Accommodating food sensitivities when entertainingPublished on November 30, 2015

  • Executive Chef Geoffrey Morden; Shaw Centre
    Photo by: Mark Skinner

  • Photo by: Mark Skinner

  • Photo by: Mark Skinner

Food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances are realities of the modern day kitchen. Diners are much more conscious of what they are eating and, for that matter, what they shouldn’t be eating. On any given day here at the Shaw Centre, I can be preparing a meal for thousands which includes accommodating an ever-increasing list of preferences. I’m seeing increasing numbers of people requesting vegetarian, vegan, kosher and halal as well as those wishing nut-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, soy-free and egg-free meals. There’s a good chance you have faced similar requests when entertaining in your own home; I’ve got a few tips that I hope will help you out as the holiday season approaches so you can make your guests feel welcome and comfortable.

When it comes to allergies, especially severe ones like peanuts, it is best to simply avoid using this ingredient in whatever you are cooking. If you do consume nuts in your home on a regular basis, it’s important to scour your work surfaces and wash any cooking utensils you’ll be using beforehand, so you can be confident you are preparing food in a nut-free environment. It only takes a minute amount of the allergen to trigger a reaction.

Another tip I often recommend is, rather than simply avoiding an ingredient in your menu, try to find a cuisine that may not use the ingredient frequently. Take dairy as an example. Dairy intolerance is one of the most common dietary restrictions we encounter. The North American diet is saturated with dairy products and it can be difficult to create a dairy-free menu based on the typical North American grocery basket. Instead, why not look at Middle Eastern influenced recipes or kosher recipes to develop ideas for your menu. These two cuisines typically use less or no dairy in many types of preparations. In fact, there is an entire segment of delicious recipes in kosher cuisine that does not permit any dairy whatsoever.  If you approach the menu in this way, rather than leaving a void in a recipe where dairy once was, you will be creating a dish where dairy was never intended. Here are a few examples of culturally-inspired dairy free alternatives:

- Instead of Bread and Butter, try Warm Flat Bread with flavoured Chili-Garlic Oil

- Rather than Cream of Carrot & Rosemary Soup, try Lentil and Spinach Broth with Moroccan Spices. Both equally appealing but the lentil soup doesn’t require or lend itself to the addition of dairy.

- Substitute Whole Roast Chicken, Buttered Vegetables and Creamy Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes with Pine nut and Lemon Glazed Grilled Chicken with Olive Oil Roasted Garden Vegetables and  Baked Fingerling Potatoes with Oregano and Sea salt

- Dessert can be a little trickier but instead of Vanilla Cheese Cake with Chocolate Sauce, consider a Pavlova with Fresh Peaches and Strawberries, and Raspberry Sauce with whipped coconut cream (or whipped cream on the side).

Another prevalent dietary concern is gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in many types of grain and when consumed by someone who has an intolerance it can cause uncomfortable adverse reactions. I don’t recommend substituting a “gluten free” product in place of product with gluten; often I’ll suggest that you engineer your menu with food that lends itself to being free of gluten. The majority of store bought “gluten free” products simply do not taste or resemble the item they are intended to mimic. With a little research you will discover a host of grains and starches which are delicious and gluten free. Some examples are potatoes, quinoa, corn, wild rice, rice, lentils, peas and beans.

If you are entertaining and expecting a few guests with dietary restrictions I recommend serving your meal buffet style. This way your guests will be able to choose what they would like. Additionally, you can label your buffet if it includes common allergens. I recommend a few salads (at least one gluten free), at least one completely vegetarian hot dish, a meat dish, vegetables and a starch dish and something sweet with some fruit. Here is an example of a completely dairy-free and gluten-free buffet menu anyone would be proud to serve:

- Chickpea and Lentil Salad with Cilantro and Grilled Red Onions

- Toasted Quinoa and Dried Fruit Salad

- Poached Chicken Breast with Steamed Greens and Balsamic Vinaigrette

- Broiled Mahi Mahi Fillet with Mango-Pineapple Salsa

- Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Smoked Tofu

- Baked New Potatoes with Rosemary and Smoked Sea Salt

- Basil Balsamic Melon

- Coconut Panna cotta

Accommodating food sensitivities when entertaining can be challenging. It can, however, be very rewarding once you put your mind to it. I hope my suggestions can help you create memorable meals while being sensitive to dietary concerns.

Chef Geoffrey Morden (Shaw Centre)

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