For some, being gluten-free is a lifestyle choice. For others, the smallest trace of gluten can result in a range of uncomfortable side effects – fatigue, anaemia, weight loss, chronic constipation and abdominal distension. Fortunately, awareness of gluten intolerance and Coeliac disease has been on the rise in the last decade, and more restaurants are offering menu items free of common allergens such as gluten, dairy and nuts.
Jimmy Boswell is a chef, cookbook author, food stylist and television presenter, specialising gluten free and allergy free recipes and product development. “In the past, there was little or no real information and education available about gluten or allergy aware service,” he told Restaurant & Café. “I’ve seen a huge change in the past few years, and now there are great resources available for chefs and owners to educate themselves and staff on safe and best practice when offering gluten-free options.”
However, Boswell said it is important to note that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution between establishments and that planning is often required to make sure the correct practices are in place. This could involve doing all gluten-free preparation first, keeping the components in dedicated containers and cooking on a dedicated surface, as well as making substitutions for gluten-containing ingredients in other dishes – such as rice or potato flour.
“People don’t realise that things like flour can remain suspended in the air for up to twenty minutes,” noted Boswell. “This can act as a contaminant even if the surface you’re working on is clean.” Gluten proteins are extremely hardy – for example, a piece of fish with gluten-free batter can’t be cooked in the same deep-fryer and one with non-gluten free batter. The gluten particles can survive in temperatures up to around 400°C.
While restaurants may include a gluten-free item on their menu in good faith, sometimes a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude doesn’t cut it, according to Boswell. If a food provider doesn’t realise the full implications of gluten intolerance in a customer, there can be unpleasant consequences.
“In saying this there are lots of places that have very credible offerings on their menus and take the time to educate both back and front of house,” explained Boswell. “Front of house need a good understanding of what is available and in the event that they don’t know, should consult with the chefs. Diners love this as they feel their needs are valued.”
Any gluten-free offerings, their prep and service should always remove the chance of cross contamination. For sufferers of Coeliac disease, even the smallest amount of gluten can have a huge impact on their wellbeing.