Avon Mill (www.avonmill.com) are a wonderfully well stocked and inspirational garden centre full of cutting edge and traditional plants. They also boost a wide range of seeds, pots, planters and all the tools you will need for keeping your garden in top shape. On top of all this they have the most wonderful cafe serving delicious, homemade and local produce. The cafe is a delight throughout the seasons with an inviting summer room with full aspect doors thrown open in hot weather. It is then transformed into a magical festive ski shack in winter for Christmas. In every month in between you can find superb dishes keeping you in tune with the seasons best foods.
After 25 years of eating whatever I liked I was used to trying new foods with the pick of any eatery I liked. In the last 5 years I have excluded lactose, dairy, wheat and gluten leaving me much less choice on the menu. As a free from customer I refused to give up on my favourite place to eat and garden at the same time.
After a hiccup a couple of weeks ago I emailed Avon Mill with concerns over the lack of choice on their menu for people like myself who have to exclude foods from their diet for medical reasons. I was dubious as to whether I would get more than the standard apology. However, I was met with the utmost customer care and enthusiasm for improvement. An apology for the lack of concern, a nod to improve customer care regarding allergies and an invitation to chat to the chef.
Chef's can be a funny old bunch eccentric, creative and usually under paid and over worked. Despite these crazy attributes they love food and that is what I wanted to talk about. The chef at Avon Mill was interested in what I had to say about free from food. The reason I was there was because I really wanted to keep visiting a place where I could enjoy having food prepared for me (it gets tiring making all your own food). No one should have to stop eating out due to allergies or illness. The key surely is to create just one or two dishes that allow people on free from diets to eat out. These dishes don't have to be labelled exclusively for free from customers. They can be the dairy free, lactose free, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan option all rolled into one. They should also appeal to the wider population too. This sounds crazy but it is possible, after all how many of us have to eat this way every day?
If you have a local, friendly and competent cafe please ask them if they can cater for your dietary requirements. Allergies and intolerances are increasing. If we don't let places know we are here no one will provide for us.