“Eating out is always risky.” This is one of the first mottoes any newly-diagnosed celiac or gluten intolerant individual is taught, and it is one of the most important mottoes to remember even on your wedding day. Based on my experiences over the years as a gluten-free bride and working within the food industry, I've got few suggestions for both gluten-free brides and brides planning for gluten-free guests.
Gluten-free is NOT the same as wheat-free. Gluten-free, depending on the country you are in, means that it's free of wheat, rye, barley, and oats. I could go into a much longer scientific explanation, but it would probably bore you. It's a medically-based diet in order to prevent dire medical consequences and should not be taken lightly by brides, caterers, or wedding planners attempting to accommodate for guests.
Just because a caterer tells you they can accommodate for gluten-free does not mean it is true. One of the common trends I noticed was that everyone said they could “accommodate” for gluten-free. However when you began to ask questions like, “Do you check your ingredients to see if they are gluten-free?” and “Do you have a separate room for your bakery in your facility than where you prepare the food?” or “How would you prevent cross contamination?”, often times their knowledge would be terrifyingly lacking. If you are attempting to accommodate for a gluten-free guest or hosting a gluten-free wedding, these are questions that you should ask. Failure to do so could end in agony or even a hospital trip for your guests.
Look for kitchens that will accommodate for kosher, and then ask them to do a full cleaning and scrubbing down of the kitchen before preparing gluten-free items. This'll help reduce the amount of flour and crumbs within the kitchen that could make a gluten-free patron ill.
Make your caterer double check ALL of their ingredients (especially the sauces and starches) to ensure they are gluten-free. Gluten can hide in many forms and ways, thus it is extremely important that your ingredients are safety checked.
Buffet-style meals are agents of destruction and doom (unless the entire buffet is gluten-free but we will discuss this in a minute). Buffets are extremely easy to make your guests ill, even if you let them through the line first. I have seen instances where workers have accidentally contaminated food by switching out spoons without the manager realizing, adding incorrect toppings that would normally go on a dish, or place “gluten-free” signs in front of the inaccurate dish. Just to be safe, if you are having select gluten-free items on a buffet, have a manager pull from the uncontaminated batches in the back to create gluten-free plates for your guests. This is a much safer option.
Have everything be gluten-free. Do not let people guilt you into thinking a completely gluten-free wedding is the most horrible thing in the world, because this is a load of bunk. We designed our wedding menu away from breads, offering lettuce wrapped burgers, steaks, fresh salad, roasted potatoes, fresh fruit, and bacon-wrapped cheese-filled dates as options. Our meal plan was extremely successful and people loved the food.
Find a wedding planner who is extremely familiar with gluten-free diets. That way your planner will be the one barking at chefs and double-checking all of the ingredients to help ensure a safe and happy meal for your guests. Thus you will not be living in fear of a hospital trip throughout your reception.
Utensils, utensils, utensils! Separate utensils for gluten-free menu items and cakes are imperative! One stray knife cutting into your gluten-free cake will ruin it for the rest of your gluten-free guests.
Prepackaged gluten-free foods are your friend. One of the most wonderful wedding experiences I've had was when a dear friend had prepackaged gluten-free goodies delivered to our hotel room as a “welcome gift.” The bride and groom also respected our wishes and encouraged us to bring in our own meals from a local gluten-free restaurant, which we then placed on the caterers plates and ate like traditional guests.
Always ask your guests their preference on how to handle gluten-free. If you are a bride and you know that you have friends who are gluten-free, but they have not asked for accommodation or asked you to not accommodate, PLEASE respect their requests and warn your caterer that there may be guests declining meal options. Often times I decline meals at weddings because I have not discussed personally with the caterer my meal option.
Just because you make it at your own home does not mean it is safe. I get this one a lot from brides, “Oh well I'll just make something gluten-free for them.” This can easily end in disaster. Baking pans, wooden spoons, basic ingredients you use on a regular basis like sugar, butter, spices, etc., can serve as easy sources of cross-contamination.
Call a local (or national) gluten-free bakery and have them ship gluten-free desserts to your venue. Then have them held in the back, or on a separate table from the gluten-containing items. This will help prevent cross-contamination and promote peace of mind with your guests.
Do NOT send gluten-free baked goods to a traditional wheat bakery to be decorated. On average it takes 3-5 days for the flour within the air of a bakery to be filtered out enough to produce safe gluten-free items for individuals with medical needs. I have interacted with many bakers who have the best of intentions but do not realize this and will try and convince you that producing items in their bakery is safe.
I think the one take home message that brides and families should remember is to respect your guest's wishes on how to handle gluten-free. I take a rather vigilant stance when planning for gluten-free due to my increased sensitivity to it, however not everyone takes this stance. Not everyone has the same level of sensitivity of gluten, but you should do your best to provide a safe and happy experience for your guests. Have any other suggestions or ideas for easy-to-make gluten-free options? Feel free to share!