Mark Kennett is the head chef at 100% gluten free restaurant Oscar and Bentley’s in Canterbury, Kent. As well as creating delicious food for the public in Oscar and Bentley’s kitchen, Mark runs a Facebook page and group – The Gluten Free Chef Gastronomic Rebel. Mark has worked hard to write up his tried and tested gluten free recipes and put them on these pages so that all of the Coeliac community has access to them. His generous supply of scrumptious gluten free recipes has been an inspiration for many newly diagnosed Coeliacs, encouraging them to cook and bake for themselves.
This week is Coeliac Awareness Week in the UK and Coeliac UK have given this year the theme “The Gluten Freevolution” to campaign for better awareness of eating out. This seemed like the perfect time to interview a man who is helping Coeliacs to eat out and in their own kitchens.
What made you want to work in a 100% gluten free restaurant?
I actually got head hunted for the job it found me! I started to question my own abilities as a chef; so how do you actually make bread & cakes with out gluten?! Is it actually possible?! A thirst for knowledge & perseverance with the attitude of “if I don’t know how to make it I will find a way & make it happen! ”
As a trained chef, do you find gluten free cooking more challenging than “normal” cooking?
Not really most food is naturally gluten free so it’s not a problem, but it was challenging in the beginning. I had to do so much research on various gluten free flours, grains & starches – I remember after accepting the job role, months before I even designed Oscar & Bentleys kitchen I was given £60 to play with some gluten free flours & experiment at home, I spent a whole day & night trying to work out how to make gluten free Yorkshire puddings look & taste like “normal”. These days there are so many very good pre-mixed gluten free flour blends in supermarkets that quite often I don’t even have to change/tweak any of my recipes apart swapping normal flour for a pre-blended gluten free flour.
What is your favourite gluten free recipe to make?
At the moment it’s Chocolate, Almond & Chia seed cake with salted Caramel Ganache. It is currently O&B ‘a best selling cake this year!
Why do you think some non-Coeliac chefs struggle to understand the need for allergy/Coeliac safe food? (e.g Prue Leith’s anti-free from rant – replied to here)
A lot of chefs simply just don’t know the full extent of how damaging it can be for someone who needs to eat a gluten free diet. There are some that think it hinders their creativity in the kitchen and I’m afraid there are a few who are just plain ignorant.
I don’t think cooking free from food hinders too much, of course it is a lot more difficult to create something totally free from and you will never get the same results, but some things do taste better for e.g. Gluten free beer batter does actually taste better & stays crisper for longer!
Cooking free from actually opens up all sorts of possibilities & problems, the number of restaurants now offering at least gluten-free if not a wider range of allergen-free meals has been growing rapidly over the year. Of course, the ‘draconian’ regulations that were imposed by the 2014 food information regulations (https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/food-allergen-labelling-technical-guidance.pdf
) were not remotely draconian. All they actually required food service outlets to do was to know what was in their food, to know what the 14 major allergens were, and to be able to tell their customers whether any of those 14 allergens were in the foods that they were proposing to serve them. There was, and is, no requirement to actually offer any allergen-free food at all.
I do believe good free from food prepared safely should be mandatory I hear all too often people getting turned away a certain restaurants that can’t cater to there needs or become ill due to poor training.
Which three of your gluten free recipes do you think anyone could make?
Bread, Fruit Scones, Raspberry Frangipane. [join his group to follow the links!]
The Gluten free bread recipe is tried & tested hundreds of times , not just by me & my kitchen brigade but by several of the free from community who actually gave me a few tips on improving my gluten free bread recipe – it’s more of a thick batter than a traditional bread dough so requires no kneading!
The raspberry frangipane is pretty straight forward once the pastry has been made & rested its contains basic ingredients most homes stock in the cupboard & fridge. As a lot of free from cooking can & does ask for a lot of strange flours that are some times hard to find apart from on the internet that you will only use once or twice before the use by date!
The scone recipe, is and has become the most asked for recipe on how to produce a good gluten free scone. My recipe is very unorthodox way of making scones as the traditional method of ‘the virgin roll’ doesn’t apply to my gluten free recipe it is more like a very thick cake batter, but it produces the lightest, airiest scones. Most people who don’t follow or need a gluten free diet try them can’t believe there gluten free at all! Again I get loads of praise from the free from community how easy & lovely they are to make.
Are there any “normal” foods that you’ve yet to create a gluten free recipe for that you’re itching to make?
Pecan Danish pastry!!!! That’s would make very happy.
Do you think the gluten free fad diet has aided or hindered Coeliac awareness overall?
I think it’s aided it there used to be so many people that never heard of it the media gave it a bad name but more & more people are opening up to the fact it’s not a fad & have a better understanding of it.
Are there any changes you would like to see in chain restaurants? For example, should they offer wider free from range or focus on cross contamination?
Gluten Cross contamination is a big problem a lot of kitchens and bakeries that offer any sort of gluten free goods ( unless there dedicated 100% gluten free ) as they just don’t have the space to have a dedicated area for gluten-free food preparation but education is a step forward in the right direction.
I think low gluten menus are just plain stupid, misinforming & confusing for newly diagnosed Coeliacs. Education is key and the Food Standard Agency need to do more to work with local EHO (environmental health officers) as opposed to relying on charities like Coeliac UK & Allergy UK. Although charities do accreditation it’s hard for small businesses to fund them on a yearly basis.
What is your favourite gluten free flour to work with?
I’m a big fan of chickpea flour, it makes a great substitute for eggs in a egg Free Spanish omelette, I use it to make Pudla an Indian flatbread with ginger, turmeric & coriander paired with My Aubergine chutney & Bengali curry. As for a Brand? Doves farm gluten free self raising flour.
What hopes do you have for Coeliac Awareness in eateries in the future?
Education in the work place, I feel there needs to be more done to educate & help stop cross contamination of gluten with gluten free food
How does it feel to be a celebrity amongst the Coeliac community?
Me a Celebrity? Wow that’s big boots to fill! I feel honoured it’s nice to feel appreciated as working in kitchens is a thankless task.
A big thank you to Mark for agreeing to be a part of this! Don’t forget to check out his Facebook page and Oscar and Bentley’s website!