Virginia Tech’s award-winning Dining Services is extending traditional southern hospitality to those with food-sensitivities.
One of the first recipes Chef Randall Van Dyke adapted for the new gluten-free line in Dietrick Hall was southern-style pork chops and white gravy. “We wanted to give our gluten-free customers the same dining experience as the rest of the student body, and pork chops with gravy is one of our most popular dishes,” said Van Dyke. The new line will also offer pizza, fajitas, Spanish rice, deli sandwiches, baked ziti, breakfast items, and desserts.
“If we were going to introduce a gluten-free line, we wanted to do it right,” said Van Dyke. “We wanted to stay away from highly processed foods, so we modified some of the delicious recipes already in our portfolio.” The facility will also use fresh, local produce from Dining Services’ Garden at Kentland Farm.
The gluten-free line, located in D2 dining center at Gaucho’s across from Salsas, has been in development since last spring. The line began serving July 8, just in time for new student orientation, when more than 5,000 students and their families visited campus.
Greater awareness of gluten sensitivity has led to more requests for gluten-free products and dining options. “We engaged in conversations with our students, compiled the information from those meetings, and assessed the data,” said Ted Faulkner, director of Dining Services. “It was apparent there was a true need to create an extension of our gluten-free program as it then existed. Dining Services is pleased to bring this enhancement to our students and campus community.”
Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is an auto-immune disorder in which those affected suffer damage to their intestines when they eat specific food-grain antigens that are found in wheat, rye, and barley. Recent studies and advances in diagnosis show that at least 3 million Americans, or about one in 133 people, have celiac disease, but only one in 4,700 is ever diagnosed.
“We saw the opportunity to meet a growing demand, not just for those diagnosed with celiac, but others who perceive a gluten-free diet as a health benefit,” said Bill Hess, associate director of Dining Services. “Gluten-free selections were available in the past in each of our dining centers, but to have a dedicated facility is very exciting.”
Exciting? Yes. Simple? No. Gluten-free recipes were researched, developed, and tested with students from the Dining Services student advisory board. Food sources have been thoroughly investigated and verified. Stoves, ovens, refrigerators, and sinks in the area are dedicated exclusively to gluten-free food preparation. Cutting boards, pans, bakeware, knives, thermometers, tongs, utensils, and serving gloves are all color-coded purple to avoid cross-contact with food and equipment that might contain gluten. Kitchen traffic has been rerouted so that the gluten-free area is isolated. Recipes have been entered into the searchable, online allergen filter database. Staff has been rigorously trained in gluten-free preparation and maintenance.
“Everyone in the building understands the procedures and the safeguards in place,” said Hess. “The entire chain -- from supplier, to receiver, to preparer, to server, to clean up crew – everyone knows how to handle the food and how to be safe.”
Because the only treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, the measures taken are stringent. “The assurances, safeguards, and training we’ve put in place give us a high comfort level that the food we serve is gluten-free,” said Van Dyke.
For several decades, Virginia Tech has been committed to honoring dietary restrictions and providing options for all dietary needs. Long before gluten-free became well-known, Dining Services’ dietitian had researched it and chefs made options available. Online menus have an allergen filter that can be used to sort menu items by allergen or gluten, giving those with food allergies or intolerances necessary ingredient information. The Y.E.S. (You’re Eating Smarter) program gives students with dietary preferences full-scale information to make informed choices about the various products offered in each of the dining centers. Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and sugar-free items are offered as part of everyday menus at Virginia Tech. In addition, students who have an interest in weight control, nutrient content, and healthy eating habits are encouraged to consult with Dining Services as part of Virginia Tech’s commitment to nutritional information and choice.