When we recently spent a long “Spring Break” weekend in Dallas, I wasn’t really concerned about Cam finding something to eat once we got there. If you’ve never been to the “North Texas” area, you can literally stand in a city intersection, throw a rock and hit one of four restaurants. There are that many choices. Given these numbers, plus the fact that several of the places had the Texas menu staple of steak and potatoes, I felt confident that if we needed to we could find our son a safe meal. All of these assumptions were confirmed when we visited Fort Worth that Friday.
Fort Worth is the Texas that I wanted to show my kids. Historic Fort Worth still has brick roads, cheesy souvenir general stores and a cattle drive that goes through the heart of the area twice a day. You can sit on a long-horned steer, buy anything leather and visit the world’s largest honky-tonk. It is touristy and it is old school Texas. In stark contrast, downtown Fort Worth is located a short, five minute drive away and is a vibrant and eclectic environment. On this Friday afternoon, SportsCenter was set up in the Sundance Square area and numerous workers were taking their lunch breaks and enjoying the atmosphere and the weather. Downtown Fort Worth, much like downtown Dallas, has a wide array of hip lunch locales, each putting a spin on the traditional lunch to try to catch the eye of the hungry professional. Our family was with my friend and his wife and we all decided to go to a place right on the Square that is fairly new and associated with a famous steakhouse. The hostess was very friendly and was helpful in letting me know that even though they did not have a gluten-free menu, their food was prepared to order and specific food allergy requests were easily accommodated. We decided to give it a shot.
As we were freshening up after our trip to the stockyards and settling in at our table, I made our server aware that Cam was a Celiac and that precaution would need to be taken with his meal. I was pleased that she understood our situation and acknowledged our needs without a blank stare that we get often when saying the word “celiac”. On the menu was a lunch-sized filet with a side of mashed potatoes that caught the eye of both Cam and my buddy. I went with the proclaimed “World’s Best” cheeseburger while my wife and daughter ordered a chicken schnitzel to split. When the food came out, the results were a mixed bag. My cheeseburger was decent (though I would like to have a lengthy debate with the person who crowned it the World’s Best) and Cam’s food was fine (no celiac-related issues to anything that he was served). Where the meal fell short was with the rest of our table. My friend’s filet was nothing like what you picture when you think of the word “filet”. The cut of meat was stringy and it wasn’t cooked to his specification (too raw). To note, Cam’s filet was the same type of cut but since he’s 12 and didn’t really know any better, we didn’t raise a fuss. What was problematic was that my wife’s chicken schnitzel also came out raw. As a food microbiology major, I can tell you that uncooked chicken, salmonella and the human digestive system do not play nice with each other. So, of the five meals ordered, more than half of these needed to be returned to the kitchen. The restaurant was understanding, providing us several opportunities to speak with multiple managers, replacing the meals, apologizing to us with an abundance of desserts and knocking off half of our bill. The whole experience made me wonder if the emphasis that the chefs placed on Cam’s dietary concerns made them overlook the obvious steps needed to properly prepare everyone else’s meals. Undercooked chicken is dangerous and should be a basic step in culinary training. Heck, I even know from my time cooking on a grill when a chicken is done or not. And knowing the quality of a filet, especially in a town like Fort Worth, should be commonplace. How were these seemingly basic components and techniques passed over?
And then it hit me. While thinking about this experience, I found that I have been guilty of a similar oversight. Something that should have been obvious to me (like cooking chicken to a chef) but something that has been egregiously overlooked. Looking back through my previous posts, I have highlighted and praised the actions of those who are understanding of my son’s needs and given us experiences that we will never forget. But in reviewing the events of last weekend, I realize that I have overlooked thanking those most important to us. Our friends and our family. When we finally got to our friends’ home after hours of delayed travel last weekend, we were greeted with an entire shelf of gluten-free products. Just for Cam. Just to make him feel welcome in their home. Our friends also bought us a cookbook of the 100 greatest gluten free recipes, knowing that my wife loves to cook and knowing that she would use this over and over for the benefit of our son. It’s generous actions such as these that we encounter every day within our social circles and probably don’t take enough time to recognize and provide our gratitude for. Our journey into this lifestyle change has been challenging but many people in our lives have made it easier than what it could be. And while their actions may or may not become a story of compassion that goes semi-viral within the gluten-free community, they are actions that should not be overlooked. They are actions for which we can not say thank you enough.