Blog | The Mounted Cat--Burlington, VT Hilt . . .
The Mounted Cat--Burlington, VT Hilton Experience-- Unsafe Gluten-Free Food Handling
Elizabeth Barbone - July 16, 2014
On June 27, I was served a gluten-containing meal at the Mounted Cat at the Burlington, Vermont Hilton. I contacted Hilton on June 30; however, they never responded to my email. Today I'm sharing my letter, so others don't get sick at this restaurant.
Below please find the letter I sent to Hilton on 6/30.
Hello. This weekend (June 27-29) I stayed at the Burlington Hilton. While there, I had an experience that I want to bring to your attention.
A few hours after arriving, my husband and I headed out to dinner. As we were leaving, the menu for the Mounted Cat caught my eye. I noticed that several menu options on the small menu were marked gluten-free. As someone with celiac disease, this surprised me. I rarely see a hotel restaurant offer a gluten-free menu.
I read the menu. It called out "gluten-free" soy sauce for one of the items. Soy sauce is often overlooked as a gluten-containing item. So I felt the Mounted Cat knew how to handle gluten-free food.
They do not.
Before I placed my order for Steak Frites, I asked if the fries were cooked in a dedicated gluten-free fryer. If French fries are fried in oil along with gluten-containing items, cross contact with gluten can occur and render the fries unsafe for someone with celiac disease to consume.
A few minutes later our server returned and said he didn't "think" the fryer was dedicated. I felt uneasy. Why were the fries called gluten-free if they weren't cooked in a gluten-free fryer?
I asked to replace the fries with mashed potatoes-- a request that was graciously honored. I again told my server that I have celiac disease and to note it for the kitchen.
When my meal came out, there was a breadcrumb-topped tomato on the plate (see photo below). It did not appear to be gluten-free. As soon as the server placed my food before me, I asked about the tomato. He assured me it was gluten-free. I asked him to check with the kitchen.
panko topped tomato
He came out and again told me the tomato was gluten-free. He said that the tomato was coated with garlic. Garlic! As a food consuming-human being and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, I know the difference in the visual appearance between garlic and breadcrumbs. I asked the server to send the Chef out. I needed to know what was on the tomato.
The Chef came out, hollering from at least twelve feet away, "What do you want to know?" Due to the distance, I hollered back, "I want to know what's on the tomato."
He bellowed, "HE ALREADY TOLD YOU." Then the Chef stormed up to the table holding a condiment cup and a sprig of parsley. He held the parsley close to my face and said, "It's this! Parsley. Do you know what parsley is?!?" (Note: I do.) Then he said, "And panko." Garlic was not mentioned.
Let me repeat that. He then told me that panko topped the tomato.
My reply, "Panko contains wheat." He told me that it was gluten-free. I asked him to bring out the package.
He stormed off.
Sveral minutes later, the server showed up at the table and said that the Chef had checked and, indeed, the Panko contained wheat.
Of course it did.
I did not see the Chef again. Christine, the restaurant supervisor, came to the table and I explained what had happened. At this point, other diners were looking at us. The Chef's hollering had caused a great deal of interest in our table.
The Mounted Cat has no business offering a gluten-free menu if the staff does not know how to handle food for people with food allergies and food intolerances.
I won't play the "what if" game but you know as well as I do that someone might have believed the server when they first asked about the tomato and was told it was gluten-free. They could have eaten it and gotten sick.
Hilton's corporate values spell out several things, one of them: "We do the right thing, all the time."
Claiming a food is safe for someone with food allergies and/or celiac disease and then serving an unsafe food---and fighting with your guest over the ingredients---is not the right thing. I understand human error, I really do. If, when I mentioned that tomato, it had been handled with an, "Oh my goodness! That should not be on your plate." I would not be writing to you today.
The next day, Christine did send up wrapped gluten-free treats from a grocery store and a bottle of champagne . As thoughtful a gesture as that was, I was not looking for treats or champagne. I just wanted to eat dinner with my husband without getting sick.
I've come to expect more from the Hilton brand. It's my hope that this experience and letter starts a dialogue. Not only on how the Burlington Hilton can make the changes needed to ensure something like this never happens again, but also how Hilton, perhaps, could tackle food allergy concerns.
One of the biggest challenges facing those with food allergies/intolerances is travel. Most of us dislike it because it's so hard to find food. I'd love it if Hilton offered food that was truly safe. Other big brands (Walt Disney World Corporation, Chipotle) are addressing the needs of the food allergy community. No hotel currently addresses the problem.
It would be amazing to know that I could stay a Hilton property and find food onsite that fits my needs.
I'm happy to discuss both the incident that occurred in Burlington, Vermont and ideas for how you can reach out and serve the food allergy and gluten-free communities. And I trust my concerns will be discussed with the management and staff of the Burlington Hilton.