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The reach of gluten-free foods now extends to the banquet table

The reach of gluten-free foods now extends to the banquet table

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Three years ago I was diagnosed with sensitivity to gluten. My doctor suggested I restrain from eating any foods that contain the mixture found in wheat grains that causes digestive disorders in some people.

After reading everything I could on the subject, I was amazed by how many foods contained the popular ingredient and, to the contrary, the small amount of gluten-free products available to consumers.

For instance, I had no clue that soy sauce had wheat in it. I had my work cut out for me cutting out all the things I could no longer eat. I really thought that was the end of the world.

But thanks to influential celebrities including Elisabeth Hasselbeck from The View and many others, the era of gluten-free food is underway. Around Houston this movement has really taken hold, especially among restaurants such as Haven, Ruggles Green and The G's Healthy Gourmet, to name a few. Coincidentally, these eateries/kitchens are also on a farm-to-table kick (but that is a story for a different day).

I notice more and more clients are raising the issue of gluten diet sensitivity. Especially as an event planner, I want to incorporate new and innovative items into menu selections accordingly. Large hotel chains like the Hilton Americas-Houston are customizing exciting and tantalizing menus while accommodating guests sensitive to food allergies.

Executive chef Ruffy Sulaiman says, “The gluten free movement is here to stay as many people discover their intolerance to wheat, rye and barley products."

 Large hotel chains like the Hilton Americas-Houston are customizing exciting and tantalizing menus while accommodating guests sensitive to food allergies. 

A clearer understanding of food allergies today requires more people consume gluten-free foods. Caterers, being in the hospitality business, need to know how to prepare it. Gluten-free food can be delicious and ranges from breakfast to lunch, appetizers, rich, colorful dinners, breads, and even desserts. 

“When meeting with your caterer, just ask for gluten-free menu options," says Veronica Millstid with Bailey Conner Catering. "A good chef will have no problems providing you with an enticing menu pleasing to your taste buds."

Sesame chicken rice noodle cakes, Indonesian beef curry, lemongrass and coconut chicken, polenta stacks with roasted vegetables and feta, and orange and coconut cake are among Millstid's most popular dishes. The gluten-free ingredients on top of exceptional flavor are icing on the cake.

Don’t be afraid to challenge your chef or caterer to come up with a unique menu. While everyone on your guest list may not have sensitivity to wheat, accommodating those who do without sacrificing a drop of flavor and preparation excellence speaks volumes. There are so many options; which means your guests will always get delicious food. Frankly, gluten-free diets contribute to better nutrition even for those without an allergy or sensitivity to it. 

Beverage companies are also getting into the mix with selections like potato, grape or soy-based Vodka. And for the beer aficionados thinking that a nice cool one is definitely a no-no, there are even selections of gluten-free beers using non-gluten ingredients such as buckwheat, sorghum, rice and corn.

For the do-it-yourselfers, many markets are offering whole aisles with a plethora of gluten-free products. Whole Foods is a stable for all things organic/fresh and remains a great choice. I have, however, found even retailers such as Walmart are following suit with a small yet distinguished item selection. Their gluten and sugar-free cookies are very tasty.

There is also a store off the Katy Freeway and Chimney Rock called Gluten Free Houston that has an amazing selection of product.

This new food trend was indeed birthed out of necessity. Unlike other fad diets, however, I believe it is here to stay; and we may all be better for it.

CultureMap contributor Deborah Elias is the founder and president of Elias Events.