Dishing With One Dish Cuisine: The #1 Rated Independent Restaurant on AllergyEats
One Dish Cuisine Allergy-Friendly Food (image courtesy of One Dish Cuisine)
Maureen Burke had health problems her whole life, including severe gastrointestinal disorders, migraines, recurring sinus, ear and bladder infections, extreme fatigue, anemia, arthritis and blistering skin rashes. For years, doctors couldn’t diagnose – or cure – her myriad of medical issues and Maureen was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Frustrated by her illnesses, a gastroenterologist put her on an elimination diet to determine what was wrong, and things pointed to an issue with gluten. (Celiac disease was not well known and there were no blood tests or biopsies for this condition back then.) In fact, she was on several different elimination diets, beginning in 1988. She could eat boiled rice, boiled chicken, peas and water, which she pureed into baby food, and then could add one new food every three days. She still wasn’t getting full relief, and in 1994 was referred to an allergist who confirmed a milk allergy rather than just a lactose intolerance. Little was known about food allergies or celiac disease at that time, and there were few resources for her to access. Gluten-free products weren’t yet available, so Maureen made her own foods as the only guarantee that she’d know exactly what was in them. Once she completely cut gluten and dairy from her diet, her health improved significantly.
Years later, when her young nephew, Devin, was diagnosed with autism, his mother opted for a gluten, dairy and casein-free diet, rather than medication. Maureen used her cooking skills to make healthy meals that Devin could safely enjoy. The diet seemed to have a positive impact on Devin’s behavior, and when he ingested gluten or casein (milk proteins) his old behaviors returned quickly.
In 2010, based on her needs and the needs of her nephew, Maureen founded her company, One Dish Cuisine, providing gluten and allergen-free meals to hospitals and grocery stores. In 2012, Maureen opened One Dish Cuisine Café, Deli and Bakery (completely gluten-free, certified gluten-free, allergen-friendly and vegan-friendly) in Ellicott City, MD.
Today, One Dish Cuisine, Deli and Bakery is the #1 rated independent restaurant in the U.S. on AllergyEats (as of 12/14), so we chatted with Maureen to learn more:
How did you come up with One Dish Cuisine? What was the inspiration behind the restaurant?
I had my own serious health issues, and was eventually diagnosed with celiac disease and a milk allergy. Once I changed my diet, my health improved tremendously. Food allergies, celiac and autism have become epidemics, and people on special diets need to have someplace to go that can accommodate them. I’ve been to restaurants where the staff doesn’t know that butter contains milk or that gluten is wheat, rye and barley. We can send a man to the moon, but we can’t safely feed our people, and that is just crazy.
One Dish Cuisine offers a safe, allergy-friendly environment with minimal risk of cross contact, where dining out can be an enjoyable experience. The facility is free of many common allergens, including gluten (wheat, rye, barley), oats, soy, eggs, fish, shellfish, sesame, peanuts and tree nuts. We have two menus/cooking lines. The blue line is completely free of milk and the green line contains milk. We also use coconut in limited products. [Writer’s note: while coconut is considered a tree nut by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the vast majority of the medical community does not agree. However, those with peanut and tree nut allergies appear to have a higher likelihood of a coconut allergy.] Absolutely no outside food or beverage is allowed in the café to prevent the risk of cross-contamination and accidental exposure to allergens.
What are your food allergy protocols? How do you safely serve food-allergic diners?
Well, we don’t have many common allergens in our restaurant, so there is minimal chance of accidental exposure to those ingredients. We have two kitchens, the blue kitchen is also free of milk and the green kitchen contains milk products. We use green and blue trays to clearly designate which kitchen line the food comes from, thus letting everyone know if the item contains or is made in the kitchen with milk, and which are milk-free.
Most of our foods are made in-house because it’s hard to find products free of many allergens. If I want a Thai pizza with plum sauce, I make it myself; I buy the plums and make my own sauce, so I know exactly what’s in it. For products brought in from outside, we source allergy-friendly vendors and test our products at independent labs to ensure that everything we make is free of these particular allergens.
Why do you think it’s so important to be allergy-friendly?
There are just so many people with food allergies, celiac disease, and other issues like autism, and many people with celiac disease also have food allergies. I was so sick for much of my life, and it was hard for me to eat in restaurants. I’d eat out and have an allergic reaction. When I eat gluten, I have such a severe reaction that I can’t even get out of bed for five days. If I ingest milk, my ears and throat itch, my eyelids swell, and I get an itchy rash along with severe cramping and other gastrointestinal symptoms. I just got tired of not being able to eat out safely.
My aunts and uncles own restaurants and I have always loved cooking, so this is a passion for me. We can handle any allergy. When someone comes in with an allergy to something we have in house, we determine what kitchen they need to order from and review ingredient lists with them. We then shut down that kitchen, clean it, and take all appropriate measure to safely prepare that meal. No other food orders can be made in that kitchen until that particular special order has cleared the kitchen and has been served. Some people come in with an allergy to beef or poultry, and we can accommodate that. We have separate equipment that we use to slice the meat and the slicers come apart and go through our dishwasher between different protein cuts. Everything is cooked in its own dish or pan (hence the name One Dish Cuisine). We use dedicated slicers for real cheese and non-milk “cheeses”. We individually package our meats after slicing to ensure no cross contact of allergens. Basically, when people eat here, they know what they’re getting – delicious, healthy, allergy-friendly food.
How do you prevent outside food from being brought in?
We have signs everywhere. There’s a sign on our front door that people can see before they even walk in: “This is not an open food court, absolutely no outside food or beverages are allowed into our restaurant.” People can’t even bring in outside baby food, formula, or snacks. We talk to parents to make sure they don’t have outside food with them. We just can’t take that chance. If a baby is eating Cheerios brought from home, and they drop some and another child with a wheat allergy eats it – well, we can’t take that chance.
We have a line of Happy Baby Puffs and squeezes that are free of the top allergens. We don’t even allow baby bottles unless they’re filled only with water. A baby could shake their milk bottle and the child at the next table with a milk allergy could have an anaphylactic reaction if the milk contacted them, so that is why we don’t let any outside food, baby food, or outside formulas in our restaurant.
But you serve milk in your facility. How do you keep those with milk allergies safe?
That is why we have two kitchens/cooking lines. The blue kitchen is the place for those with milk allergies. For the most part, milk is only found in the cheese that would be on a sandwich and occasionally in a soup in the green kitchen. That is why we use color coded trays (green or blue) when serving the food from each kitchen line. Very young children can identify with colors and parents love this. I have three-year-old children who come in and proudly announce that they are on the blue menu!
We thought about not having any milk products, but is really hard to force people to eat non dairy “cheese” when they don’t have to. The taste and texture is very different. Having food that’s free from all of the other allergens does not change the taste or texture and we don’t need milk in our breads, pizza crusts or desserts. But when it comes to imitation “cheese” products, the taste is very different. Actually, most of our products are made in the blue kitchen For example, all chicken tenders and fries are made without milk in the blue kitchen.
Kids and adults with food allergies want to be included just like everyone else. They want pizza, sandwiches, wings and desserts. They just need to choose from our blue menu or green menu, feeling just like everyone else.
We strongly urge our customers to keep their food on their green or blue tray that it’s served on. Our customers know what these colors represent and it serves as a visual reminder to everyone that we have to be respectful of all of the possible allergies in here. The parents love this safety measure.
What has customer reaction been like?
People are so appreciative of the allergy-friendly environment that we’ve created here that most cry and want to hug us. Very rarely, we get complaints from people who want to bring in their own food. One customer has come here a few times with her three children, one who has allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. She began to open her own container of Cheerios that she brought from home. When I told her that she couldn’t bring her own snacks in here, at first she was offended. But when I explained why we have this rule, and that Cheerios contain wheat, she understood. She said that she was concentrating on her own child’s allergies, and not thinking about all of the different food-allergic people that we’re accommodating. Unfortunately, we live in a food court mentality and we are not a mall food court where you can bring in anything you want. Most people understand and appreciate that.
We have customers who come here on a regular basis from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. At this point, we’ve had visitors from every state in the US. We’ve also had guests from Australia, Scotland, Canada, Israel, Ireland, England, Amsterdam, Mexico, etc.
What are the top food allergens that you see among your customers?
The top one is gluten (wheat, rye and barley), #2 is milk, #3 is peanuts/tree nuts, #4 is eggs, #5 would be legumes, followed by sesame, mustard, shellfish, soy, fish and corn.
Do you serve a lot of diners without food allergies, too?
Yes! The food is made here (even our French fries), and we don’t use additives, preservatives or artificial colors or dyes. Some people come here because they want to enjoy healthy food. We’ve had non-allergic guests come in with a food-allergic customer, and then come back on their own because they love our food.
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