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Are Restaurants More Gluten-Free Friendly in 2012?

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PBS shines a light on latest food trends in 2012 thus far. We set out to see what is new in the culinary world and what the near future looks like for foodies, so we spoke with esteemed chefs and culinary professionals across the country to get their insight on this phenomenon.

Whether by choice or health necessity, more Americans than ever are eating gluten-free diets today, and the culinary world is responding.

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By Alex Fishler

Gluten-free diets are becoming more prevalent in the U.S, and restaurant chefs are increasingly tasked with how to provide gluten-free options for their customers.

Signified by the absence of gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, gluten-free diets have become popular in the U.S. due to the supposed health benefits.

People with Celiac Disease (a disorder causing an intolerance to gluten) are not the only ones steering clear of gluten at restaurants said Chef Pascal Chureau.

“At [my restaurants] Allium and Brasserie Montmartre, many customers are concerned about gluten, and even grain altogether,” said Chureau.

The Portland-based chef said that many of his dishes are gluten-free which is important to him since so many diners are gluten-free.

“At both restaurants, many dishes are already naturally gluten- free; however we are diligent about educating our staff about the ingredients in light of these concerns,” said Chureau.

When making changed to the menu, Chureau said he always keeps in mind the notion of different specialty diets.

“We are mindful when creating a new dish, [we want] one that caters to a broader audience without alienating those with health concerns,” said Chureau.

It is not always easy to accommodate gluten-free diners in a restaurant, though, said Chef Bryce Gilmore.

“We certainly try to accommodate those who can’t eat gluten but sometimes it’s difficult. Our kitchen is pretty small and open, so there is no real way to prevent cross contamination,” said Gilmore, chef and owner of Barley Swine in Austin, Texas.

Sometimes the best option to be safe is to offer the customer something that is naturally gluten-free, said Gilmore. “My staff and I will usually try to suggest something that is already gluten-free by nature as oppose to trying to remove the gluten protein from a dish that we’ve already composed,” he said.

Gluten-free diets are also impacting the culinary world by diversifying the amount of options available for gluten-free diners.

Chef Joe Cicala said that the biological effects of Celiac Disease have led to noteworthy changes in international cuisine.

“Ironically, [Celiac Disease] is a disease commonly found in European DNA. So, with that we are finding a better production of gluten-free pastas being made in Italy and shipped to the U.S.,” said Cicala, who is based in Philadelphia.

These gluten-free pastas have even found their way onto Cicala’s menu. “Given 24 hours’ notice we can even make a fresh gluten-free pasta using chickpea and corn flours at [my restaurant,] Le Virtù,” he said.

New available options and a demand for gluten-free products internationally are factors that contribute to this trend’s development in 2012.

Chefs Featured in This Article

Pascal ChureauChef Pascal Chureau is the chef and owner of Brasserie Montmartre in Portland, Oregon. He won the 2011 Best Risotto Award at the North Meets South Jubilee. Bryce GilmoreChef Bryce Gilmore is the chef and owner of Barley Swine in Austin, Texas. He was nominated for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef.
Joe CicalaChef Joe Cicala is the executive chef at Le Virtù in Philadelphia. He was nominated for 2012 James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year.