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Gluten-free dining at Thomas Keller’s restaurants

Bread basket at The French Laundry

Bread basket at The French Laundry

You may have read about my recent experience dining at The French Laundry. While in wine country, we also had dinner at Ad Hoc and stopped in the Bouchon Bakery. I was very interested to see how each of Thomas Keller’s restaurants treated gluten-free diners given that the popular Cup 4 Cup all-purpose, gluten-free flour was developed at The French Laundry.

The product’s website describes its origins,

Cup 4 Cup was developed in the famed French Laundry in Yountville, CA, by Lena Kwak, then the restaurant’sResearch & Development Chef. One day, a guest tasted Lena’s brioche and cried because she hadn’t eaten bread for seven years. Lena and her mentor, Thomas Keller, Chef/Owner of The French Laundry, decidedthey had to find a way to share this premium gluten-free flour with more people.

Given that information, I thought The French Laundry would be sensitive to gluten-free eaters, making substitutions and offering a separate basket containing breads made with the Cup 4 Cup flour. Not so much.

When I initially confirmed the reservation two months out, the reservationist inquired whether anyone in our party had allergies. She noted in the file that my husband avoids gluten. When reconfirming our meal arrangements the week before, she once again confirmed that we had a guest eating gluten-free.

Once seated, the waiter confirmed that he had seen the file notation that my husband eats gluten-free. He spoke briefly about the few menu items containing gluten. When they were delivered to the table, each of the three croutons balanced on the artfully crafted dish were pointed out with care.

While we didn’t ask for accommodations, we were surprised that they didn’t leave off items like the tweezer-placed bread cubes or the crumbled dacquoise cake. The bread basket made its way by our table several times, conspicuously lacking the gluten-free brioche that gave Cup 4 Cup its start.

The Bouchon Bakery cookbook even has the recipe for this famous gluten-free brioche. When we visited the bakery itself, however, we were interested to find that while Cup 4 Cup could be found for sale on the bakery shelves, not a single pastry was made using the product.

We discovered that Ad Hoc, with a family-style concept least conducive to accommodating gluten-free diners, was actually the most sensitive to guests’ needs. Again, not asking for accommodations, we clarified preparations with the waiter so my husband knew which items to avoid.

The waiter insisted on alerting the kitchen to the gluten-sensitivity although we assured him that it wasn’t necessary. With each course, my hubbie received entirely separate plates with thoughtful substitutions for items containing gluten.

Kudos to Ad Hoc.

–by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog