10 May '21

How to cater for your customers with coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system damages the lining of the gut when gluten is eaten, causing pain and even long-term damage. The only treatment is a life-long strict gluten free diet; even so much as a crumb is likely to cause a reaction which is why it’s so important that chefs and all catering teams are aware of the challenges of gluten free diets.

Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week takes place from 10-16 May and aims to raise awareness of coeliac disease. It also includes a fundraising element to help Coeliac UK to continue to provide its valuable advice and support to the gluten free community. 

One of our talented chefs, Louise Wagstaffe, is passionate about catering for special diets and is extremely knowledgeable about providing gluten free dining for all customers, whether you are a school, healthcare setting, pub or restaurant. We took time out to talk to Louise about her thoughts on this important and timely topic.

Why is gluten free dining something you specialise in?

One of my best friends was diagnosed with coeliac disease over 20 years ago and I was shocked by how little was known about the condition. To be able to support her, I wanted to understand what she was going through and what it would mean for her daily life. Everything I know has been self-taught; I’ve taken the time to understand the condition and the foods that contain gluten.

Coeliac UK offers some fantastic training for chefs and I would recommend all caterers investigate this. They help to guide chefs and catering venues on how best to communicate to customers when foods do or may contain gluten - it’s surprising how many foods do! Allergen legislation being brought in has made chefs more aware of special diets, but I think the industry still has a long way to go and events like Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week provide an opportunity to highlight gluten free dining to all chefs.

Tell us about some of the work Premier Foods Foodservice has done in this area.

To make it simple for chefs, we have created naturally gluten free puddings with ranges such as the Angel Delight Mousse, McDougalls Jelly and Ambrosia Custard. We’ve also recently created an exciting new recipe book focusing on gluten free baking using McDougalls Cocoa Powder and we regularly share recipes for gluten free roasts with the new Bisto vegan gravy. We feel it’s important to inspire chefs and show them that creating naturally gluten free dishes doesn’t need to be time-consuming or challenging.

How easy is it to cater gluten free?

For an organised kitchen with good practises in place, it is straightforward to do. Staff training is vital, and chefs need to treat gluten in the same way as they would treat raw chicken. For example, gluten should be isolated to avoid contamination with other products. If I am making both gluten free and gluten containing cakes, I would make the gluten free ones first. I would also turn off the fan in the oven or cover the cake, so it was protected.

What is the best way to avoid contamination?

It is important that your kitchen has good cleaning practises and keeps everything separate but it is the detail that you must consider throughout your cooking process. So, if you are using butter, you should use a different one for gluten free baking to be confident it hasn’t been contaminated when a knife or spoon is put in.

In schools, I always recommend trying to have dishes that are suitable for everyone. For example, our desserts made with Angel Delight and McDougalls Jelly will always be popular options with children and are naturally gluten free. School caterers need to make sure they are well-trained in this area and always check the ingredients list to be 100% sure that it is safe. Chefs also need to be clear on the difference between ‘may contain’ and ‘suitable for’ as this can cause some confusion. If unsure, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Tell us about some recipes you have made that people can’t believe are gluten free.

I was delighted last year when Smash was accredited gluten free as I am well-known for using it to make gluten-free churros. One of the dishes I absolutely love to make are my savoury churros with pesto for a simple but delicious starter.

How as an industry do we get away from the stigma that gluten free tastes different?

I think gluten free has come a long way. There are some fantastic manufacturers and products out there, so I recommend speaking to your wholesaler if you need advice. These days, with many products that are gluten free, you simply can’t tell the difference between the gluten free and the classic version, which is fantastic as it means one product for all, saving chefs a lot of time.

Thinking about Premier Foods products, what menu would you serve up to a room full of people who are coeliac?

I would go for a tapas style starter which would include my savoury churros, meats, olives and pesto. Paella would be a great main course as it’s naturally gluten free and delicious when made using Bisto bouillon. I would make a chocolate and raspberry cake using Smash as one of my dessert options.

Another idea for a menu with a difference includes Indian spiced potato cakes for a starter. I have created several gluten free curries for Premier Foods including an amazing black lentil dahl and then an orange and almond cake with a cardamom custard for dessert. I think it’s important to offer a choice of starter, main course and dessert. 

What would you like to see happen as a result of Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week?

The key for events like this is to raise awareness across the industry, and for caterers to look at their offerings and make sure they are doing it well; please think beyond a jacket potato and brownie! My advice would be to revisit your gluten free offerings regularly – not only the offer but also the kitchen processes. You might have the best gluten free menu on offer but if good cleaning practises aren’t in place, you are at risk of contamination and this could make someone very poorly. Accreditation with Coeliac UK will help you to understand and implement good gluten free practice.

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