This weekend coeliac chef Anthony Demetre cooked on BBCs Saturday Kitchen. At first I thought this was a really positive step as I’ve been writing to this programme for months asking them to do just that. He was cooking a completely gluten free spread using quinoa, a very versatile, ancient, little-used grain (see photo below), but things took a strange turn when he began to share his views on live TV about how his life has changed since his diagnosis with coeliac disease.
When asked by James Martin why he was cooking gluten free now, a great cue to launch into a positive discussion about how easy it is to cook great tasting food gluten free, he instead shared some very odd and confusing comments which are damaging to awareness of coeliac disease and allergies in general.
Firstly he said he was diagnosed five years ago as 100% coeliac. Correct me if I’m wrong, but can you be 50% coeliac? or even just 10% if you’re really lucky? No, you can’t, you either have it, or you don’t. Saying something like that implies that some people aren’t really as bad as him, or that perhaps there are grades and levels of coeliac disease and that actually, people with the condition can quite happily ‘gorge’ on gluten rich foods if they wish. It could mislead others to think it’s not quite so serious as we’ve been making out. That is blatantly not true. I know people who would be very ill from just a crumb of gluten free bread.
The ‘gorging’ on pizza and pasta is the other startling thing he said. He apparently lives a completely gluten free diet for three months, then has two weeks of eating as much as can, because if he didn’t his body would reject it. Pardon? If you have coeliac disease your body will reject gluten and your villi will be damaged so that you are not getting any nutrients from your food, not to mention making you quite ill. No matter how much gluten he eats, his body will still reject gluten. He has been diagnosed with a disease but perhaps no one has explained it to him properly. I wonder what state his villi are in? Have they just recovered from the battering from his copious intake of gluten before he begins another gorging?
This seems more to me a matter of him loving and missing these foods, and we all know what that’s like. Imagine being a chef and having to cook things all day that you can’t eat, the smell, the tempation… But couldn’t he use his passion for cooking to prove that you can eat delicious nourishing food completely gluten free?
I find it very frustrating that a man in his situation of responsibility and the BBC didn’t taken the chance to portray how well he manages his condition, and how it’s quite possible to live a very healthy life with coeliac disease (probably because he really isn’t managing his condition very well at all). It could have been a very positive message. Instead it was embarassing and very disappointing. Perhaps his comments were not planned, and since the programme is aired live, the laughter was for both, a way of moving on and wishing it hadn’t been said. However for a viewer who finds eating out with allergies hard work, and mainly due to the lack of understanding in the catering profession, these comments were far from helpful.
Just weeks after Damian Cordone, US chef, publicly aired his comments that ‘Gluten free is bullshit’ and that if one of his customers asked for gluten free he would give them gluten rich pasta instead, hit the news, we now hear misguided comments from a UK chef. Not surprisingly there was uproar in the US after these comments and his views that these unsuspecting customers would leave all smiles and saying how much they’d enjoyed his food.
Yes Damian, I’ve been there, I have anaphylaxis to even small amounts of dairy and nuts, and have had numerous mild and more serious attacks after eating out at restaurants. Because I have a dose related condition which is also exercise induced, I am probably OK whilst in your establishment, I’m probably going rapidly down hill once I’ve left, and will be ill for days, if I’m not lucky enough to make a trip to A&E. None of this is in my head, but just because I don’t keel over in front of you after you’ve poisoned me does not mean I’m lying. What it does mean is that I will NEVER eat at your restaurant again, and I and my companions will tell as many people as we can how badly I was treated. After trying to speak to various establishments to ascertain what I ate there that made me so very ill I soon realised that there was little or no point. You just have to pick very carefully where you eat, plan ahead, speak to restaurants before hand, and get recommendations.
Having intolerances is also very unpleasant. It’s often played down with comments like, “Well if it’s not a real allergy, you can eat a bit, right?” Well yes, it wont be life threatening but it’s not much fun to be itching all over, have nettle rash and hives come up all over your body and have stomach cramps and a rash like sun burn.
Allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease are all real conditions and awareness is sorely lacking.
It’s sad that despite the fact that Anthony Demetre is a coeliac and was trying to cook a gluten free feast using quinoa, I didn’t really learn how to cook it because I was so distracted by his comments. I’ll need to watch again and suffer his comments and the laughter, just so I can understand how quinoa should be cooked.
Phil Vickery, well know celebrity chef, and an ambassador for Coeliac UK commented on the show:
“After seeing Saturday’s BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, and receiving emails I have to make the following comments. It just goes to prove that this awful disease is still looked on as a joke and in a very flippant way in the certain areas of the catering industry, that frankly, really should know better.
This sort of ill informed advice or statement coming from a well respected chef sends out the totally wrong message. It also magnifies, just how little is known and more worryingly how much these guys actually care about Coeliac disease in the restaurant environment.
It should be compulsory for all young chefs to undergo basic training in all areas regarding diseases and allergies, sadly until that happens, we are going to have to put up with the sort of moronic comment time and time again.”
Here Here Phil! It’s really encouraging to hear such sensible words from another chef, and others are also doing their bit to publicise allergies, including Antony Worral Thompson who supported the FreeFrom Food awards again this year for the fourth time. His comments when he addressed the audience were interestingly along just these lines. He said that whilst popularity of organic foods has dropped, free from foods are seeing huge growth, however the catering industry are far behind in understanding and using some of these amazing new ingredients. Let’s hope that if anything good can come of this furore it will be that chefs make the effort to find out what allergies are really all about and how to safely cook for someone with allergies in a large catering kitchen.
If you want to know how to cook quinoa, it’s easy. You cook it just like pasta for 10-15 minutes with some salt to taste. Don’t over cook it as it can turn like porridge. Here’s a picture of what quinoa looks like; it resembles cous cous or bulgar wheat but unlike them, is naturally completely gluten free.
Check out the recipe for Lemon and honey spatchcock chicken with quinoa and broad bean salad which Anthony cooked on this very programme.
You can also read Alex Gazzola’s far more educated discussion, “Coeliac chef Anthony Demetre admits to gluten gorging on Saturday Kitchen” on his blog: Food Allergy and Intolerance Ink. Alex is a health journalist and the author of several books on food allergy and intolerance, with another one due for release in May entitled “Coeliac disease: what you need to know”.
If you feel so inclined you can contact Anthony’s agent at: www.deborahmckenna.com and complain to the BBC online. Ask for a response to your complaint and then they will have to take it seriously. I can’t wait to hear what both Anthony and the BBC have to say about this.
And while I’m on the subject, why not also take the opportunity to allow the celebrity guest and other guests to ask questions about it and have a discussion. I think Saturday Kitchen misses a trick. The panel of visitors, who no doubt really enjoy being on the show, just sit there watching, and often don’t say and are not encouraged to say anything at all. Why not have a whole show dedicated to those with allergies, have some guests who live with allergies on the show, and use the discussion to help raise awareness of what allergies, intolerance and coeliac disease is all about. The celebrity guest could be an allergy expert or doctor instead of an actor or comedian. You could also invite a celebrity who has allergies on the show if that helps with viewing figures. How about that for an idea BBC? Not commercial enough for you?
I will be watching BBCs Saturday Kitchen next weekend with interest to see if our complaints have been taken seriously. What do you think about this faux pas? Do you think Anthony is entitled to his views? or should he keep them to himself and not air them on TV if they are so daft?
Ken Keene says
Wow what a rant! 100% agree with your points though.
Apologies for ranting but I felt very strongly about this. Lots of other people have blogged about and it’s been very popular on Facebook so hopefully we’ll get some kind of apology, redress and explanation from Anthony.
Alex G says
Thanks for the mention, Ruth. There are a lot of interesting posts out there on this subject. The BBC have responded to some, and their response has been feeble, in my view. It’ll run for a bit longer…
Incidentally, gastros are coming around to the idea that coeliac can be a bit grey, and is not always 0% or 100%. There are borderline cases, there are so called ‘latent’ cases, there have even been a few reports of spontaneous remission in the young. Demetre’s awareness of CD does not appear great so he may well have not known about this, but it could legitimately be argued that there are degrees of CD – the coeliac ‘spectrum’.
Alex that’s really interesting and does make some sense sinch allergies can vary too in terms of the amount taken to trigger a reaction. Mine is dose related, and intolerances too can allow people to eat different amounts sometimes in moderation, and since the side effects or sypmtoms for everyone are different some may be more inclined to suffer them than others. Just a shame they (Anthony and the BBC) didn’t take the opportunity to just spend two minutes discussing the condition. A sadly wasted opportunity when allergies, coeliac disease and intolerances are so widely misunderstood and so poorly covered on TV and radio.
David Mc says
Degrees of CD I think not -just degrees of reaction to gluten. You either have CD or you don’t and when you have it you know about it. I feel so much better having stuck rigidly to the gluten free diet for the last 9 years. Ironically if Anthony stayed on the diet long enough he would actually lose most of the desire for gluten based foods. I suspect that the chef’s wish to taste test his output may explain how he operates in selectively adhering to the diet.
Hi David. See Alex’s comment above. He is a health journalist with a book coming out soon, I’ve mentioned him in the post above. He suggestd that there do seem to be some pointers to there being degress of CD. Interesting as I hadn’t know that either. You learn something (or in my case lots of things) every day. I totally agree with you about cravings. I have a dairy allergy and now no longer crave milk or cheese much at all. I’m quite happy without. Most of the time… haha
Just thought I would also share that yesterday, after posting this rant, I decided to have quinoa for my lunch for the first time, I suppose thanks to Anthony explaining how to cook it. It did need quite a bit of seasoning and I’d suggest nori flakes or another natural and either low or sodium free alternative. The grains kind of pop open when they cook to reveal and circular whitish core, and they look a bit like flying saucers. Will photograph at different stages next time I cook it. Fascinated me anyway… Very tasty with my left over chilli.
And the response from the BBC. I know this is the exact same response they have sent to everyone and quite frankly it’s a bit pathetic:
Thank you for contacting us regarding the BBC One programme ‘Saturday Kitchen’ broadcast on 9 April.
We understand you were unhappy with the comments made by Anthony Demetre about his eating habits even though he has been diagnosed with Coeliac disease.
Anthony is a diagnosed coeliac and his children have shown signs of wheat intolerance. He therefore cooked a dish that was without gluten as it is something he has always been keen to support within his restaurant business.
In discussing his eating habits Anthony was expressing his own personal way of coping with the condition and at no point did he advocate it as a diet that others should try. He accepts that maybe his choice of words could have been better judged but at no point did he intend to anger people and he is perfectly entitled to control his eating in any way he deems right for him. However, he apologises should anyone have been offended or upset by his words but he will continue to serve and cook gluten free food, something that is very unusual in the world of professional chefs.
‘Saturday Kitchen’ highlights a range of different culinary style and foods. We always strive to provide recipes that are suitable for all diets and we will continue to do so.
We would like to assure you that your concerns were raised with the ‘Saturday Kitchen’ production and registered on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.
BBC Audience Services
A few points on the BBC response:
1. They miss the point that they didn’t take the chance to discuss the condition, its implications, how it can be managed etc.
2. Yes, great. He was cooking a coeliac meal but he managed to offend most of the coeliac community so something went wrong here. The fact he was cooking GF seemed to pale into insignificance when he laughed at his cavalier attitude to managing the condition.
3. “We always strive to provide recipes that are suitable for all diets” No you don’t. That my dear, is quite frankly not true.
4. Anthony has apologised, through the BBC, so I suppose that is something. He should be a champion for the community so hopefully we can turn this whole thing around and all get behind Anthony. After all, he is cooking GF and serving at his restaurants. Be lovely to hear direct from the horses mouth Anthony?
Ruth, your rant is great and fully justified. I am also horrified to hear of chefs being so cavalier with other people’s health, and also their own (though I don’t really care if he wants to make himself ill). I am gluten-free and find that restaurants vary immensely in how helpful they are – sometimes cheap places are wonderful and sometimes expensive places are not! I cook a lot at home, entirely GF, and it’s easy once you know how. You can make almost anything. But most food in the UK is heavy on wheat/gluten the way it comes. It doesn’t need to be, but wheat is used as a carrier for flavourings, a filler to thicken sauces and marinades, and of course in the obvious things too. As you say, the supermarkets are catching on and how have some very good GF solutions. Well done on the rant – keep up the brilliant work, Ruth! 🙂
Thanks for the comment Debs. I thought you’d read this and be as cross as I am, being coeliac yourself. Like you say, what he does with his health is his business but it’s a shame they didn’t use the opportunity to discuss the condition. What a shame we are not discussing how brilliant the show was and how excited we all are about experimenting with quinoa and all feeling more positive about a GF diet. So many chefs dismiss allergies so this is hardly going to help matters. I know a lot of chefs take allergies very seriously too though so thanks to you all. Have a word with Anthony though if you see him.
Alex G says
Thanks Ruth, again, but I’m definitely not infallible and also get things wrong about CD – as I’m sure my readers will tell me! (A good thing – constructive feedback will help improve the book’s 2nd edition.)
Yes, there are degrees to reaction to gluten – some can tolerate a crumb, others cannot – but it really isn’t always as clear cut wrt whether or not you have it.
I attended a conference of gastroenterologists in 2009 and one of the most fascinating things about it was the level of disagreement about certain aspects between the experts (eg is a biopsy necessary? Some say yes, some no.)
One example of ‘grey’ coeliac area is high ttG and absent villous atrophy. There is disagreement about whether this is CD or not, and doctors don’t always know whether to diagnose it or not in such cases.
I don’t actually think it’s constructive to talk about percentages – what’s the difference between 40% and 30% CD, for example? But it’s beginning to become appreciated, recently, that it’s not always black or white as once thought.
Hi Alex. Thanks for the comment. I know someone who is really sensitive to even a crumb of gluten/wheat. She has not been officially diagnosed because I understand for this to be done properly you would have to consume gluten for some considerable time to then be able to ascertain the effect on the villi. Obviously if this makes you chronically ill it’s not a possibility so therefore diagnosis is difficult too once you have healed so to speak. I also know coeliacs who have the odd gluten treat and suffer the consequences. I guess it depends on how severe these effects are and what you can tolerate as a person. A complete minefield but fascinating none the less.
Just thought I’d give you an update. Since receiving my ‘circular’ response from the BBC I have written by post outlining my key complaints, which they have not addressed.
I have not heard from the BBC since writing earlier this week, perhaps I should give them a little longer to compose a reply, and I have not heard of any comments from Antony, nor his agent. Anyone else heard anything or got an update? Hope this isn’t just going to be brushed under the carpet…
Fascinating Ruth, well done on this rant! Specifically on degrees of CD, I think we have to start understanding that gluten sensitivity is a problem in its own right and that CD is just one of the expressions of it that we happen to have studied the most.
I think the gluten sensitivity is always there; it’s just a question of how much damage it has done to the villi (as in CD) or to other organs and tissues in the body. You can have both CD and NCGS (Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity) at the same time.
From my clinical point of view, if someone shows any signs of gluten sensitivity, whether confirmed CD or not, damage is being done somewhere – and it can be slow and insidious or violent and damaging, or anywhere in between – and I counsel patients to avoid all glutens (not just gliadin as in CD).
There is a lot more research to be done on this whole issue and we are far from understanding it yet. All we really need to know for now, in my opinion, is that gluten has the potential to damage anywhere, not just villi, and that if even 1g of gluten in cross-contamination, for example, can prevent healing of the villi, Anthony should watch out if he continues to gorge like that!
A mainstream opportunity to help the gluten cause sadly missed. Stoopid.
Here Here Micki! Thanks for the comment. No response to my letter to the BBC, nor any response to my emails to Anthony’s agent, unless you count what was posted on websites. Allergies and CD are so very very complex and everyone is different but the more I read about this the more I suspect I should be avoiding gluten too!
Peter A Edwards says
I have read the post Coeliac or Celiac it is odd that, for someone who is supposed to have been diagnosed for 5 years with an illness, thinks that it is alright to eat a gluten free diet for 3 months, then eat lots of pasta and pizza for 2 weeks.
The only thing he did not state was if it was gluten based or not. For a chef I am surprised that he does not take the dangers of putting food in his mouth that have gluten if that is what he is stating.
At the present I am under going investigation for having Coeliac / Celiac Disease. Having suffered from health problems since the day I was born. I take health issues seriously but would not think of going on binges of eating gluten free for 3 months then 2 weeks on a gluten based diet.
I would love to become a chef, though as the catering industry uses gluten I am going to seek advice before, going into training.