Chefs, caterers and menu planners face increasing pressure to offer healthier foods and special menu items for people with dietary restrictions. Greater knowledge of health and nutrition has persuaded customers to make more demands from their personal chefs, caterers and restaurants, which meet their special needs and concerns. Chefs with the right training have little trouble planning special meals with lower fat, fewer ingredients, and better nutritional profiles.
Many Restrictions Challenge Ingenuity
Chefs can take proactive steps to realize what ingredients might cause problems with some guests, including dangerous allergic reactions. These chefs prepare substitutes to replace those ingredients that might cause allergies or customer requests that chefs exclude them in food preparation. Religious restrictions, dietary demands, personal choices, special diets, and allergies cause people to ask for special cooking measures. Chefs learn to offer some regular meals that meet many restrictive needs or to change traditional preparations with substitute ingredients that keep the flavor.
Some restrictive diets that chefs face include the following special needs:
- Religious restrictions. Mormons have certain eating restrictions, and some Christians abstain from meat on Fridays. Jews accept some or all of the kosher guidelines that allow no pork or shellfish, and they cannot eat meat and dairy products at the same meal. Muslims follow halal, which prohibits alcohol, pork, carnivorous animals, and sea creatures without fins or scales.
- Vegetarians. Vegetarians fall into four major categories, and vast segments of the population have embraced one of the four types. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat fruits, vegetables, dairy and eggs. Ovo vegetarians eat eggs and plants but no dairy meat or seafood. Lacto vegetarians eat dairy and plants but no eggs or meats. Vegans have the greatest restrictions, eating no animal foods, dairy products, or eggs. Many other types of vegetarians restrict meal ingredients, and successful chefs plan meals that many types of people can eat.
- Lactose intolerant. People who have allergies to milk cannot digest milk sugar and suffer bloating and intestinal distress from eating dairy products.
- Food allergies. Common allergies include tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, corn, wheat, soy and eggs.
- Diabetics. Diabetics not only have sugar restrictions but also must limit carbohydrate intake because carbs turn to glucose in the blood, which stimulates production of insulin.
- Gluten free. Some people have severe gluten allergies. Gluten comes from wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten allergies cause celiac disease that could threaten the life of people who have it. Many diets also recommend eating gluten-free for health benefits, including popular Paleo or stone-age diets.
- Sodium restrictions. Many people need to limit sodium, soy, or preservatives such as MSG.
Training Helps Chefs Understand Nutritional Needs
Chefs and cooks have not always had nutritional training, but knowledge plays an important role for excelling in modern culinary arts. Chefs must learn to create fantastic flavors from quality ingredients that bring nutritional balance to the dining experience.
Developing balanced meals for vegans, people with gluten or other allergies, and those with dietary restrictions demands strong understanding of nutrition.
Chefs learn to balance the demands of flavor, calories, health and personal preferences by choosing complementary ingredients that satisfy consumers’ demands. Leaner meats might need special cooking techniques to enhance flavor, but fatty meats might need cooking that allows fat to drain. Trained chefs that understand nutrition have marketable skills in a field where competition for the best jobs proves intense.
The Trend to Healthier Eating
Consumers have become food savvy, and they expect healthier ingredients. Whole grains, new flavor combinations, and lighter cooking styles offer consumers choices for healthier dining that chefs must offer or risk losing customers. People with special dietary needs no longer feel embarrassment, and they have become passionate about restaurants offering them acceptable choices.
- Consumers want simpler foods with basic ingredients. Produce and meats that come from local sources offer sustainability and environmental benefits that many people endorse.
- People want lighter desserts with less sugar and whole grains. However, people prefer honest sugar instead of corn syrup and other sweeteners.
- Modern diners appreciate foods with powerful antioxidants that fight aging and the build-up of toxins.
- Organic foods have increased in popularity. Organic versions prove more important for some fruits such as apples and peaches, which get sprayed with harmful insecticides. Other produce like asparagus, pineapples, and avocados prove unlikely to absorb chemicals, so consumers feel free to buy cheaper generic produce.
Chefs, cooks, and caterers that meet customers’ nutritional demands enjoy better employment options or get more special catering jobs. Nutritional training in culinary arts can improve the prospects of established chefs that want to expand their skills. Top chefs with nutritional educations can develop menus for performers, athletes, and celebrities or use their knowledge to create new flavors and dishes that excite customers and raise their standing in their communities.