Dishing up meals that are free from allergens – but not free from flavour 

To support the advice being offered in our Category Focus feature, we asked these knowledge-rich chefs and industry experts to share their tips, advice and recipe suggestions for the FreeFrom market. 

Which dishes have worked particularly well for them, and what advice can they offer on avoiding cross-contamination in the kitchen? All is revealed here… 

Norma McGough, Coeliac UK director of policy, research and campaigns The key to providing safe gluten free options is knowing your ingredients, having controls to minimise cross contact with gluten in the kitchen (during preparation, cooking or serving) and careful menu planning. Many dishes on menus may already be gluten free. You can substitute ingredients without affecting taste or quality to make dishes suitable for a gluten free diet. 

  • Try alternative gluten free labelled grain products – quinoa, corn, amaranth and buckwheat 
  • Experiment with different gluten free flours – use corn flour or arrowroot to thicken sauces or gluten free flour for batters and coatings
  • Meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, milk, oil, butter, vegetables and fruits don’t contain gluten but ensure that gluten free ingredients are stored separately, labelled clearly
  • Gluten free versions of cheesecakes, crumbles and cakes can be made using gluten free flour, polenta and ground almonds and can also be sourced from catering suppliers

Jacqui McPeake, Food Service Allergen Management  The FreeFrom market is the fastest growing market across the industry and is a contributor to the increase in vegan dining, incorporating lactose free and dairy free diets. In my experience in order to make life as stress-free in the kitchen as possible, and to avoid the risk of running out of a particular special dish (we all know other diners often covet special diets as they look more interesting than their own). It makes sense to ensure that your menu is simplified as far as possible. The main course should be naturally gluten free, there is no need to add a flour filled thickening agent. The protein can be used as far as possible for any derivatives of this dish. An example which has worked well previously is a main course chicken dish as a building block with gluten free sauces added separately, if appropriate. Starters and desserts should be as flexible as possible to avoid creating a confusing range of different options to suit dietary needs. Fresh, seasonal foods which are cooked to perfection can be adapted to suit all dietary requests. A thorough pre-service brief to the FOH staff will ensure that the correct meals are served to the guests. 

Emma Haworth, senior brand manager, Dr Oetker Professional Classics such as loaf cakes and traybakes have high appeal and are the perfect format for creating allergen-free varieties that will still pack a punch with the flavours. Whether you are looking to create gluten free or even vegan alternatives, classic cakes are a great way to showcase innovative flavour profiles. To make your cake vegan, simply replace traditional butter with a nut butter such as hazelnut, peanut or almond and instead of eggs use coconut cream or hazelnut milk to produce a light and moist cake. For schools, try adding in blueberries and lemon zest to the mix to provide a gluten free option that pupils are sure to enjoy. 

Ollie Bragg, Vegetarian for Life roving chef I always enjoy re-inventing dishes – veganising something or adapting a recipe so that it is gluten or dairy free. One of my favourite creations recently has been an eggless, creamless créme brûlée. In this vegan take on a classic dessert, silken tofu, powderised cashews, agar agar (a derivative of seaweed used instead of gelatine) and maple syrup are used to make a smooth set custard before sugar is caramelised in the traditional way to form a crisp top. It’s delicious and healthy-ish. 

Olivia Shuttleworth, brand manager for Prep Premium speciality oils It’s essential that FreeFrom options look and smell as tempting as everyone else’s food. Use flavoured oils to bring real depth of flavour to dishes, from chicken marinated in Oriental Flame oil for a gluten free toasted sesame and chilli-flavoured noodle dish; to skewers of grilled tofu and vegetables brushed with an oak-smoked flavoured oil for vegan BBQ flavour and aroma. A splash of oil bursting with hot Sriracha chilli and garlic brings jackfruit and butterbean tacos to a new level, while an Indian-spiced oil transforms a chickpea and pumpkin biryani pot, making a perfect autumn takeaway dish. 

Mark Budd, executive head chef, Bovey Castle in Devon (www.boveycastle.comAt Bovey Castle we are extremely accommodating for guests with food intolerances and allergies. All our food in the 3 Rosette Great Western restaurant is made to order, so we can be very flexible when it comes to allergies and intolerances.

Top tips: in the kitchen we have colour-coded knives and chopping boards dependent to the intolerance, plus guests are asked at the time of booking if they have any allergies or intolerances so that my team can prep in advance. All our menus are labelled with allergens and I often create menus specifically for guests with food intolerances. 

Filippo Rosato, head chef at Purezza in Camden and Brighton The great thing about where the FreeFrom food movement is at right now is that it’s never been easier to recreate much loved regular dishes with a few FreeFrom ingredients. Vegan cheeses, plant-based meats, gluten free flours are all mainstream and can be used by any chef to replace prohibitive ingredients. However, it isn’t just about ingredients but also processes. We have a dedicated gluten free kitchen in both of our branches to avoid cross-contamination where we use only gluten free ingredients such as rice flour to ensure there’s no gluten in the air, and we use specific utensils for gluten-free foods including a pizza tray specifically for gluten free pizzas. Our chefs are trained to wash their hands after every order. Finally, this is communicated effectively to customers. Our menus are well labelled and clear and highlight the three major allergens of nuts, soya, and gluten (as a vegan restaurant we don’t need to concern ourselves with dairy). We also highlight our policies and approaches on our website. 

Craig Mather, head chef, Little Ships restaurant and café in Ramsgate It’s about having the right mindset and rising to the creative challenge of cooking without the use of certain foods – and not regarding those with food issues as a pain in the rump area. All restaurants now need to be aware, by law, of allergens, so it makes sense to design FreeFrom with those in mind. It’s also important to have dishes where offending ingredients can be substituted. Probably a quarter of our online bookings mention that at least one of their party has a FreeFrom request. Although we serve delicious locally farmed meats, and fish that is delivered directly from fishing boats moored a few yards from our door, we have plenty of vegan and vegetarian dishes – not just a paying lip service, with a token option. Because we cook in a Harrison, charcoal fuel oven, which are hand built locally, we can offer succulent char-grilled meat, fish and vegetables. Our flat bread open kebabs are easy to prepare without certain ingredients, be they meat, tomatoes or mushrooms, and we offer gluten free quinoa and chia seed wraps. 

Romain Bouillon, founder and chef of Cocotte, Hoxton Square It is really important to consider the different audiences that may visit your restaurant and the potential dietary requirements of each guest. This is possible to achieve, even with a small menu. Ensuring your menu has a good range of salads and vegetables available will provide options to vegetarian, vegan and gluten free diets. As well as having dedicated menu items, it is important to train staff well to inform tables that certain dishes can be adapted to dietary requirements – such as removing meat from a dish or personalising a salad by adding or removing items. 

John Lawson, chef and owner of FOOD, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex I’m hosting a charity dinner on October 27 with the help of my former teacher and mentor, Raymond Blanc OBE, plus Ollie Dabbous and Robin Gill in aid of Brain Tumour Research Campaign. I’m a brain cancer survivor myself and we will cook using only seasonal ingredients which actively benefit the brain. Each chef will create a beautifully presented and full of flavour dish free from gluten, dairy and refined sugar for diners to enjoy. I’ll be making almond panna cotta cream, blackcurrant and local berries. This recipe ticks all the boxes for me and by using almond milk we are going straight to the source of the protein, with the berries being a slow realising sugar and very low GI this is a great way to treat yourself without feeling guilty one little bit! The cream is essentially set with agar agar then blended so it has the same consistency of double cream. We wanted it to have the same feeling of this classic dessert and it certainly does that. The full recipe is available at

Inspirational ideas for FreeFrom dishes 

The Stir it up team has created a range of recipes to suit a range of customers with different special dietary requirements through breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner. 

Our vegan beer-battered tofish and chips is a deliciously different on-trend dish, which is sure to go down well with your vegan and vegetarian diners. It’s made with tofu wrapped in nori seaweed and battered using a vegan beer batter mix to create a tasty comfort food favourite. 

Moroccan cuisine is a hot food trend right now, so make sure our Moroccan Snake dish slithers onto your menu. With searches for Moroccan food on Pinterest up by a staggering 2,500% this year, the nation can’t get enough of these beautifully spiced dishes, and our “Moroccan Snake” (see page 13) not only tastes great but looks fabulous too – the next Instagram sensation! It’s vegan-friendly too so a big hit all round. Visit for the full recipes.