Goodbye Gluten

With the number of celiac disease cases rising, operators are working hard to create menu items that satisfy.

Foodservice is all about providing better service to all customers, which for many operators includes those with special dietary needs such as sufferers of celiac disease.

For example, two requests for gluten-free meals served as the impetus for a now eight-year-old program serving 100 students at the University of Connecticut, in Storrs.

The interest in gluten free actually began when the wife of Rob Landolphi, UConn’s culinary operations manager, was diagnosed with celiac disease. Landolphi, who would later author The Gluten Free Chef and Gluten Free Everyday Cookbook, worked with Di-
rector of Dining Dennis Pierce to incorporate gluten-free items into the university’s dining program.

“Dennis was very proactive and gave us the green light,” Landolphi says. “We looked at our recipe bank and began changing ingredients. We changed the bases we use and we’re still changing and adding new options. We have 6,800 recipes, of which 20% are gluten free. All outlets must have at least one gluten-free entrée. Usually, there are two or three options and students always have gluten-free pizza, pastas and breads.”

The food court displays fliers that tout the gluten-free choices, and the program also is offered in cafés, coffee shops and catered events.

Celiac disease has become so prominent that whether a university offers gluten-free foods can be a deciding factor in whether a student picks the university, says Denise Beale, assistant director of dining. “Parents often call us before a choice is made to see what we offer.”

The university works closely with celiac students, meeting with them when they are initially diagnosed, with a team that includes Beale, a registered dietitian, the manager of his/her residential facility and the production manager of his/her dining hall. “We ask the students what they like to eat at home and try to tailor their plan to that,” Beale says. “Often they’re shy at first, but they have to speak up. All our gluten-free items are labeled. We have to address the need.”

“We did a lot of research between 2003 and 2006, which was the hardest part,” Landolphi adds. “Today, our distributors come in and tell us about new gluten-free foods.”

The biggest challenge, Beale notes, is usually educating staff about cross-contamination.

Dedicated space: Brian Seto, chef at Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore., was able to offer gluten-free choices when a multimillion dollar redesign of his main production facility last year enabled him to create a gluten-free room service menu.

“We’d seen a patient need [for gluten-free options],” he says. “We’re pretty much a from-scratch kitchen and we were able, with the new production facility, to dedicate a separate oven for gluten-free dishes. We normally serve about 1,000 meals a day and now, gluten free accounts for about 8% of that.”

Gluten-free room service options include French toast made with tapioca bread, steak chimichurra, chicken tacos made with rice flour tortillas, Asian salmon with star anise and Oregon cod with lemon vinaigrette. “Our signature dessert,” Seto says, “is a flourless chocolate cake.”

FoodService Director - menu strategies - healthy - gluten freeThe feedback has been positive, and Seto hopes to add gluten-free choices to the cafeteria menu this year. “We now have gluten-free bread there, but we hope to take this service to retail. There are some mechanics to be worked out. Our logistical problem is to find a way to isolate the [gluten-free] product safely.

“We hope to take some of the items that have been successful on the room service menu to the retail side,” he adds.

Local partnership: Like Seto, Jim McGrody, director of food and nutrition at Raleigh, N.C.-based Rex Health Care, part of the University of North Carolina Health System, wanted to reach out to people with gluten sensitivity and food allergies. When the hospital admitted a patient with a severe gluten problem, the department teamed up with Rosie’s Plate, a local restaurant that features a gluten-free kitchen.

“Rosie’s does everything in a kitchen that’s gluten, peanut and shellfish-free,” McGrody says. “[The partnership has turned into] a great sell in our retail area and Rosie’s also does a patient menu for gluten-free diets for us. We’ve been working together for more than six months and our patients say they feel safe knowing we’re working with Rosie’s. Our kitchens—we have a 440-bed hospital and two long-term care facilities—are way too big with too much going on to ensure a totally gluten-free product. The smart solution was to work with experts in the field. Now, we’ve increased sales, and a local celiac group has asked to have their monthly meetings with us.”

Jill Hanscom, R.D., director of patient services at the 620-bed Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., began to see more celiac patients being diagnosed with a resulting increase in the demand for gluten-free foods.

She found a vendor offering gluten-free foods, and now serves a variety of items, such as split pea, vegetable and cream of mushroom soups. “It’s been great,” Hanscom says. “We also have stuffed shells, lasagna and manicotti.” Entrées include roast turkey, roast chicken and pot roast with sides and a tilapia filet.

Becky Domokos-Bays, R.D., director of food and nutrition services for Alexandria City (Va.) Public Schools, works with parents of students who have celiac disease to find out what their children like that is gluten free.

“We don’t prepare any of those foods from scratch,” says Domokos-Bays. Menu items include chicken fajitas with rice, hamburgers with corn tortilla chips, an unbreaded chicken fillet with rice, and turkey hot dogs.


Hunting for Health

Operators are still searching for innovative ways to incorporate lighter fare into menus.

FoodService Director - menu strategies - healthy - gluten freeHealthy choices rank high on the list of what today’s customers want, and foodservice directors are coming up with many ways to provide them. For example, Kathy Grover, director of nutrition services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, discovered during a kitchen remodeling that switching the preparation of traditionally fried foods from fryers to Combi Ovens made for crispy, healthier results. Every day at the hospital, there’s a Healthy Choice station with items such as grilled sirloin with baked potato and broccoli, catfish coriander vinaigrette with cauliflower, and turkey cutlets with tomato sauce. This year, the hospital banned sugared beverages.

A live monthly cooking demonstration takes place at Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital with presentations that link food to health, says Mark Galvin, director of nutrition and food services. “We call it Culinary Preventions. We typically take a Southern favorite like fried green tomatoes or Hoppin’ John, and show the staff how to lighten the recipe in terms of calories, fat and sodium. The tomatoes, for example, are no longer immersed in oil.”

Christine Rankin, director of foodservices at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Mo., says they try to have fresh whole and cut fruit and offer two salad bars with tofu, seeds, grains and edamame.

“We have a Healthy Choice serving line with two options always and we have a lot of lower fat recipes,” Rankin says. “A year ago we began giving customers who choose the Healthy Choice option a 25% discount.”

Jim McGrody, director of food and nutrition at Rex Health Care in Raleigh, N.C., says his operations have an extensive heart-healthy menu that serve dishes such as Asian lettuce wraps with teriyaki chicken, tilapia en papillote with fresh oregano, capers, lemons and wine. McGrody even transformed a popular banana pudding into a healthy option by reducing the fat to only 2.5 grams.

“We have more than 12 ‘reworked’ entrées, that were typically  high in fat and calories, and we’ve made them heart healthy,” McGrody says.

At Oklahoma City University, the dining services department opened a raw vegan food station last fall. “We’ve also introduced a raw juice station with a special daily flavor mix,” says Director of Operations Kelli Keegan. “We love the food at the raw vegan station because it retains more of its nutritional value than other cooking methods. What I love best is when you put this food on the plate, it’s so vibrant and colorful and the flavors burst in your mouth.”

The demographics of the school, with its large number of performing arts students, vegetarians and vegans, led Keegan to do surveys and come up with the idea for the station. “Every day we do a raw vegan entrée, such as a pasta made from zucchini, squash and other vegetables cut with a spiral slicer.”

The school typically serves 800 meals a day, among them 250 to 300 are raw vegan.


Eager to Share

Bon Appétit chef created recipe so everyone could enjoy a treat.

FoodService Director - menu strategies - healthy - gluten freeAt Bon Appétit Management Co., Jim Dodge, director of special culinary programs, found his consciousness of gluten sensitivity raised when he became aware of fellow workers who were unable to enjoy the many baked items he’d bring in to share.

“One of the greatest enjoyments of being a chef is watching the broad smile of excitement and anticipation when someone is just about to bite into a favorite food. The look of disappointment on the faces of my coworkers who had to politely pass up my offerings pulled at my heartstrings and inspired me to create this brownie recipe.

FoodService Director - menu strategies - healthy - gluten freeWhat is wonderful about this recipe for gluten-free brownies is that it works so well with a one-to-one substitution of all-purpose flour to gluten-free flour. Normally, you would have to add a binding agent such as xantham gum when using gluten-free flours, but the high egg content does the trick and makes for a rich, chocolatey brownie. The brownie delivers an especially intense flavor because it uses both chocolate and cocoa.

My greatest pleasure in being able to share these brownies is knowing they are gluten free, which takes away that fear element. Sometimes people with gluten sensitivity will have such a passion for chocolate that they’ll decide to take a chance and eat a brownie and become very ill.”

Yield: 24

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
12 oz. unsalted butter
1 lb. Cordillera chocolate
10 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 cups walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)

  1. Grease ½ sheet pan and line with parchment paper. Preheat convection oven to 325°F.
  2. In medium bowl, blend together flour and cocoa powder until evenly blended. Set aside until needed.
  3. Cut butter into small chunks and add to heavy-bottom saucepan. Add chocolate wafers to top and melt over low heat, stirring occasionally until 75% melted. Remove from heat and stir until completely melted. Set aside until needed.
  4. Whip eggs and sugar until lemon yellow. Add vanilla, melted chocolate and butter. Fold in flour and cocoa. Fold in nuts, if desired.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 mins. or until top center has risen slightly and developed a thick crust. The top center has risen when it feels like a cheesecake. Cool in pan on a rack.
  6. Loosen edges with small metal spatula. Cover and refrigerate about 4 hours or until firm. Cut into bars and store in refrigerator in covered container. Brownies can be frozen if wrapped and tightly sealed.



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