“I never thought I’d be asked the question, are you gluten-free by choice or medical reasons?” said Jennifer Harris, an Atlanta gluten-free product and industry consultant. “I would never understand why someone would do it by choice but the diet has changed since I was diagnosed in 1997.”
Diners often don’t see the importance of a restaurant’s gluten-free practices, except for a mere “GF” symbol on menus. Harris created a consulting company, the “Gluten-Free Go-To Guide”, and it has been the guiding hand to many restaurants as they expand their gluten-free options. The business recently developed an online presence to show the strides that have been made in the gluten-free community. Here, Harris talks about what that involves.
“The gluten-free community is small, but we have a loud voice. Word spreads like wildfire.”
What does “gluten-free consulting” with a restaurant involve?
It varies- whether it is just giving the perspective of what the gluten-free diner is looking for on a menu, writing content for their menus, consulting on gluten-free product orders or walking around the kitchen. I work with restaurants to give recipe modifications and make sure they are adhering to safe practices. I want to support the restaurants that are accommodating gluten-free diners.
What are some of the safe practices that restaurants have become aware of?
Restaurants have learned to have both gluten-free ingredients and safe handling practices. Yes, you can make gluten-free French fries, but they need to be prepared in a separate, designated fryer. Prep cooks are learning to change gloves when a gluten-free order comes in. Restaurants are realizing they should put something in the order system that pops up to say ‘allergy’, that way when the kitchen is in the heat of the moment, they can pause and follow these practices.
Were there any gluten-free “hacks” that you were able to share with restaurants?
My first chef was Shaun Doty, and he was amazed that you could make meatloaf gluten-free by using instant mashed potato flakes. They are moister compared to gluten-free bread crumbs, and now that ingredient has been incorporated into other dishes like their black bean burgers.
What do gluten-free diners need to be aware of at restaurants?
Never assume that something is gluten-free. Restaurants sometimes have shortcuts to finish a dish that can result in adding an ingredient with gluten. Many diners would never expect chili to contain gluten, but I consulted with one restaurant that used to include soy sauce in their chili. Restaurants have learned to accommodate gluten-free diners and they have realized it is a good move for both cost and quality.
The Gluten-Free Go To Guide includes a list of gluten free bakeries, caterers and restaurants in Atlanta.