Intolerant to the fine dining experience.
I’m a foodie, and passionate about food.
I am so obsessed with food that I can’t recall a day when I didn’t have some. But, it is not so easy for people with dietary restrictions, and Rachel is one of them.
What does she eat?
This is a question I regularly get asked when talking about Rachel’s diet.
She doesn’t eat: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, wheat, sugar, mushrooms, yeast, citrus or caffein.
When we started going out, one of our favourite eateries was a Mediterranean restaurant. Its authentic ambience was created with plastic vines across the walls, Italian beer in the fridge, and candles stuck in wine bottles on every available surface. It was run by a chap who was about as Mediterranean as Macclesfield, but he cooked some good food, except mullet, which was just a plate of annoying bony little bastards.
Occasionally, we would be the only diners in the restaurant, and on those occasions the chef/owner would serve us, still wearing his apron and his carpet slippers. He would then linger and chat while we were trying to enjoy our quiet evening together. However, having opened up his restaurant, put on his best slippers and cooked us a meal, it never felt right to tell him to fuck off and leave us alone.
At the same time in my life I decided to cut out dairy in an attempt to cut out lethargy, snot and phlegm. Then, Rachel did the same, but she went on to compile a huge list of foodstuffs that she should avoid for a variety of health reasons. After cutting out: meat, eggs, dairy, wheat, sugar, mushrooms, yeast, citrus and caffein, the menu of our former favourite became about as useful as a porn-mag in a convent: lovely for others to look at, but a complete waste of time in the wrong hands.
Nothing on the menu.
Explaining to a waitress that you have certain dietary requirements is sometimes like trying to explain Einstein to a six-year old.
Rachel starts to explain.
“I am a vegetarian–” but, the waitress interrupts, and falls straight into the vegetarian trap.
“Do you eat fish?”
“No, I don’t eat any meat or fish.”
“Yeah, but some vegetarians eat fish,” the waitress continues, because she is a teenager and knows everything.
“No they fucking don’t! If they eat fish, they are not vegetarians, are they!” I shout, albeit in my head. I wouldn’t dare say it out loud. I make it a rule not to upset anyone who may have time alone with my food before I get it.
The waitress continues with her assistance.
“OK… We do a vegetarian pizza.”
“No, I’m afraid I can’t eat wheat either,” says Rachel.
“OK… We’ve got a vegetable pasta bake.”
“Pasta is wheat.”
“Is it? Oh. OK… There’s mushroom stroganoff.”
“No, I can’t eat mushrooms or cream.”
If the conversation has gotten this far you can rest assured that we will have to explain that cheese is dairy, a panini contains wheat and au-gratin is still cheese even if it has been cooked.
Ultimately, Rachel will have salad and chips, because that is what she always ends up with.
We have even had conversations with chefs who are happy to cook something special for Rachel, but don’t realise that there is wheat in soy sauce or that potato wedges and chips are sometimes dusted with flour to make them crispy. This can come as quite a surprise, but it is an education process of which more people need to become aware.
With Rachel and I spending an increasing amount of time in and around Plymouth, I was pleased to discover ‘Gluten Free by the Sea’, a website run by coeliac, Kevin Gollop. It was here that I found some rather reassuring articles, and it appears that there is a small, but growing fraternity catering for such dietary requirements in the area. Although Rachel’s condition isn’t coeliac, it is usually chefs with an awareness of that condition who will have the knowledge and imagination to cook without using certain ingredients.
There are some great chefs and bakers already creating food for the intolerant, but it is a movement that needs to grow. It needs the likes of Tom Kerridge, The Hairy Bikers and Jamie Oliver to create some imaginative dishes and popularise the notion that the alternative meal on a menu doesn’t have to be feta au gratin in a Camembert sauce. The mind boggles at what Heston Blumenthal would come up with, and I daren’t hazard a guess at what Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White might come out with.
So, what does she eat?
Although many pubs and restaurants offer a vegetarian option, once you remove the cheese, wheat, mushrooms and cream, the answer to the question “So, what does Rachel eat?” is… water.