Chefs across the country are re-engineering their menus for one reason: to keep up with diner demands. Your customers are driving change and influencing menus like never before. And the dietary preference currently continuing to lead the charge.
Gluten-free has some extra challenges in that it is both the on-trend diet of choice, and a requirement of those with specific health conditions. Because of this, every restaurant, pub, club and Cafe kitchen is now on the front foot and taking a fresh approach to cooking. Chefs are pulling out all stops to create a modern and creative menu, full of previously unthinkable delicious dietary-conscious innovations.
While hot Chefs such as Shannon Martinez, at Smith & Daughters in Melbourne, have themed their menus around plant-based diets, there is also a fully focussed GF option across most of their menu items. That includes everything from a shredded Caesar Salad to a Beef Ragu.
In response to diner preferences, Brisbane’s first “dietary-focused” modern Indian restaurant, It’s Mirchi, has a range of GF naan as well as innovative meals which are MSG free with certified organic, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, sugar-free, dairy-free, nut-free and low-carb choices.
Going a step further, Chu The Phat in Brisbane has a separate, totally gluten-free menu which includes surprising items such as mung bean pancake with kimchi caramel and soy pickled onions. Once upon a time these would have been unheard of.
Harry Lancaster is just putting the finishing touches to a menu at his new venue in South Eveleigh, which combines the fundamental elements of wholefoods – replacing gluten-filed grains with pulses and seeds – in an aim to feed everyone… from vegans to omnivores to those with gluten-free, dairy-free and other dietary needs.
At The Paper Mill, a new dining precinct in Liverpool, a good portion of the menu could be described as a meat eaters paradise, but it also naturally fits into the gluten-free realm, with on-trend dishes such as a charred leek and blue swimmer crab salad with pickled kohlrabi, prawn oil and herbs or Tasmanian salmon fillet with an eggplant puree, prawn oil, piquillo peppers, fennel and creme fraiche.
Chefs no longer curse the thought of “picky eaters” but tap into increasing dietary-based trends, as a way to get creative and attract a whole new audience. Gluten-free options on a menu can also dove-tail with the increasing push towards fresh produce, treated simply, without the addition of anything considered “unnatural”.
Gluten-free considerations need to be part of the forethought in overall menu engineering, not just a token addition or adjustment to an already completed list. The key to designing creative menus which cater for particular tastes and dietary requirements, is reverting to back to basics and keeping it simple.
Chef Liam Crawley from DWL Hospitality creates catering menus which he knows are totally gluten-free from the start. “For me, if you revert back to traditional styles of cooking, it’s cheaper to do a fresh food menu, rather than taking the time frames of cooking gluten-free into account, or setting up special cooking stations back of house. And we don’t have the client asking for GF or vegan or vego menus, because they know we are already there. Nor do we have to train wait-staff about what is or isn’t gluten-free. It’s just the norm now. We can serve everybody on the table.”
Gluten-free dining has progressed way beyond a trend to become the foundation of any new menu design. Taking a ‘less is more’ approach, knowing that you can offer a selection of dishes which will suit pretty much anyone, rather than creating dishes for a specific diner, is an opportunity to breathe some fresh inspiration into your thinking. At the end of the day, outstanding menus attract attention, in the “who’d have thought” type of conversation, as much as for flavour and level of creativity.