Gluten free… to be or not to be

By Paul Rifkin, Club Catering Consultant

In my experience, nothing riles up a busy kitchen more than when dietary requests appear … out of the blue, especially at functions.

Didn’t they know they were gluten intolerant before they arrived?

Service grinds to a halt as the chefs run around and try to put together a quick and simple meal, then of course the customer complains; “Is that the best your chefs could do? They couldn’t be very good!”

These days it’s nothing for a function of 300 pax to have 20 to 50 dietary meals pre-notified, then the next most annoying thing occurs … they don’t all show up and the kitchen has 10 special meals left over.

More angry chefs … grrrr.

So, the solution is simple, expect it, plan for it, and train the team for it. Why? Because it’s the new normal and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Years ago, gluten-free products were not real nice, gravies were thin, coatings lacked substance and any bread was dry and unpleasant. Yet while many baked products were made without flour, they couldn’t be classified as ‘gluten free’ as they were made in a ‘flour environment’.

Even coeliacs didn’t like the products, but they had no choice and ate them. Next came the flexitarians, gluten-free by choice, so could still order the ‘good stuff’ with wheat, and compare.

Paul Rifkin

Over the last 10 years, the gluten-free industry has boomed, products now cover all categories, gravies are good, coatings are hard to tell from wheat-based ones and some of the bread is so moist, with good texture, that it is difficult to tell apart from its wheat cousins.

More of my clients are now using gluten-free coated chips and gluten-free gravies as their standard, eliminating some of the dietary decisions from the kitchen.

One club has removed all wheaten flour from the kitchen, this has actually doubled business as families can confidently dine out with family members who have serious allergies.

The key is how do you make dietaries as serious in your kitchen as they are for your customers? The answer is training, training, training, followed by implementation.

Use a different coloured board and tongs for all gluten-free products, a separate gluten-free fryer (very easy if your chips are certified gluten-free, be careful as many aren’t) and staff who understand the health implications for coeliacs.

Bear in mind that your kitchen is not an allergy-free environment, but you can still do the best you can. Appropriate disclaimers on your menu are acceptable to inform customers.

Finally comes the menu, with intelligent menu design, 50 per cent can easily be gluten free. Rework recipes to change or remove ingredients, bear in mind the goal, the menu must appeal to the largest percentage of the population to be effective.

Today flexitarians and customers who want ‘healthful’ choices are driving the demand.

Will you adapt first, or do nothing and watch your competition take your customers away?

Club Catering Consultant Paul Rifkin has more than 40 years’ experience in large-venue kitchens as a chef and mentor, including 17 years at Campbelltown Catholic Club as Executive Chef.


food and beverage, Gluten free, gluten-free, Training

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