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Carrabba’s operator shares tale of battle with Crohn’s

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

This blog post was written by Adam Gaub, lead editor for SmartBrief for Health Care Marketers.

One might think that, for someone who has battled a frustrating and embarrassing irritable-bowel disease for two decades, a career in the food industry would be the last thing on his or her plate.

For Atlanta-based Carrabba’s owner/operator and chef Brett Cavalli, it was just the opposite. Struggling with symptoms of Crohn’s disease since the age of 13 that weren’t formally diagnosed as such until his first of four intestinal surgeries at the age of 29, Cavalli said his passion for food has come from his own experimentation in finding recipes that worked well for his digestive system.

He sees his role as a chef as one of helping others who face similar digestive issues or allergies.

“The business really found me,” he said during a “Crohn’s Advocate” webinar on Oct. 7. “I became accustomed to the different ingredients and food items available to me … which enhanced my knowledge and my experience.”

Cavalli said he had been experimenting with different food combinations since he was a teenager, finding ones that were better than others in mitigating the symptoms of his Crohn’s. He said he understood why many people who suffer with the disease — about 500,000 in the U.S. have been diagnosed with it — are hesitant to try new foods or eat out.

However, he said, certain preparation techniques, such as peeling the skins from fruits and vegetables, sauteing or boiling foods rather than baking or frying them, and minimizing the use of potent spices are all good tips for nearly everyone with the disease.

While not all Crohn’s sufferers will have the same reactions to the same foods, he said he was drawn to working at Carrabba’s because of the gluten-free menu it offers — something that has been an oasis for many celiac-disease and IBD sufferers who have generally found most Italian foods to be off-limits.

Sharing his story, as well as building a support group around him, has been one of the steps Cavalli said has been key to helping him live a better life despite still battling the currently incurable disease.

“I’ve helped other people open up about their disease. Such a private hidden disease, when it really doesn’t have to be,” he said. “I try to be a good role model for my kids … knowing there’s a lot of things in my life to be thankful for.”

Does your restaurant or chef cater to diners with digestive issues or allergies? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Image via Cimzia