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Monday 28 December 2015

Chefs feel the pain as diners go gluten free

Scotland’s top chefs are being run ragged by the “ridiculous” number of diners following gluten-free and other restrictive diets.

Gluten, a mixture of proteins found in wheat and grains, causes severe discomfort to those suffering with coeliac disease, which is thought to affect 50,000 Scots.

Chefs have no beef with those following a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, but they are seeing an increasing number who are cutting out gluten — as well as those who cut out dairy products, sugar and wheat — because they believe it makies them healthier.

Celebrities from Novak Djokovic, the tennis player, to actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Rachel Weisz and Ryan Gosling — and even Bill Clinton — have extolled the benefits of going gluten free, claiming that they now have more energy.

Mark Greenaway, chef patron at Restaurant Mark Greenaway in Edinburgh, which holds three AA rosettes for culinary excellence, has seen a “daily” influx of customers asking him to change his menus to suit their diets. 

“It’s getting to the point where it is becoming ridiculous,” he said. “Diners with intolerances don’t come in monthly — it is daily. 

“If a diner books weeks in advance then only tells me at 8pm on a Saturday night that they are gluten free, that isn’t overly helpful. 

“It means I’ve got to run around the kitchen at the busiest time, write a menu and pair it with wine, then give it to my sommelier, who has to go down to the cellar. It isn’t a problem if they let us know in advance, but it is frustrating when they don’t.”

He said: “Over the past 12 months we have had a customer who could not eat anything green, one with a dairy allergy but who could eat ice cream, and someone with an allergy to raw chives. 

“We have absolutely no issue with catering for real allergies. It is the allergies that aren’t real that we have an issue with. 

“We had a wedding party in recently with 40 different intolerances. They were happy and the food was great, but did they experience my food and the way I like to cook it? Not really.” 

Edinburgh’s Castle Terrace, which until September held a Michelin star, has also noted an influx of intolerant diners flow through its doors in recent months. 

Dominic Jack, the chef patron and a graduate of the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at the Gleneagles Hotel, describes the gluten-free diet as the biggest “challenge” to enter his kitchen in 2015. 

“This past year, dietary restrictions have been massive at Castle Terrace,” he said. “Even a lot of our regular guests have turned dairy free or gluten free. 

“The world is changing and people are becoming more aware of what they are eating, but it is becoming a challenge in the kitchen.”

It is a similar situation at The Kitchin, owned by Tom Kitchin, who co-owns the gastropub The Scran and Scallie with Mr Jack. This has prompted Mr Kitchin to describe the extra pressure on chefs to deliver as brutal. 

“Sometimes we have a giggle to ourselves and ask, ‘where did all these people come from?’” he said. 

“We understand that dietary restrictions can be an issue, but sometimes we look at our check board during a busy service and there is highlighter pen on so many checks pointing out what people cannot eat.

“It can be brutal for chefs.”
Meanwhile, health experts have warned that there are risks in giving up wheat and other grains without a medical reason. 

The fad for such diets has boomed nevertheless. A gluten-free Christmas food fair was held at Bath racecourse and Norwich’s first gluten-free cafe will join others in Glasgow, Manchester, Brighton, London and Bristol.

A recent survey of publicans found that two thirds felt that it was now essential to offer customers the option of gluten free or similar diets in order to retain the business. 

Four gluten-free recipe books are due to be released in January by one publishing house alone.

In addition, an independent Scottish beer maker, Brew-Dog of Fraserburgh, launched a gluten-free ale made from malter barley (and Scottish water) earlier this year.



The Happy Whisk said...

Brutal on the chefs. Boo-hoo. That's life. Deal with it or get out of the kitchen.

It doesn't matter if it's an allergy, digestive sickness, or someone just wanting to change their diet. That's the way food as always been and will continue to trend.


Lori Miller said...

I can see their point: they sterilize plates, knives and cutting boards and make a special dish for someone who is "gluten-free," only (in some cases) to see the same person drinking a regular beer or eating pasta. Or asking why their very special order with no butter, no onions and no salt is taking so long. And it's annoying waiting behind people making complicated orders ("half-caf decaf, low-fat whip cream, half a squirt of caramel syrup, and a sprinkle of nutmeg," plus three more such orders, all on separate checks, and all while I'm waiting to order a black coffee and go back to work).

Martha said...

I think restaurants are there to serve the public, and having to meet certain expectations or demands is par for the course.

Galina L. said...

Most restaurant kitchens are very stressful places to work for a small pay. I guess dealing with multiple food tolerances could be too hard for already overworked people.

Passthecream said...

The common method of making gluten free foods seems to be just to add more starch. ie the part of grain based ingredients which is not gluten. That might be more injurious to good health rather than less.


Larcana said...

I have to agree with both of you. Being an actual Celiac Disease patient and a doctor, it has been a real challenge these past 35 years of my life. Now, I can go to a restaurant and order "gluten free" which I find suspect and usually just order as before.
I am also, tired of hearing how poorly my diet does me because I do not eat grains...
Yes, there are food fads. There are also a lot of newly diagnosed people that without a support group do not actually eat gluten free all the time. There has been an increase in diagnosis, probably multifactorial but it is there none the less.

chris c said...

I wonder if they complain that much about vegetarians, or just put vegetarian/vegan options on the menu. Of course giving up meat (or fat) is seen as "healthy" while avoiding grains is seen as dangerous:-

"Meanwhile, health experts have warned that there are risks in giving up wheat and other grains without a medical reason."

Yeah, to profits but not to health. Wheat does a number on my BG, I suspect not the gluten but the wheat germ agglutinin, though I have noticed giving it up completely has improved my health, and the last time I ate much was followed by a Billy Connolly moment ("Never trust a fart!")

Linda said...

Gluten-free should be a breeze for a trained chef. Meat, potatoes, rice, vegetables, and fruit are naturally gluten-free.

Galina L. said...

Linda, of course, cooking a gluten free food is not a problem, combining gluten-free and regular food preparations is. It is not a reason to ignore such public demand, but I can understand how and why it stresses out chefs.
I don't eat wheat and going to a restaurant is not a problem for me, but for a celiac person one crumb is damaging.