon's post, on the other hand, was dead on. Simply pointing out the fact that the studies on gluten are inconclusive and still being researched. I see nothing wrong with that.  (It's very similar to the ADD 'craze' last decade -- a fallback diagnosis that after more years of study was revealed to be severely over-diagnosed).


@Mantonat @Michael564 @Jon_S Ah, you've had your morning coffee and are back to being your usual well-argued self. (Comment made both in jest and with much respect)

I didn't read Jason's answer as dismissive of the health issue, but of the request. Have some chocolate for dessert instead of trying to have a gluten-free cupcake. In the right light and context, that could be more instructive than dismissive. I'm not defending Jason, btw, no dog in the race, I'm just saying that a chef doesn't have to, and shouldn't be required to, cater to every whim of every customer. There really is no difference between a dietary restriction vs a picky-eater, the chef still has to prepare food in a special manner. *His* choice to do so or not. 

So, I suppose my question remains: if the opinion is that customers should be able to request whatever food they want, prepared in any way they want, because they want to "replicate the thing that they miss", why don't chefs have the right to decline the request if it possibly involves making food that they absolutely despise --- your comment about the creme bruele, for example. The road goes both ways. I'm not dismissing health concerns (I have my own), I'm just saying that those with the concerns should accept there is food they will never eat, and shouldn't expect every chef to cater to their needs.
BTW, spinning the argument in a slightly different direction but with the same results, should every restaurant also carry a full line of Kosher food and be able to prepare Kosher meals? Of course not. So are we saying that dietary restrictions are more important than religious restrictions?

Mantonat topcommenter

@Michael564 @Mantonat @Jon_S As bmelt says below, it really doesn't take much effort to attempt to be sympathetic to your guests, even the slightly annoying ones. It must have been another commenter (and certainly other commenters on this thread) who said people should just stay home. But the chef's comment about just eating fruit or some chocolate isn't much better - it's dismissive. I get that he makes a living making products that rely on gluten for their texture and appeal - god bless him for that since there aren't too many things better than fresh-baked bread. But he's also responsible for desserts and he talked a lot about being creative with dessert making. Guess what's gluten-free? That easy-to-make and always popular creme brulee he had so much disdain for. Or that classic baked Alaska that's part of the French canon he's so fond of.

You have to want to piss people off to make negative statements about their personal health choices. I'm sure it's annoying to be constantly asked if they have gluten-free dessert options; people who choose to follow a gluten-free diet should educate themselves about food and recipes so they can dine out with less fear and annoyance. But is it really so hard to believe that someone might want a well-prepared and creative dessert made by a professional on occasion and that even people who can't eat wheat might want something that comes even a little close to replicating the thing that they miss? Look at Linger as a successful example of a restaurant that not only doesn't mind catering to people's dietary needs (or whims), but is capitalizing on it without ever seeming like a hippy-dippy, niche healthfood-oriented restaurant. 

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