Brio Tuscan Grille Now Serving Gluten-Free Menu; Corporate Executive Chef Matt Harding Discusses
For a long time, people with celiac disease had a hard enough time following a gluten-free diet at home, and dining out in restaurants -- forget about it. But times have changed, restaurants are coming around, and gluten-free eaters now have way more options than a salad without the dressing.
Brio Tuscan Grille is the latest chain restaurant to come around; it recently added gluten-free options to its fall menu. Executive chef Phil Yandolino collaborated with the Gluten Free Association to concoct the recipes, so you know they're legit.
Menu items sans gluten include a variety of pasta dishes, creative salads, chicken, salmon, and eight-ounce center-cut filets. Salads aside, one meaty dish features chicken griglia ($18.25), which comes grilled and dressed with Limone caper sauce with a side of roasted veggies and gluten-free penne pomodoro. The salmon griglia ($20.95) is made the same way.
Brio's Matt Harding, corporate executive chef, spoke to Clean Plate Charlie about food allergies and the new menu.
Clean Plate Charlie: Do you have any food allergies?
Matt Harding: No. My daughter has severe allergies to peanuts. When I cook a dish, if it has to be clean of something, I ensure that it is. Having a daughter with food allergies makes us more aware of safety when we go to restaurants.
Have you seen a change in how the food industry handles food allergies over the years?
Yes, there's a greater awareness of dietary restrictions. Restaurants have turned into a place for entertainment, [and] guests who have restrictions couldn't go out to restaurants. The number of people with celiac disease is not huge, but there is a significant number of people who eliminate gluten from their diet. It's the veto vote. Food manufacturers are more concerned about creating gluten-free products nowadays. You'll see that they list the items on their websites.
What is gluten?
It's a protein. It's found in wheat, in wheat products. There are many items that contain gluten, so it's not just wheat. It's in a lot of items. Gluten gets into sneaky things. Some mustards have it and other mustards don't. It's all about how the food is sourced.
What would you recommend to someone who suspects they have food allergies?
If someone has a reoccurring health issue and goes to certain types of restaurants, I would tell them to look for patterns on when the issue occurred and what they ate to figure out what it's coming from. Sometimes people think it's a stomach virus, but the problem is really an allergy. So the best thing to do is try to eliminate things from the diet to figure out what your food allergies are. There are a lot of support groups worth looking into that can be found online.
Why did BRIO choose to add gluten-free options to the menu?
We've had a lot of guests who made requests for it. The biggest onus on us is how we had to train the staff on preparing gluten-free dishes. We have webinars to teach the staff how to safely prep to avoid cross-contamination. We take great care to promote something and follow through that it's done right.
How has the response been to the new menu?
It was great. People are happy to get something they crave that they couldn't eat or get before.
What's the most recommended dish on this new option?
There are a lot of new items that are similar to our regular menu. The pasta pomodoro, we use a corn-based pasta. For someone who can't have pasta, it's like the Second Coming.
What's one of the challenges of concocting gluten-free cuisine in a commercial kitchen?
Cross-contamination is the biggest thing. When using tongs, utensils, pans, all of these things have to be taken into account. We keep utensils separate, sterile, and clean so they don't contaminate with gluten. Like a deep fryer -- gluten protein can remain in it. So looking at what's a wise choice that can be safely prepared in a fast-paced kitchen.
Brio is open for lunch and dinner and offers discounted drinks during happy hour. Celiacs and gluten-intolerant folks pick up your forks and eat up... in a restaurant.