Ethnic culinary dining provides the opportunity for each of us to experience foods that have a unique characteristic unto that particular culture’s cuisine. We like to know that when we dine at an Italian restaurant we will be enjoying Italian flavors. Likewise, when we want to experience the flavors of Mexican food, we don’t want Thai mixed in, right? Well, it’s the same when someone is gluten-free. We don’t want any differentiation between what is gluten-free and what isn’t. Except for the safety issue, of course. When we purchase a product, or dine out at a restaurant, we expect the food to be of the same caliber, and just as delicious, as for those who have no restrictions.
PF Chang’s China Bistro is banking on just that expectation. They apply this philosophy to their complete gluten-free menu. PF Chang’s serves up gluten free entrees that deliver all the ethnic culinary flavors and experiences, without any compromises.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gregg Piazzi, PF Chang’s China Bistro’s Director of Culinary Training. I was sharing with him the difficulties of finding culinary experiences that can deliver quality and flavor equally to the non-restricted diner, as well as the gluten-free guest. He shared that PF Chang’s gluten-free offerings began in 2002. “At that time, the gluten-free guidelines were not clearly defined. It was much different then. Today the gluten free industry is surging, and I have resources to help me,” he explains.
Chef Gregg is proud of the menu and hastily and matter-of-factly directs all the success of being able to serve delicious gluten-free dishes with PF Chang’s traditional taste and flair to his Operations and Supply Chain teams. “I have to give all the credit to these resource teams. They make us who we are. These resources provide us the ability to deliver superb gluten-free cuisine. They create the vendor relationships, demand consistently high standards from distributors and manufacturers, and bring this all back to PF Chang’s to develop exceptional creations.” With this pool of talent, and access to more advanced product lines, the gluten-free menu now encompasses over twenty items, each offering delicious ethnic choices to an average of 20-30 allergen diners per day at each location. Chef Gregg shares how rewarding it is to directly affect people’s lives.
Creating dishes that are identical in flavor and presentation, but are free from gluten, requires time and dedication, states Chef Gregg. “Our gluten-free Dark Sauce tastes exactly the same as the original Dark Sauce, but development took awhile to get it just right. Now, we could serve it to any guest and they would not be able to tell the difference.” To ensure consistent quality and traditional flavor of the dishes without compromising under necessary dietary restrictions, each restaurant participates in training exercises called “Culinary Adventures” every 2-4 weeks. According to Chef Gregg, these include gluten-free “fire drills”, which simulate a gluten-free dining request. It begins with the server, continues on through the meal prep, and culminates at presentation to the guest. “This way the managers and servers are all part of the support team to make the entire dining experience successful.”
And a “culinary adventure” is what PF Chang’s will take you on. To whet your appetite, you can begin with GF Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps with wok-seared minced chicken, mushrooms, green onions, and water chestnuts, all served over crispy rice sticks to be wrapped in cool, crisp lettuce cups. If you’re like me, you’ll want to be sure to order a side of GF Garlic Snap Peas. I love snap peas, even raw, and when stir-fried with garlic, these become little gems of flavor. You may find continuing your flavor travels with GF Singapore Street Noodles a nice experience. Shrimp, chicken, and vegetables accompany rice noodles, are then stir-fried and complemented with a delicious, “not to be detected gluten-free” sauce.
If you’ve never experienced PF Chang’s, you may wish to indulge in one of their most popular gluten-free dishes. GF Chang’s Spicy Chicken presents sweet and spicy deliciousness with Tender, diced chicken breast lightly dusted and stir-fried with a tangy sauce to spark your taste buds, or try the GF Mongolian Beef with tender flank steak, wok-cooked, then quickly tossed with scallions and garlic. The Mongolian Beef is my personal favorite.
With 201 domestic restaurants located across all fifty states, compromising on an ethnic culinary cuisine in order to maintain a gluten-free lifestyle is just plain unnecessary, at least when dining at PF Chang’s China Bistro. Be sure to include them in your next “culinary adventure.”