When catering for people it is necessary to ensure that you provide the right kind of food. That is a statement of the obvious. What is not so obvious are the solutions. There is increasing awareness of food allergies and intolerances and these provide a challenge to the chef.
An increasingly common condition is celiac disease. This condition is intolerance to gluten. This protein is found in wheat, barley and rye. Anything that contains these or their products cannot be eaten. This means that normal baking and pastry making cannot be done. Substitutes need to be found such as potato or rice flour, maize flour and chickpea flour. The properties of theses flours is however slightly different to wheat flour. The amount of liquid they absorb is different and the elasticity of the finished product is significantly reduced. To overcome this sorghum can be added. Here in the Languedoc life can be particularly difficult as the condition is not generally recognised. The supermarkets are not as geared up to supplying suitable products. At our local supermarket in Mirepoix maize flour is about the only product available. The traditional French petit dejeuner is therefore off limits so the most common breakfast that gets dished up is eggs but without the toast!
Another prevalent intolerance is dairy. Strictly this is intolerance to all forms and products of mammalian milk. Some dieticians however describe it as relating to cow’s milk only. The reality is that the lactose which generally causes the difficulty is present in all mammals milk and it is just present in greater concentration in cow’s milk. This often results in initially sufferers being able to tolerate such products as goats and sheep’s cheese but then developing intolerance even to these. The usual substitute in terms of milk is soya milk but over use of this can also cause difficulty and it is best to use a variety of vegetable milks.
On occasions people have both conditions which can make life really challenging for the chef. Let me share a fine dessert we created at Chez Maison Bleue that caters for this. First you need to make a small flan case from a pate sucre using a blend of rice and maize flour (many UK supermarkets stock gluten free flour) and substitute sunflower oil margarine for the butter. Bake this blind as if you are making a normal mini flan. For the filling use a standard crème patisserie but use the same gluten free flour and in place of milk use coconut milk. This gives it a nice subtle coconut flavour. Then top it off with pieces of fresh pineapple. The combination of coconut and pineapple is a classic and works really well. This is a good illustration of how with a little imagination those who have these conditions need not miss out on fine dining.