Teaching Student Chefs the Importance of Gluten-Free Training

December 5, 2011 at 11:36 am 4 comments

Twice a year, I have the fortunate honor to be invited to a ‘Gluten-Free Baking Lab’ held at the Lincoln Southeast Community College Food Service/Hospitality program in Lincoln, NE. The students bake items from CIA instructor Chef Richard Coppedge’s cookbook, Gluten-Free Baking, and learn about the needs of those on a gluten-free diet.  The process starts by thoroughly cleaning the kitchen, equipment, and utensils; blending the flours (Chef Coppedge provides five different blends); pairing up; and selecting recipes from the cookbook. The baking begins. Then I arrive for the tasting and a Q & A with the students.

Gluten-free buffet

Check out the spread!

You might think it is pretty bold of me to assume that what’s being served on the plates is really safe and totally gluten-free. Well, you’d be right – if I didn’t know the lead instructor, Certified Executive Chef Brandon Harpster, is GREAT trained. In fact, six of the instructors on the foodservice staff at LSCC completed GREAT Kitchens training back in 2008.  So, I feel pretty confident in the guidance and instruction received by these young chefs.

As I arrive for the tasting, the proud students parade into the classroom with their masterpieces. I snap their pictures, and they gently place them on the table. I get a bit choked up every time I attend these labs. When I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago, I could never have imagined culinary students being exposed to gluten-free baking and embracing the challenge and opportunity. I really believe that 5-10 years from now, all culinary students will have a standard class on allergen-free baking and cooking. It will be commonplace. This generation has grown up with allergies or celiac disease; they have friends or family members who have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or allergies. Yes, there really is hope and promise in the foodservice industry. We are seeing big strides every day. It was thrilling to hear the students talk about working in restaurants that have gluten-free options, such as a successful local pizza chain and others in well-respected establishments with skilled chefs who “get gluten-free.”

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

The sampling included Strawberry Bread, Chocolate (Red) Velvet Cake minus the red food coloring, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Brownies, Cinnabon-ish Cinnamon Rolls, Angel Food Cake, Peanut Butter Cookies, and Zucchini Pumpkin Bread. While they munched, I shared a brief description of my NFCA position, celiac disease history, and current marketplace trends. I really wanted to make sure we had time for questions because I was curious about aspiring culinary students want to know. They had some GREAT questions. Here are a few with my responses.

Student Question: Besides the obvious sources of gluten, what else do chefs need to be concerned about when preparing gluten-free meals?

Beckee’s Answer: Gluten can be hidden in unlikely places. I once learned the hard way that flour can be added to refried beans to thicken them. Gluten can be hidden in sauces, marinades, flavorings and many processed foods. Reading labels is very important, but so is knowing that gluten can be found in soup bases, soy sauce, stabilizers and thickeners.

If you work in a scratch kitchen and know your ingredients and sources, that’s only part of the answer to knowing safe gluten-free preparation. The most important skill to learn is how to prepare gluten-free foods safely because cross contamination is a huge concern to your customers. Picking up a bread knife and cutting a baked potato can turn a perfectly gluten-free option into something that can harm someone on a medically restricted gluten-free diet.  Your customers must feel confident in your expertise to serve safe options. Educating yourselves by taking GREAT Kitchens training will provide that trust and give you another tool in your culinary skills when you start hunting for jobs.

Gluten-Free Zucchini Pumpkin Bread

Gluten-Free Zucchini Pumpkin Bread - Delicious!

Student Question: What is the potential for increased sales for restaurants that “go gluten-free”?

Beckee’s Answer: One in 133 people has celiac disease, and 1 in 18 has gluten intolerance. They are the members of the party that will be making the reservations. Most diners don’t dine alone; they bring friends and family with them. If they order dishes to share, they’ll make them gluten-free. They’re loyal to those restaurants that can safely serve gluten-free and will look for the GREAT seal of approval like the GREAT Kitchens decal, logo, or a reference on their menu telling guests that training is in place. People needing gluten-free options will only increase over the next 5 years due to more awareness and diagnoses.  Advertising gluten-free options can be a differentiator in the restaurant business.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Cake

What's a celebration without some gluten-free cake?

Student Question: If you have a reaction or get sick, do you call the restaurant and let them know?

Beckee’s Answer: Excellent question. Honestly, in the past, I wasn’t consistent about doing so. I’d just take it off my list of dining options and tell my gluten-free pals to beware. However, when I started working with chefs and training restaurants, I asked if they wanted to know. Unanimously, the answer was “Yes.” How can you fix the problem if you’re not aware of it? Now, I always contact the establishment, and I encourage others to do so. I can remember talking with a general manager for a restaurant who had a gluten-free menu but no staff training. He told me they “just didn’t get many people asking for gluten-free.” Hmmm, wonder why?

The last thought that I left the class with was this: When you go out to eat or dine, what are you thinking about after you’ve order your meal? Are you thinking about your gorgeous date? The hilarious joke someone told at the table? Maybe you’re anticipating the fabulous food that will be served soon. Sometimes, people with celiac disease are solely focused on what’s happening in the kitchen. Will they make a fresh salad instead of just picking off the croutons? Will the cooks clean the grill before charring the steak? Does the restaurant really have a dedicated fryer? Through GREAT gluten-free education, all the guests at the table can enjoy the ambience, company, and great food you set before them.

Bon Appetite!

– Beckee

Learn more about gluten-free training through GREAT Kitchens at www.CeliacLearning.com/kitchens.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erika @ Gluten Free Diet Guide  |  December 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I think this is so wonderful -chefs learning about gluten free practices from the start! And not just that a restaurant has “gluten free options”, but there’s a standardized training that lets you know what they are learning about. Tremendous!

    Reply
  • […]  In December 2011, I was in a Culinary Nutrition class at SCC that invited Beckee  to speak. Her visit to SCC turned out to be the GREATest opportunity that a gal in my situation could have asked for! I stayed […]

    Reply
  • 3. Masters of Gluten-Free  |  April 19, 2012 at 12:12 am

    It’s wonderful that chefs are learning about gluten-free needs and the importance of how to prepare and keep foods gluten free. However, food has to look appealing. We eat with our eyes first. Just because a food is gluten-free does not mean that it should look the way these items look. When we bake, no one can tell that our gluten-free baked goods are gluten-free.

    Reply
    • 4. Cheryl  |  April 19, 2012 at 9:11 am

      Agreed! If you’ve ever seen our pictures from Appetite for Awareness, it’s clear that gluten-free restaurant food really can be beautiful and delicious.

      Reply

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