The number of customers asking for gluten-free meals is on the up and up. We speak to two Chefs who are taking their needs seriously.
Customers requesting gluten-free dishes have“easily increased 200 per cent in the past few years,” says Chef and co-owner of Sydney’s popular Kepos Street Kitchen, Michael Rantissi.
As a Café owner, you have to take it seriously.
Diners, especially coeliacs, who can suffer acute physical symptoms if they consume gluten, will thank you for it. Coeliac Aleema Ash has eaten her fair share of poached eggs and orange poppyseed cake over the years. “They are often the only gluten-free things on the menu,” she says. However, hope springs eternal and Aleema can see things improving. “Ten years ago, the choice was terrible but now Sydney is doing much better.”
Aleema always researches menus before eating out, a common approach—and safety net—for coeliacs. “Customers who are coeliac are self-educated and can read a menu,” Michael says. “They know what they have to avoid.”
Two commonly held beliefs about gluten-free food are that ingredients are expensive and that it is not tasty.
Cost does become a factor in some gluten-free ingredients, says Andrew Franklin from Bayside Barista in Safety Bay, south of Perth. “When my wife Kalina and I opened the Café in 2017, a gluten-free burger bun cost $3.50 compared to 40 cents for a regular bun. But prices are coming down. We now get a great gluten-free bun for $2.10. Because we’re committed to serving good food that is also gluten free, there are some costs we have to absorb and we look for good margins on other menu items.”
Creating successful and tasty gluten-free dishes also has its challenges. “It was a massive learning curve,” Peta Croft, head Chef at Bayside Barista, says. “I had to change my whole way of thinking.”
When you’re training, you’re taught taste, flavour, taste, flavour. With gluten-free cooking, I had to think science first. What does gluten do in a cake recipe? It expands and holds the rise. How else can I do that?
Taste comes down to the Chef, Michael believes, saying that “a good Chef has the ability to create amazing flavours, whether they use gluten-free ingredients or not.”
As the menu at Kepos Street Kitchen is Middle Eastern, many dishes are gluten free by default. But they have since adapted other dishes to be gluten free. “We substituted wheat flour with chickpea flour in the batter for fritters and deep-fried zucchini flowers,” Michael shares. “It has a strong flavour and the texture can be dense, so you need to be careful.”
Michael also uses whipped eggs to lighten the batter. It is the same trick that Peta discovered when she was developing the Bayside Barista signature pop-over. “It’s an idea Andrew bought back from New York, that’s like a Yorkshire pudding crossed with choux pastry.” she says. “It took me three months to nail it.”
Both Michael and Peta agree that it is difficult to replicate gluten-free versions of the delicious things that rely on gluten for their essential taste and mouthfeel: bread, pastries, cakes, biscuits, pizza and pasta. Both Chefs buy in gluten-free bread, and Peta gets handmade pasta from The Gluten Free Lab in Perth.
With a 100 per cent gluten-free menu at Bayside Barista, Andrew’s motivation to serve gluten-free food is twofold—his nephew has coeliac disease and he has witnessed first-hand how difficult it is for people with the disease and their families to enjoy eating out. After having lived in the United States for more than 20 years, Andrew was aware of just how big the market for gluten-free options could be. “There are tons of gluten-free Cafés in New York,” he recalls. “I’m constantly surprised at how few there are here.”
Certain gluten-free flours have strong flavours. To balance these, use ingredients such as vanilla, ground spices, banana and dark chocolate.
Use extra eggs
Some gluten-free baking recipes benefit from adding an extra egg. The protein acts as a binder and also provides structure once baked.
Find the keepers
The quality of gluten-free flours can vary enormously between brands, including flavour, colour, aroma and texture. So find a brand you like for each flour and stick with it.