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A recent client request to eat gluten free while on her vacation in Paris almost sent me into panic. With a patisserie on every corner and a restaurant reputation for finding special menu requests offensive, was that even possible?
After a little research, I was glad to learn the answer is yes. It is possible. I even discovered there is a French Association of Gluten Intolerants (in French), but I digress . . .
First, I had to completely understand what gluten is. I knew a little about it because I tried to remove gluten from my diet once. But it can be a misunderstood term. A gluten-free diet is completely free of ingredients like wheat, barley, rye, oats and triticale. Of course, we'd automatically associate breads, pastries and other baked goods with gluten. However, it goes beyond that when you think about sauces that were thickened with flour, battered foods or even french fries (normally not containing any gluten with only potatoes, oil and salt) that may be cross-contaminated by being fried in the same oil as a breaded product.
Next, I wanted to create a "true" Parisian culinary experience for my client sans gluten. Fortunately, I found, Helmut Newcake, located in the 10th arrondissement on 36 rue Bichat. The owner of this bakery always dreamed of being a pastry chef. She thought her dream was shattered when she learned she was a Celiac (gluten intolerant) until she and her husband opened the only gluten-free patisserie in Paris. Here, my client could pick up lovely and delicious pastries she could enjoy every morning for breakfast.
I can't imagine a trip to Paris without noshing on a few rich and creamy macaroons. Can you? So, how was I going to tell my client she couldn't have this delectable experience? I didn't have to! I was informed that most French macaroons are made with almond flour. Voila! To make sure, I recommended Laduree and Pierre Herme, two of the most famous spots for macaroons in all of Paris, where I knew for certain they were.
Let's not forget about those French crepes. Who can resist a savory galette for lunch or a sweet gooey crepe for dessert? Not I! And now, neither does my client! Yes, a traditional crepe is made with flour. But a galette is made with only buckwheat flour (seulement avec sarrasin). They are served open faced and typically made with savory ingredients like ham and cheese--the perfect lunch! Two favorite creperies include Aux Ducs de Bourgogne (30 Rue de Bourgogne 75007) and Breizh Cafe.
Now that I had lunch, pastries and sweets covered (two of the most important Parisian culinary delights, in my opinion, next only to cheese and wine!), I had to figure out how to handle dinner. While there are a rising number of vegetarian and ethnic restaurants where a Celiac could find plenty of gluten-free options, my client wanted more of the typical bistro and French restaurant experience. So, I set out to find gluten-free friendly places. To my surprise, I actually found a gluten-free restaurant. The chef of Saotica grew tired of the insensitivity from restaurant chefs and waiters when she discovered she was gluten intolerant. So what did she do? She opened her own restaurant! Love that!
Since then, several area restaurants have become more accommodating to gluten-free requests. The trick to receiving an empathetic and successful dining experience is to call ahead. I contacted a few of my usual recommendations and asked if they would meet the needs of my client. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. With reservations and advance notice fo my client's needs to the chefs, the true Parisian dining experience would now be complete.
For extra good measure, I also armed my client with a French Gluten-Free Restaurant Card from CeliacTravel.com. This card is a great way for Celiacs to alert a restaurant about their dietary requirements. This way, she was equipped to stop in any cafe or bistro along the way and make her needs known.
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