Although only about one percent of the worldwide population has been diagnosed with celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten causes damage to the small intestine), a significant number of Americans—as many as one in five, according to Gallup—shun gluten by choice. Fortunately, restaurants considering more gluten-free offerings for their menus have more options, as evidenced by a proliferation of exhibitors at the recent National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.
Whether it’s an entire menu dedicated to gluten-free or items clearly marked with a “GF” symbol, operators are recognizing and filling the need for this new category.
"We are extremely aware of our guests' dietary preferences and allergies,” says executive chef Cesar Vega of Sushisamba, Miami Beach. “After seeing a large influx of guests with restrictions, we created three different custom menus, including one for our gluten-conscious diners. Ensuring that they have a memorable dining experience with the same quality of options that we offer on our signature menu has been a priority."
“We have a lot of requests for gluten-free dishes and I wanted to make sure that while we could accommodate this allergy, that these options followed the same philosophy of the rest of the dishes on the menu,” says pastry chef Marqessa Gesualdi at Philadelphia-based Sbraga Dining. “It's very possible to do food gluten free, you just have to have the knowledge, creativity and determination to make it happen." Sbraga Dining offers several gluten-free desserts, including a salted caramel Bavarian with red wine poached apples and a flourless chocolate cake with golden beet ice cream.
At Marigold Maison in Phoenix and Chicago, executive chef Sunil Kumar’s use of chickpeas helps him align with the gluten free trend. “We use the whole chickpea at Marigold Maison because of its amazing texture, and we use chickpea flour to enhance the flavor while thickening the dish,” says Kumar. “In our Chickpea Ceviche, the chickpeas provide a creamy texture and stand up to the acidity of the dish. We also make a Chickpea Curry with chickpea flour, tamarind and mango powder that brings out some incredible, tangy flavors. I enjoy using chickpeas because they are very versatile and they have a neutral flavor that allows us to pair them with many different spices and sauces.”
Many restaurants are already serving dishes that are naturally gluten free, making it easy for operators to invite celiac sufferers in for a worry-free dining experience. Austin’s PhoNatic offers Vietnamese classics such as pho and build-your-own vermicelli as well as rice and salad bowls. Both the pho noodles and vermicelli are made of rice and are naturally gluten free. Several of the classic Vietnamese dishes served at PhoNatic are already made with gluten-free ingredients, which results in a wide variety of menu options for those with gluten intolerance.
The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building in Chicago offers more than 20 gluten-free menu options on its menu, all marked with a small “GF” symbol. Some of the gluten-free items include Ahi tuna tartare, sweet potato gnocchi, seared sea scallops and truffle cheese ravioli.
At Oceana in midtown Manhattan, chef Ben Pollinger serves a gluten-free General Tsao’s Lobster with gluten-free soy sauce, spicy sweet and sour, scallions, cashews and forbidden rice. Another favorite is the Taro Wrapped Dorade, served with baby bok choy, long beans, peanuts and coconut cilantro curry.