Tips for Executive Chefs

Any large university’s dining services program is complex and complicated, and needs to be organized and highly structured to meet the needs of the masses it feeds. It goes without saying that part of its responsibility is to know, understand and then fulfill the dietary requirements of all students, including those with allergies or dietary restrictions.

Most colleges and universities now offer vegan and vegetarian options for students who voluntarily opt to follow this diet or lifestyle, due to personal choice or to follow a set of beliefs. Now, however, there is a rapidly increasing number of students arriving on campuses across the country who require a gluten-free diet, not because of personal choice, but out of a pure necessity to maintain their health and perhaps to save their lives. For those with celiac disease, the only cure for their symptoms is a life-long and strict adherence to a gluten-free diet.

By default, a major part of the responsibility for their well-being often falls upon the shoulders of the university’s executive chefs. While this may seem daunting, or even scary, there are some easy steps that can be taken to ensure that safe and nutritious, as well as palatable options are made available to any student with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

A chef should begin by looking at the pre-existing menus, and compiling a list of all the gluten- free options that are already in place in the school’s database or inventory lists. Certifying the absolute safety and gluten-free status of each item typically requires contacting individual manufacturers and having them confirm which products are safe and which should be avoided.

The next step is to determine which recipes can most easily be converted to a gluten-free status by changing just a few of the ingredients. Some of these easy solutions involve changes to the ingredients listed below:

  • Switch to gluten-free versions of broths and stocks such as chicken, beef, vegetable, etc. This will allow you to create soups such as Chicken and Rice, French Onion, and Beef and Vegetable soups that are always gluten-free. It will also assist you in making gluten-free sauces or gravies for chicken, pork, fish or beef items.
  • Change the soy sauces and stir fry sauces over to gluten-free brands, thereby expanding the safe offerings of marinades, stir fries, and wok station items.
  • Choose gluten-free pastas made from brown rice, quinoa, white rice or corn. They can be served with numerous toppings such as marinara, meat sauce, as macaroni and cheese, and even with an Alfredo sauce made without flour. They become full entrees when included in Pad Thai, Beef Stroganoff or Shrimp Scampi recipes, etc.
  • If your dining halls offer a salad bar, or hand tossed salads to order, convert all your salad dressings to known gluten-free brands. Season, bake, and cut Udi’s Gluten Free Bagels to make an awesome crouton, and keep all wheat based croutons in a separate container, on the side.
  • Have Udi’s breads, bagels, hamburger rolls, and pizza crusts, packed in a refrigerator or freezer and made available to students on a daily basis. Make sure there is a separate, designated “gluten-free only” toaster that is kept in a secure place and only made available to your gluten-free students.
  • Check all your deli meats (e.g., turkey, roast beef, ham, salami, etc.) to make sure they are not packed in a broth or made with a filler that contains wheat or gluten. Double check by contacting the manufacturer periodically, as products can change without notice.
  • Instead of baking desserts in your bakery on campus, (which will most definitely lead to cross-contamination), bring in pre-packaged brownies, cookies, donuts and muffins for your students. This will ensure they are safe.
  • If there are food stations in your dining facilities, use plenty of clear labeling that allows students or customers to navigate their way throughout the facility. These labels could include a “GF” for gluten- free options, or an allergen label that states that a dish does indeed contain wheat or gluten.
  • Make sure that proper kitchen procedures are in place with regard to preparing gluten-free entrées, ensuring the safety and integrity of the dishes. This includes having assigned stations for preparing gluten-free items, and training staff on proper cleaning and sanitation of all utensils used to prepare those dishes.
  • Staff should be aware and reminded often of the need to change gloves and to work smartly and safely, avoiding cross-contamination at all costs. Education of the entire kitchen, managerial and wait staff are always key to a successful, gluten-free dining experience.