Foodservice directors today have learned a lot about gluten-free cooking over the years, and it shows.
Today’s gluten-free signature dishes are more varied and flavorful than those of the early days, when consumer awareness of celiac disease skyrocketed. Inspired by trendy global flavors and drawing on local foods, gluten-free dishes today are also more likely to appeal to a broad audience, not just those who have medical issues.
Zesty ethnic specialties that are free from gluten are among the most popular menu offerings at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont. Students choose gluten-free food as much for enjoyment as for health reasons, reports Benjamin Newcomb, general manager of the Metz Culinary Management foodservice account at Marlboro.
“We have a lot of success with foods from around the world that don’t include dairy or gluten at all, such as Indian, African and Mediterranean,” says Newcomb.
Students particularly enjoy West African peanut soup, made with vegetable broth flavored with peanut butter, tomato paste, ginger, shredded kale or collard greens and a good lacing of Sriracha. “It’s comfort in a bowl,” Newcomb says.
Easy Chana Dal, another crowd pleaser, is an Indian stew of spiced, split chickpeas. “Stews are really becoming popular and trendy,” Newcomb notes. In addition to nixing gluten, it has no dairy, egg, corn, soy, yeast, nuts or grains, suiting it to a number of “free from” eating styles.
Flavorful gluten-free cooking fits the commitment to fresh, local, scratch-made food of New Milford Hospital, reports Kerry Gold, dining service director of the Unidine Corporation foodservice department there. The café of the 80-bed hospital has been recognized for its Plow to Plate partnership with local farms and draws many patrons from the local community.
“We’re a fresh-food company, so we know where our food comes from and we control everything we cook,” says Gold. Thus soups are made with chicken and vegetable stocks made in house. Salads are built with fresh vegetables and gluten-free staples such as quinoa, brown rice and lentils. One of the surprising gluten-free signatures is chickpea chocolate cake.
An example of a chef-driven plate without gluten that draws praise from hospital café patrons—and not just those with celiac disease—is pork osso buco with creamy polenta and lemon gremolata.
At Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Penn., John Hopewell, executive chef of the Metz Culinary Management foodservice, has studied gluten-free products and found some suitable substitutions for wheat products. For example, he bakes cookies and cakes with gluten-free all-purpose flour. Potato-chip chicken, a crispy campus favorite, is made simply by baking chicken breasts in a coating of light mayonnaise and crushed, seasoned potato chips rather than breadcrumbs.
“People are using the gluten-free items as healthy or dietetic options, even if they’re not celiac,” says Hopewell. “But we’re prepared to serve anybody across the board. We cater to all diets.”
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