Could something as seemingly innocuous as a crouton make a guest at your next event ill?
It could if they are sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye (and many other grains), or if they have celiac disease, which is a serious autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten that can damage the small intestine.
After all, croutons are little more than tiny, tasty bread cubes — and conventional bread is full of gluten. Even though most people who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are extremely careful about what they eat, a crouton tossed into a salad can pose a hidden danger. (It’s important to know that gluten isn’t the only concern for people with celiac disease; they may also have trouble digesting alcohol, excessive sugar, dairy, and eggs.)
That said, hosting guests with gluten sensitivities or celiac doesn’t have to be stressful — It just takes some thought and planning. More and more chefs today are whipping up marvelous gluten-free meals, and most caterers are happy to help you create a delicious menu with options that meet the dietary needs of all of your guests.
We’ve put together some tips to help you and your caterer ensure everything served at your wedding, reunion, meeting, or party will be scrumptious and safe.
Talk with Your Caterer
Your first step to ask whether your caterer can provide gluten-free options for guests who prefer it. If your venue doesn’t have a specific gluten-free menu, is the chef willing to make some adjustments to accommodate guests with special dietary needs?
Remember, Gluten Can Be Sneaky
In addition to croutons and other more obvious sources like dinner rolls and sandwich bread, gluten can show up in sauces, salad dressings, soups, and even puddings, usually as a thickener. Arrowroot and corn starch are excellent substitutes that chefs are typically willing to use.
Here are a few more things to discuss with your caterer if you’re expecting guests with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.
· Soy sauce contains wheat and should be avoided. So do dumpling wrappers. And imitation crabmeat.
· Ask your caterer if it’s possible to use nut crumbs, coconut flakes, rice flour, and almond flour in place of more typical breading.
· What about desserts? Is it possible to bake a pie without wheat flour? Of course! Sweet rice flour makes a flaky, delectable crust.
· Serving fish may seem like a safe idea but remember: some chefs dust fish with flour before cooking. If you would like to include a fish option, grilled is probably better than baked.
Being mindful of ingredients is important, but there are additional steps your caterer can and should take if gluten is a concern for some of your guests.
One of the biggest issues is something a person without the illness might never consider: cross-contact on preparation and cooking surfaces. If a cutting board, grill, griddle, or deep fryer has been used for prepping or cooking a wheat product like pancakes or a breaded food like French fries or fried chicken, unless it’s cleaned thoroughly, it may harbor enough gluten to trigger a severe reaction. Talk with your caterer about the importance of preventing this.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind at your event:
· For events with both gluten-free and “regular” meals, using different colored plates will help distinguish one from another and make sure there’s no mix-up during serving.
· As a general rule, a sit-down meal with plated food is safer than a buffet. Although labeling buffet items can help guests make appropriate choices, serving utensils can get mixed up when many people are using them.
· Giving your caterer a seating chart that indicates where people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease will be is a great help to servers. Color-coded place cards are useful, too.
· Another possible (and unexpected) gluten source? The oil in the deep fryer. Most of the time, fryer oil is changed a couple of times a week. Ask your caterer if they’ll change the oil specifically to prepare gluten-free foods.
· And one more source you might not have thought of? Pastry chefs often dust baking pans with flour to prevent sticking. There are many gluten-free flours they can use instead, including almond, coconut, and rice flour.
Menus for All
Is it possible to plan a menu that will please everyone? Absolutely. It just requires a little creativity. For example, beef fajitas with corn tortillas are a tasty and safe choice. Add beans and rice on the side, and you’ve got a great Mexican-inspired meal.
Grilled salmon with grilled vegetables makes a satisfying lunch or dinner, too, as long as the grill was cleaned to prevent cross-contamination.
Prime rib with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables sound good? Just make sure the mashed potatoes aren’t from a mix that contains gluten.
Remember, your caterer can suggest ideas, too. Together, you’ll develop a menu that not only will satisfy the robust bread- and pasta-eaters on your guest list, but also those avoiding gluten.
Roger Igo is the founder and CEO of research resource, Venues in Houston, along with Houston catering service Excellent Events and special events venue, The Bell Tower on 34th. He is the author of “Keep On Going, The History of The Bell Tower on 34th,” a former radio host, a graduate of CEO Space International, and an alumnus of The Disney Institute.