An Open Letter to Chef Damian Cardone

Staff Writer
One gluten-free individual's response to a chef's betrayal of his customers.

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

You may have seen reports last week about Chef Damian Cardone, who boasted in early March on his Facebook profile about misleading gluten-free customers multiple times. "People ask me for gluten free pasta in my restaurant all the time, I tell em sure, Then I serve serve em our pasta, Which I make from scratch with high gluten flour," the chef was reported writing on his profile before it was removed. "And you know what? nothing, NOTHING! ever happens!" His comments kicked off a firestorm of articles and criticism.

I feel proud to have recently celebrated the two-year anniversary of the last time I knowingly ingested gluten. When I first gave it up, I went through withdrawal, I bargained (“Just let me have a bite of your sandwich”), I felt left out, I refused to give up beer, I got frustrated, and relapsed again and again. Finally, after a two week-long cold, complete with backaches, depression, and serious bloating, I decided fooling myself wasn’t worth it anymore. I found the chef's blatant disdain troubling enough to merit this open letter.

Chef Cardone, I’ve worked in restaurant, catering, and test kitchens. I’ve worked in a food truck. I’ve been a server. My mother is a professional chef. If I absolutely had to have a health condition, I would never pick this one. Given the choice, I might even take something harder to deal with that would allow me to still eat sandwiches, because there are some really amazing ones out there and I miss them. Wouldn’t you?

Six months after I gave up gluten for good, my whole life changed. Anyone who shares my experience will tell you the same thing. You’ve never experienced glutenitis, my affectionate term for the miserable, exhausted haze I live in when I unknowingly eat something containing gluten.

As my immune system flatlines and my insides rebel, my hair falls out, and my hands and arms itch uncontrollably. I have vivid nightmares all night long and can’t wake up in the morning. Several days later, like clockwork, I develop the telltale tickle in the back of my throat that signifies the beginning of a cold severe enough keep me out of work for days. And guess what? I’m on the low end of the gluten intolerance spectrum. Many peoples’ symptoms are worse.

I don’t have the statistics to back up my case because definitive studies are still being done. For the time being, it will have to suffice to say that if you can’t have gluten, you can’t have it. Nobody pretends to have gluten intolerance. Everyone likes sandwiches, bagels, noodles, waffles, and pizza. If you give up those things and feel at least 100% better, you have it. I, a born-and-bred New Yorker, gave up pizza, bagels, and half the things on brunch menus and in Chinese restaurants across the city. It wasn't something I wanted to do. Trust me.