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?