14 November 2012

Creating Allergen Friendly/Gluten Free Menu items require Less Ego From Chefs

I consultant with commercial kitchens daily on "Gluten Free" and Food Allergy issues.

Most of the time I hear, "We tried to do it myself, at first, but we failed." "You think this would be easy." "I don't need someone else's help, I spent 4 years at culinary school, and 10 years as a chef." "I am a chef, I know how to cook." "I know what I am doing, but I can't figure this out."  "I gave this to our nutritionist but it's not selling on the menu." It's okay, no chef is alone when making these comments. This is normal. 
Converting recipes from traditional ingredients to gluten free, dairy free, nut free, etc is not easy. This is why I became a Certified Food Allergy and Gluten Free Consultant who specializes in helping commercial kitchens convert or develop recipes and specialty gluten free, allergen friendly menus that still boast your style and have flavor.    

I am emailed at least once a week by top chefs and nutritionist asking for suggestions. It is not as easy as 1-2-3. If you were not trained on how to source or how to cook with alternative products, it's okay. Most chefs are not. In fact there is not a culinary school in America that teaches this, YET. 

While many restaurants and bakeries think this "allergen thing or gluten thing" is going away, let me assure you with over 5 million celiac patients worldwide and 150 million food allergic people, IT WILL NOT GO AWAY, it is NOT a "Fad." Sure the people that think gluten is the cause of being overweight and don't have a gluten or wheat intolerance, will fall off the gluten diet when they realize that's not the cause. However, those who are officially diagnosed with a food intolerance or allergy will continue to rise and have no other option to eat "alternatively" .  Rather than hire a true subject matter expert or certified allergen aware/gluten free cook or chef consultant many opt for a quick fix solution with the "do it yourself" option. 

This allergen friendly and gluten free menu option will be making news headlines, shortly. In some cases the laws will follow the "trend." There are over 300 different petitions right now on food allergy labeling.  The laws and requirements will grow and become more rigid as awareness grows not to mention demand from consumers.   

Developing recipes with alternative products, especially in the gluten free world, is a science. It takes a lot of practice and personal experience to get  the right flavors and consistency for allergy-friendly/gluten free choices.  I have a love for food, cooking and eating it. I have a high respect for the culinary world. I know how much time and attention it has taken to get where these chefs are today. It's a labor of love and creative passion. While I appreciate it, this is why it is important to partner with a food allergy consultant who has put in the time, who understands that it isn't just pulling the first item you see off the shelf and saying, "Oh great, I can make a gluten free bread or I can make a dairy free pizza." If products don't taste good, people won't continue to re-order them. You see a trend of people ordering the first month or quarter of you putting it on the menu and then you see it die. If you find yourself saying, "See, I knew the trend wouldn't last long." You might want to think again. Even the "foodals" and "celiacs", (who are generally starved for foods they can eat) will find other sources if it doesn't taste good.  This is the case especially adults with late onset conditions, who know what food is supposed to taste like. Thank you for the effort of putting something on the menu- but if you are in it for the quick fix and the income, it won't last. 

If a commercial kitchen of any kind is going to put the time and effort into creating a product or menu item that is allergen friendly or gluten free, take the time to get it right- all the way around. I highly recommend finding a certified food allergy consultant, whether is is me or someone else. 

Anyone can make Chicken Marsala, but whoever makes it best, wins. If you have an enormous amount of patience and time on your hands, please feel free to continue. If you have food allergies or celiac and are required to cook without certain ingredients daily-please don't give up. If developing products or menu items is not your daily job and part of your daily responsibilities, it's best to hand it over to an expert who can guide you and work with you. 

Just a reminder- if you aren't there and staff isn't certified or trained on food allergies or special dietary needs, what is going to happen? 1 person who gets sick, could damage all that hard work really quickly. 

Whole Foods did a descent job of putting this little substitution chart together. While I am proud of their efforts, it won't work for everyone but for some it will: http://wholefoodsmarket.com/holidays/baking-subs?sf7325983=1
Here is another idea: The Complete Food Allergy Cookbook By Gioannini, Marilyn (Google Affiliate Ad)
For More Information on Certified Food Allergy Consultants for commercial kitchens when helping you with food allergy education and specialty menu development contact:

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