Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fancy Foods & Gluten Free

A month ago I attended the Fancy Foods show in Washington DC.  Going from New York to DC should be a breeze, but sometimes it takes two airports, two different security lines, two different flights, three taxi cabs and six hours to make the journey.  I earned my evening cocktail.

I had already done the prep work and knew which vendors were showcasing gluten-free food and who I wanted to visit.   This type of assignment is right up my alley, walking the show, chatting to people about food and tasting all sorts of incredible products coming to market.
A couple of things I noticed are newsworthy trends!  The first trend is bold flavor and the second trend I am calling “mother’s little helper.”  Both ideas actually work in tandem because global flavors from Mexico to India to Thailand are packaged in a variety of user friendly simmer sauces and spice blends.  This is a huge development for working parents everywhere.

It used to be if you rushed in from work and faced hungry kids, there were always chicken nuggets or hot dogs or mac n’ cheese that you could prepare in fifteen minutes.  But, that quickie dinner is lacking flavor and nutrition and doesn’t teach your child to become an adventurous eater.

With these simmer sauces, one night it’s a tandori chicken meal and the next night it’s a beef in a red curry sauce.   Even the chopping, slicing and dicing of vegetables for the simmer sauce has been replaced by flash frozen prepared vegetable that either require a quick toss in a pan or a steam in the microwave.   All the resident mom or dad chef has to do is sauté some protein and vegetables, open a handy-dandy pouch or jar, and “simmer.”  Side dishes of frozen rice or potatoes are easy to find and take only a few minutes in the oven or microwave. 

Couple that dish with a salad.  These days it is easy to find bags of triple washed lettuce, already clean and chopped up in the bag, just asking for a splash of oil and vinegar.  In an instant, there are two offering of vegetables at one meal that took you a few minutes to prepare.   

It has never been easier to globalize one’s taste buds in thirty minutes or less!

Here is what I liked even more about many of the products I saw at the Fancy Foods show, so many of them were certified gluten free.  Many of them were organic and all natural, but the gluten free aspect of the product was a featured part of the marketing of that product.  It seems to me that if a product is naturally gluten free, or if the creator has specifically sought to make the product gluten free, then certification of that product is natural step.  Gluten free is no longer an afterthought, it is a conscientious business decision. 

Another great advancement for those of us who prepare meals for someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance!

Kendall Egan

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Special Diet Backlash?

I knew this day was coming.  Special diet backlash has reared its head. 

New York Times Sunday Style’s section had an article entitled, “The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner.”  Gluten-free, in my opinion, was portrayed in that article as the worst offender in terms of requesting Paleo, dairy free, sugar free, low fat, vegan or whatever!  For some reason, folks that ask for gluten-free meals were really slammed as “picky eaters.”     

I recall interviewing a chef for the magazine and I asked if professional chefs were getting a little tired of special food requests.  It’s not the server’s or the chef’s job to make judgments on who really needs a gluten-free meal, but what happens when a patron goes through the hoops of making sure his meal is gluten free…because he is trying on the diet…and then the server sees him noshing from the bread basket?  Perhaps that is worthy of an eye-roll from the server, but hopefully it doesn’t send the chef into anger mode for the next person requesting a gluten-free meal.

What happens as more and more people try on the diet because it’s the latest craze to lower inflammation, or to speed recovery, or those folks requesting gluten-free meals who still mistakenly think it’s a weight loss diet?  What happens to those of us who are celiac?  Did anyone in this article stop and think that more and more people are being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance and thus there will be more requests for gluten-free options?  When I see quotes in the New York Times article from anonymous readers from a Portland reader forum expressing opinions like, “You probably don’t have celiac disease anyway.  Self diagnosis on WebMD doesn’t count.”  Dude, really?  Since when did anonymous opinions from some reader forum become quotation worthy in the eyes of the New York Times writers?

Or another quote from the article from Chef Josh Ozersky, the founder of Meatopia, who says “like a lot of chefs, I’m convinced that these diets are not always the results of the compromised immune systems of American diners, but their growing infantilism and narcissism.”  And this is coming from a guy whose event is all about meat consumption, like he's got an expert opinion on compromised immunity?

Uh-oh.  All of the work that has gone into restaurant awareness!  What if people start rolling their eyes when I ask if something is prepared with flour?  Or if I could have the turkey burger with no bun?

Another line in the article says, “Today’s restricted eaters are prone to identity-driven pronouncements along the lines of ‘I’m gluten free.’”  I have used that identifier in restaurants before because I don’t really like to identify myself as diseased, is that really a problem for chefs?   

I have never once gone to a dinner party and made demands.  I have always graciously worked with my server and chef at a restaurant.  Last week at a business meeting, I did not call up the company executives and demand gluten-free options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I brought some stuff and worked around the rest. 

Hey, everyone out there, please don’t blow this for people who really and truly need to be choosy, not picky, about what they eat for serious and medically diagnosed reasons.  And to those people who expressed what I consider unintelligent opinions, try walking a mile in my shoes.  

Kendall Egan