Even if your business isn’t exclusively focused on addressing specific health issues, no doubt periodically you’ll get a request from a potential client for help with special diets that address anything from heart issues to diabetes to allergies. Gluten-free diets–which can stem from celiac disease or wheat allergies, or because people perceive it to be healthier–are becoming a common request. New Yorker Donna Douglass, an APPCA member whose personal chef business, What’s Cooking?, stresses healthy, nutritious cooking, has found herself in that very situation.


“I just found myself cooking for someone who is wheat free, which is different from gluten-free, but still a challenge,” she says. “But I did some research and am comfortable with it. It’s part of cooking with whole foods, cooking from scratch.”

Donna's gluten-free Butternut Squash Mac 'n Cheese

Donna’s gluten-free Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheese

Donna’s advice is to create menus with whole, not processed, foods–ingredients in their natural state. “If you’re already cooking from scratch, you can do this,” she says with assurance. “It just takes research, carefully reading labels, and being careful about cross contamination.”

Donna offers 10 tips for personal chefs who need to avoid gluten for their clients:

  • Cook with whole foods, mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, organic dairy and local grass-fed meats, organic poultry, wild seafood, and gluten-free grains.
  • Be careful of meats that are prepared with other ingredients–or ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat meats–since they may be prepared with sauces or breadcrumbs that are not gluten-free. Examples include hot dogs or sausages, and lunch meats. Cheese isn’t meat, obviously, but packaged cheese can also have these additives.
  • If using processed or packaged foods, consider Ancient Harvest brands quinoa and pasta. Donna likes them much better than brown rice pasta for taste and texture.
  • Read labels. If there’s nothing natural in it and not labeled “gluten-free,” don’t use it.
  • Be careful if you get cheese sliced at a grocery store or deli. There may be breadcrumbs or other gluten products around their cutting boards or slicer where they are packaging your cheese. Buy gluten-free cheese or organic cheese at a health food store.
  • Make your own breadcrumbs from gluten-free bread or buy gluten-free breadcrumbs and add your own seasonings.
  • Use all-purpose gluten-free flour or brown rice flour for thickening sauces.
  • Almond flour is good for baking. Both Bisquick and Bob’s Red Mill make gluten-free flour mixes that you can use for toppings, dough, and batters for pot pies, desserts, pancakes, etc. Other good choices include tapioca flour, coconut flour, and amaranth.
  • Be wary of condiments on supermarket store shelves. Many brands of condiments include gluten or are exposed to factories that make products with gluten. Look for condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, steak sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, and tomato sauce that are specifically labeled gluten-free. Even some vinegars may be made with grain vinegar. Again, carefully read labels.
  • Be aware that some spices may be processed on equipment that may have used gluten. For more on this, go to this gluten-free condiment list.

Donna also warns that you should beware of cross-contamination in your own preparation and your equipment.

She’s also provided a list of online resources:

How to Make your Kitchen Gluten-Free

Celiac Disease Foundation

Gluten-Free Living

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness Kid’s Central

Raising Our Celiac Kids

Teens Living with Celiac Foundation

Gluten-Free Diet Guide for Families

Here’s Donna’s recipe for Gluten-Free Portabello Mushrooms with Spinach and Goat Cheese

Gluten-Free Portabello Mushroom with Spinach and Goat Cheese

from Donna Douglass

Makes 6

Marinade for Mushrooms
½ cup olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup reduced gluten-free sodium soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, pressed
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup Marsala
2 sprig of fresh thyme>
6 large Portabello mushrooms, clean out gills

To marinate mushrooms
Whisk the first 6 ingredients and Marsala in a medium bowl. Stir in thyme sprigs. Cut stems from mushrooms and spoon out gills. Arrange mushrooms, gill side up in a 9×12 Pyrex dish. Pour marinade over mushrooms and marinate up to 4 hours, turning to coat occasionally.

2 bunches of fresh spinach, trimmed and washed
4 ounces Cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup homemade GF breadcrumbs
1 container of crumbled goat cheese

Cook spinach in a steamer basket. Drain and set aside to cool. Squeeze excess water from spinach and place in a small bowl.

Add Cremini mushrooms to food processor and use the pulse button to coarsely chop the mushrooms. Heat oil in a sauté pan and add the onion and sauté until beginning to brown. Add Cremini mushrooms and sauté to tender. Add the onions, mushrooms and spinach to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a baking sheet with oil. Bake mushrooms for about 15 to 20 minutes. Divide filling among the mushrooms. Top with crumbled goat cheese,gluten free breadcrumbs and some left over marinade.

Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is golden.

Donna's Gluten-Free Stuffed Portabellow Mushroom

Donna’s Gluten-Free Stuffed Portabellow Mushroom

Still intimidated? Don’t be. “You shouldn’t be afraid to take on a gluten-free client,” Donna says. “Even if they have severe issues they’ll let you know and will probably supply special equipment.”

What are your tips for working with gluten-free clients? What are your concerns? Are there other special diets you’d like more information about?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.


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Caron Golden


Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

1 Comment »

  1. Avatar

    Great tips and resources thanks!!

    Comment by Amber Guthrie — March 12, 2014 @ 5:21 am

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