30% of Americans are interested in avoiding or eating less gluten (the protein found in wheat, rye and barley) in their diet, whether it is due to celiac disease, food sensitivities or just wanting to lose weight and be healthier. Join us as we ask award-winning chef, author and nutritherapist, Alain Braux about living gluten-free and the challenges gluten-free diets present for chefs.
You are a classically trained French chef that is a nutritherapist. What is nutritherapy?
Nutritherapy is a European term I adopted. It is used mostly in England, Scotland and Ireland. It describes people like me who use food and food only as a healing medium. I do not work with supplements unless they are from food source. Typically, nutritionists work with assorted supplements and herbs. Some of them work with food but very few. “Let food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food” is an old saying I firmly believe in.
Many of your clients and customers are gluten-free. What advice can you give someone who is just starting a gluten-free diet, especially when dining away from home?
Wow! That's a very complex subject. I all depends if you are sensitive or allergic to gluten or have Celiac disease, which is the most violent and painful food allergy one can have. There are the food issues, social issues, and behavioral issues to deal with. We don't have the space to address this issue in a short interview like this. In my book, Living Gluten and Dairy-Free with French Gourmet Food, I discuss all of these issues over 300 pages.
The very short version is once you are sure which kind of gluten sensitivty you have, stay away from gluten as much as possible. Sorry to say but it's everywhere in food. Besides the obvious (bread, breakfast products and cookies), it's hidden in soups, dressings, sauces, some alcohol, beer, and much more. Even in supplements and beauty products. My book offers a long list of hidden sources of gluten. You have to become a food detective and read every label on your packaged food. You also have to learn what to look for. I now, it's a headache but it's the price to pay to stay healthy.
Nowadays, some retail stores are trying to help you by having clearly labeled gluten-free shelves or sections. Although they are not required to label gluten-free foods, some stores will indicate whether their prepared food (soups, salads, and to go items) contain or may contain gluten. Please ask if you are not sure.
Although more and more restaurant are aware of this issue and they try their best to accommodate their sensitive clientele, when it comes down to it, it's all about proper training and enforcing these new rules. Your line cook, prep person or server may not have paid that much attention to them. Keep asking and insist on talking to the chef or manager if you have any doubts. You may even want to carry a card with you that explains your condition clearly like some people with peanut or shellfish allergies do.
According to the National Restaurant Association, gluten-free cuisine is the hottest trend in restaurant menus. What do you think are the challenges for chefs today regarding gluten-free dining?
There are so many but most issues center on education of staff and the risk of gluten contamination.
First, gather the proper knowledge about gluten-free illnesses and how it will affect your customers. A client with Celiac disease can get violently ill by just ingesting a breadcrumb. Despite what some celebrities might want you to believe, gluten allergy is NOT a fad diet. It is a very serious health issue for people affected by it.
Then learn as much as possible about it, hire a consultant if you have to but please, do it right for us people allergic to it. Personally, although I do not suffer from Celiac disease, I am allergic to gluten and within one hour of eating gluten-containing food, skin rashes will develop on my chest, shoulder and back. So, I have to be careful but it is not as dangerous for me as it could be for other more sensitive individuals. Some people may have to be taken to the hospital. It can be that critical.
Next, develop your own gluten-free recipes or hire someone knowledgeable on this issue to make sure it does not affect your clients. Keep a separate gluten-free menu for your special customers. Don't mix and match. It's too confusing for your customers. They want to know you are taking their food challenges seriously, not as an afterthought.
Cross contamination is the hardest part of controlling this issue in your kitchen. Ideally, you will have to have a separate room to bake and prepare your gluten-free dessert. There can't be any amount of flour floating around and contaminating your gluten-free area. If at all possible, there should be a door to separate your GF kitchen from the rest of your kitchen. Some gluten certification programs even ask you to have a separate AC system so there are no chances of flour contamination. Since, in most cases, it's not possible, and to make your life easier, you may want to look at premade gluten-free cakes and desserts. Just make sure to use a clean knife, gloves and serving dishes to cut and handle your GF cake slices.
Additionally, if you fry foods, you must use a separate fryer for GF items and regular flour-coated fries for example. If you bake, never bake a GF cake at the same time as a regular cake. Ideally, you should have a separate oven for your GF cakes or desserts.
All staff, when making sandwiches, must use fresh gloves, cutting board, and knives to prepare gluten-free food and change them every time you switch from regular food to GF food. Ideally, use color-coded cutting boards to know what's what.
Finally, keep all GF tools and utensils separate from the rest. Do not wash them in the same dish washing machine (sorry! it's that important). Color code all your GF tools and utensils to make sure they are not used with regular tainted foods.
How do you manage the challenges of eating out in restaurants?
As a typical chef will tell you, I rarely go out to eat. When I do for a special occasion, I know exactly which restaurant to go to. There are plenty of online help available to guide you to the right eating establishments. Just Google: gluten free restaurant, Your Town, Your State and it will take you there. Make sure they are certified gluten-free by any of the serious GF certification programs out there. Just because they say they are GF does not mean it's true. Better be safe than sorry.
We are lucky in Austin to be very aware of this issue and besides GF grocery stores and restaurants; we are blessed to have a family-owned pharmacy, People's Rx, that specializes in these concerns. I work for it. We have wellness specialists, naturopath doctors and even a French gluten-free chef. Imagine that!
What is your favorite "go-to" gluten-free recipe when cooking at home?
Again, as a professional chef, I do not do a lot of cooking at home. It's like asking a shoemaker to make more shoes when they go home. When I do, I use very easy and simple cooking methods: broiled, grilled, poached fish or meats; eggs prepared different ways; steamed or wok-sautéed veggies; assorted fresh salads with my own home-made salad dressing (you can find the recipe in my book), a fresh fruit and a square of GF dark chocolate. Typically, I do not eat starches at night but if I were, I would eat rice, beans, quinoa, millet or any other GF grains. If you are Paleo, then no grains at all :-) Just protein, vegetables and fruits. I'll tell you a secret: I don't even have a working oven at home, just a toaster oven. It's enough for me but no baking at home.
Ordering gluten-free bread in restaurants is always challenging. Chef Braux shares a gluten-free dairy-free Buckwheat bread recipe.
Pain Sans Gluten a la Farine de Sarasin
Gluten-Free Casein-Free Buckwheat Bread
This is a heavy but tasty bread. It will last you a long time. Allow it to cool until room temperature. Slice it while still fresh and freeze in an airtight container or plastic bag. It will stay fresh longer this way. Take one or two slices at a time and toast them just the way you like them and Voila! Fresh bread.
Yield: One 2 lb, 4-oz loaf
Oven Temp: 425F
• 8 oz Water, warm
• 7 oz Almond milk, warm
• 1 Tbsp Agave nectar or favorite sweetener
• 2 tsp Instant dry yeast
• 3 oz Eggs (about one and a half)
• 8 oz Buckwheat flour
• 6 oz Brown rice flour
• 1 tsp Sea salt
• 1.5 tsp Xanthan gum
1. Place a measuring cup on top of the scale. Zero it out. Weigh and mix together water, milk, agave nectar, and yeast. Cover and let sit in a warm place for about 15 minutes until the mix foams. Add the beaten eggs. Mix in.
2. Place your mixer's bow on the scale. Zero it out. Weigh the buckwheat, rice flour, salt and xanthan gum.
3. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment. Start the mixer at low speed.
4. While running, pour the liquids into the flours. The batter should be soft.
Pour into a paper or aluminum-lined 9 x 4 x 4 loaf pan. It should be halfway full.
5. Cover with a clean towel. Place in a warm place. Let the dough rise for about an hour until it rises 50 percent more.
6. Meanwhile preheat your oven at 425F.
7. Bake the bread for about 35 to 40 minutes until it sounds hollow. Let sit for a few minutes in the pan. Take out of the pan and place on a grid to cool to room temperature.
Chef Alain Braux is an award-winning chef (two gold and three silver medals) and nutrition therapy author. Chef Braux has worked in the food industry for more than 40 years. He is a Certified Executive Pastry Chef with the American Culinary Federation and a Certified Master Baker with the Retail Bakers of America. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Holistic Nutrition and is also a macrobiotic counselor. Chef Braux currently lives in Austin, Texas, where he is the executive chef and nutrition therapist at Peoples Pharmacy in Austin, TX, as well as running his private practice at A Votre Santé – To Your Health.
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