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Friday, November 3, 2017

Hyatt VS Shangri-La, Singapore

The Waterfall Cafe made me a special gluten free dessert.

In February this year, a friend and I went to 10 Scotts at The Grand Hyatt Singapore, where I experienced gluten poisoning. We had asked for gluten free bread but (1) when we tested it with the NIMA, there was gluten and (2) by the time we tested, I had already eaten a fair bit, so I had diarrheoa.

The hotel refunded us the money for the meal. Someone called and apologised nicely. The poor chef who was put in charge of providing us gluten free options had done his best. He could not know that the gluten free bread that The Hyatt hotel had bought from a 3rd party supplier had gluten. He also told us that the gluten free bread was heated up in the same oven as normal bread. This can result in cross-contamination.

Frankly, for celiacs, cross-contamination can be very serious. Celiacs experience a wide range of symptoms in reaction to even tiny powder flecks of gluten. Some are as mild as rashes. Others break out in boils on the scalp, experience thyroid malfunction, become suicidal, have diarrhoea and develop muscle ache.

A 5 star hotel needs to be more responsible than this when placing a dish on the table, calling it gluten free.

I did not want to make a big fuss so when Customer Service called. I praised the chef for his efforts and requested that somebody get back to me about their investigation into why their gluten free bread contained gluten. Oh well... nobody did ever get back to me. I guess they were not sincere about offering gluten free options. Once they knew that I was not angry, they stopped worrying.

I guess it really is up to the hotel to decide whether the dollars from the gluten free crowd is worth their effort. It is, after all, a business decision. I mean, I don't expect businessmen to care about whether their food harms me or not.

Then, I experienced The Shangri-La. The Shangri-La in Sentosa had an entire breakfast section that was gluten free. The morning buffet had allergen labels clearly marking each dish - dairy, nuts, gluten. Every single waiter was trained and knew what to do when told that I am celiac. The Head Chef explained to me the kitchen processes he had instituted to prevent cross-contamination. I was not just impressed. I was overjoyed. The hotel really cared! I did not expect them to, but they did! I was used to starving in places full of good food that I cannot eat. So, I was overjoyed.

The Shangri-La Sentosa's Singaporean Head Waiter told me that he had worked all over Europe, and was very familiar with allergen serving processes. I then discovered The Waterfall Cafe in Shangri-La, Orange Grove Rd. You can see that The Waterfall Cafe is SERIOUS about gluten cross contamination. Unlike the Hyatt Hotel, The Shangri-La has professional kitchen processes that go beyond any individual chef. You can tell from the small things such as the one below.

The gluten free desserts are on the very top shelf. This means that crumbs from the other gluten-full desserts will not drop onto a gluten free dessert.

I eat at the Shangri-La once, sometimes twice, a week. On weekends, I bring my whole family there  for gluten free pasta. When I go out with friends, we always go there too. My friends are kind enough to let me choose where I can eat safely. If only 1 person in a group of 10 is an allergy sufferer, it is often that allergy sufferer who will pick a venue for meals. At least, that has been my experience.

Needless to say, I am disappointed that The Grand Hyatt, Singapore never got back to me on their investigation. I don't think they even cared to investigate nor put in allergen friendly kitchen processes, after my experience. I am sad too because I don't dare to ever eat in any one of The Grand Hyatt, Singapore's restaurants again.

I am also sad because whilst I have every confidence that every one and any one of the Shangri-La Hotels internationally are allergen friendly, I am not sure of The Hyatt... even The Grand Hyatts. I had wanted to book a stay at The Grand Hyatt in Bali, Nusa Dua. I waited and waited for The Grand Hyatt, Singapore to get back to me on my experience of gluten poisoning. They never did. So, I never booked their hotel in Bali.

I was also waiting for an update from the Hyatt Hotel so that I could update on the local celiac FB group (with 1,434 members in Singapore alone and visiting celiac members who join because they are heading into Singapore for their holidays, and need to know where it is safe to eat). Celiacs know they have few places to eat safely. So, when someone posts that a place is safe, ALL OF US make a trip down.

Similarly, when 1 person gets gluten-poisoned, NO ONE else dares to go to that same place anymore. No one wants to break out in boils after a meal.

If all 1,434 members in that FB group have 4 family members who, even though, not celiac, must eat at celiac safe places, that is a total of 5,736 paxes lost to the The Grand Hyatt's restaurants. Occasionally, the Waterfall Cafe at lunch, is fully booked because of corporate bookings. 2 people in that group had food allergies. As a result, all 25 people had to book the Waterfall Cafe.

Then again, this is perhaps too small a market for The Hyatt to worry about. So, thank heavens we have the Shangri-La.

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