My gluten-free experiment left me feeling like a second-class citizen

In his quest to develop the upcoming Huck’s American Bar and Grill menu, James Haywood shares his experience of a gluten-free life

The Mac n Cheese on the new Huck's menu is gluten-free
The Mac n Cheese on the new Huck's menu is gluten-free
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The Mac n Cheese on the new Huck's menu is gluten-free
The Mac n Cheese on the new Huck's menu is gluten-free

Baked beans. They were my safety net during my four-week trial of living as a coeliac. Staring into a half-empty tin of Celebrations at Christmas, realising I couldn’t have anything other than a Bounty, I wondered to myself: ‘why on earth am I doing this?’

The answer is, I was curious. We’re developing allergen-friendly menus alongside our main menus for restaurants including Sports Café and Huck’s, and I just wanted to see what it was like out of interest. I wanted to know how accessible gluten-free food is, not at home because there are supermarkets – although some are better than others – I wanted to look out onto the high street.

I embarked on my mission and, in the first seven days, I actually had a 100 per cent gluten-free week. What I soon realised was that, inside the walls of my home, I could live a gluten-free lifestyle fairly easily. But step outside and it’s an absolute minefield. It’s everywhere! I was surprised at how many foods contained the ingredient, in things I didn’t even think possible such as chocolate. You really need to think about what you’re going to eat for your next meal: planning ahead was key for me.

“Inside the walls of my home, I could live a gluten-free lifestyle fairly easily. But step outside and it’s an absolute minefield”

But overall, I was most surprised – astounded, really – at just how neglected coeliacs are. Some high street coffee or sandwich shops couldn’t offer me more than a brownie or a single wrap.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. The silver lining for me was TGI Friday in London; I visited there with our suppliers after Eddie [McAdam, Group Food and Beverage and Retail Manager] had been waxing lyrical about it. I opened the menu and – between the burgers and pasta – I thought ‘there’s nothing on here for me’. But I asked the server and he presented me with this gluten-free menu.

It was honestly amazing. No fuss, no asking: “Sorry, can you take this out” “Can I have this without that”. I could just enjoy the experience.

Gluten-free Center Parcs
My trial made me realise that, actually, we do need gluten-free dishes, we do need gluten-free beer. The Mac ‘n’ Cheese in Huck’s is now being made gluten-free across the board, for example. The experience has really made focus more – where we can – on tweaking dishes and taking ingredients out where we don’t need to have them, so we can make them accessible for coeliacs. For example, the fajita spice in our fajitas contain gluten, so I’ve now changed the spice and changed the wrap.

As chefs you are guilty of being a bit inflexible. Particularly in top restaurants I’ve worked in; there are chefs who won’t cook lamb any way other than medium, for example. Vegans and vegetarians were often made to feel a nuisance. But it’s their world as well as anyone else’s, and during my gluten-free trial I can attest that when you do have dietary requirements, you are literally made to feel like a second-class citizen when dining out.

But that hasn’t deterred from our mission at Center Parcs. I’m especially looking forward to the launch of the new Huck’s menu at the end of this month. When you think of American food, you associate it with carbs and gluten, which could put some people off. So I just can’t wait for our guests to see it and feel at ease knowing they can select a burger or the fajitas from the menu, even if they’re gluten-intolerant.

 

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  • Paul Wright

    Really good blog, having being diagnosed with Coeliac in 2013 it was a massive change to my eating habbits, cutting out beer was hard enough but i have also struggled to eat out as most places do not seem to want to accommodate such intorrerences (with Pizza Express being the main one who are very good with GF items).

    Happily I have found that in my 4 stays at Center Parcs since my diagnosis the CP restaurants (sports cafe / hucks) have always been more than happy to accommodate my GF requirements. Even before the law changes in Dec 2014 I have found that the staff where very happy to help and adapt items on the menu to suit my needs, but i guess this is one of the many reasons that makes me come back to Center Parcs time and time again :-)

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. I’m really pleased to hear that our Center Parcs teams have been accommodating toward your gluten-free requirements. Hopefully the new menu at Huck’s American Bar and Grill will offer you even more choice during your next stay.

    • Ros

      You want to try being a gluten intolerant AND a vegetarian. I’ve lost sight of the entire concept of ‘choice’ when eating out. I’m sick to death of roasted mediterranean vegetables, (the current favourite veggie offering) and often end up eating salad and chips as the only offering available.

  • Claire Garden

    This is a good read and an excellent introduction to living with food allergy. Center Parcs has a good reputation amongst mothers of children with allergies as somewhere safe to go. If you were to consider repeating your experience, could I suggest a dairy free trial? The allergy is quite common in children and just as difficult to live with. Milk, like gluten, is everywhere!

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Claire, thanks for your comment. I can confirm there will also be a menu for those with an intolerance to lactose, so the whole family can enjoy dining at Huck’s American Bar and Grill.

      • http://www.dairyfreebabyandme@blogspot.co.uk dairyfreebabyandme

        Hi Amy!

        It’s god to know that you’re looking at expanding ‘lactose free’ for those that can’t have lactose (the sugar in milk) but it’s not terribly helpful for those with a milk allergy – who can’t have milk protein (something entirely different to lactose). This is a common misunderstanding, that crucially needs to be grasped by anyone seeking to develop a menu that is inclusive for those with allergies. To be clear: Lactose intolerant people can eat milk free food and lactose free food, milk allergic people can eat milk free food but cannot eat lactose free food – as it still contains the proteins that make them ill. I suggest you look into creating milk free items on the menu that can be enjoyed by both lactose intolerant and milk allergic folks. Lactose free food will exclude the milk allergic.

        Furthermore, many milk allergic folks are also allergic to soya – as the proteins are so similar. If you were to ensure that your milk free food was also soya free, even more folks would be able to appreciate these dishes.

        One last thing, as excited as I am (as a gluten free person) to note that you care expanding the range available for gluten free folks, I will sadly only benefit if they are also dairy free. As rare as gluten free food might be, when out and about, food that is both gluten and dairy free is even rarer. I often have only one choice on any given menu. I have to like it or lump it! I would love to see more dishes that are both gluten AND dairy free. Many coeliacs are unable to have lactose, and an increasing number of folks are going both dairy and gluten free, whether for health reasons, or because people have discovered that both these are difficult for their stomachs to digest. When I cam to Center Parcs, the other year, I was upset to discover that at The Waffle House could make me a gluten free dish or a vegan dish (also dairy free) but not one that was both, so there was nothing that I could eat there at all!

        If you would be able to accommodate some of these suggestions I would be extremely grateful, as we love coming to Center Parcs, but we generally eat most of our own meals, as eating out is so tricky!

        Regards

        Louise

        • Amy Dickson

          Hi Louise, thanks for your comment and really helpful feedback. I’ll pass on your thoughts to James and the team. Although Huck’s American Bar and Grill won’t have a specific dairy-free menu, the chefs at our restaurants will be happy to accommodate any dietary requirements you might have. Just ask your server during your next break. Hope to see you again soon!

  • James McMicking

    To James Haywood, after your gluten free experiment,. Why not do a dairy free trial, I found it quite hard as there is more milk products in most foods

  • Suzi bloomfield

    The other thing to try to do is offer or make clear what on the menus contains cows milk for example as it make life easier for those intolerant to milk.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Suzi, thanks for your comment. I can confirm that there will also be a menu for those with an intolerance to lactose, so the whole family can enjoy dining at Huck’s American Bar and Grill.

  • Helen Parberry

    This is great news, it’s really great to see center parcs offering gluten free meals. My 7 year old daughter is gluten free and we will often avoid eating out because of this. Can I please ask that you don’t forget the children on your new menu, often we will go to restaurants offering gluten free but meals are geared more for adults. Simple gluten free fish fingers and chips or burger and chips would be a great start. Thank you James Haywood

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Helen, thanks very much for your comment. I can confirm that there will be gluten-free menu items for children too, so your little ones won’t miss out.

  • http://www.glutenfreefoodproducts.co.uk Keith Bond

    We are having our Honeymoon at Whinfell Forest in February will the new menu be in place by then as my wife to be is Coeliac and I also eat GF for health reasons.

  • http://www.hijackedbytwins.com Kirsty Hijacked By Twins

    This will make a fantastic addition to the restaurant. I would love to see all restaurants serving from a gluten free menu.

  • Helen Parkar

    Fantastic article! Its shows a real understanding of one of the trials of living with coeliac disease – eating out! No one really understands Coeliac unless they have it and even then its a struggle! The issue of it being an immune disease and therefore the need to follow a strict gluten free diet with no cross contamination is the hardest point to get across but you have grasped that!! Thank you

  • Lynda

    I love how you have approached gluten free. It would be wonderful if you would do the same for dairy free . When dining out, for me the best experience is being told what I can have (I always say I can’t eat milk butter cream etc in advance if booking) rather than giving you the whole menu and then being told what you can’t have. So the idea of a gluten free menu is great. And if it is not going too far then a similar menu for dairy free.

    Looking forward a stay at Sherwood Forest in early March.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Lynda, thanks for your comment. Not to worry, I can confirm there will also be a menu for those with an intolerance to lactose so hopefully you can enjoy more positive dining experiences during your next break in March.

      • Lynda

        That’s really good to know. But thank you.

  • Heather maddison

    Dairy free meals in restaurants are not available, making eating out not a pleasant experience. We need more dairy free options, not a hard challenge, it’s very easy to make changes to recipes. Milk, butter & cheese are the main culprits. ‘Free from’ ranges in supermarkets carry very little dairy free products.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Heather, thanks for your comment. I can confirm there will also be a menu for those with an intolerance to lactose, which should make your dining experiences more pleasant during your next break.

  • T. Homes

    Hooray! At last! It’s about time chefs etc realised how many people ‘out there’ need such diets, it will be interesting to see what you’ve come up with & now we can look forward to our next visit without having to live on jacket potato & beans

  • Helen

    I am a coeliac, how refreshing to read the experience James Haward had eating gluten free, I am going to Elveden in February and will look forward to the new menu in Hucks!

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Helen, thanks for your comment. Great to hear that you’ll be able to try out the new menu on your next break – don’t forget to share your feedback with us!

  • Kat

    Visiting longleat cp this weekend – first visit since becoming a coeliac …..

  • Catherine

    I think it’s great you are rolling out gluten free menu choices in your menus. As a dairy allergy sufferer, I would love it if you could do the same for dairy and other allergy sufferers. It really would take the panic out of dining out, wondering if you will be able to eat anything “safe” and put the enjoyment back into eating out. And with food allergies becoming more common and recognised now, I think it is something restaurants will have to do for their business’s sake.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Catherine, thanks for your comment. I confirm there will also be a menu for those with an intolerance to lactose, which should go some way to ensuring you have a stress-free dining experience at Center Parcs.

  • dawn

    this is great news! was dissaponited to learn none of the burgers at huck’s were gluten free when I visited shherwood in November. it actually isn’t that hard to cook gluten free. well done for moving with the times, eventually, c parcs, this will become more and more common.

  • Tim

    In the US Anheuser-Busch do an excellent mass produced GF beer called “Redbridge ” made from Sorghum but so far you can’t get it in the UK – if you could source and supply that in your restaurants you’d be onto a winner. Way better than any other GF beer I’ve ever tasted so good gluten eaters will choose it too!

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Tim, thanks for your comment. I’ll pass on your recommendation to James!

  • Sarah

    Great news that you are considering gluten free when developing the menus but as someone who is dairy free can I add this and others to your list aswell please? If you consider being gluten free like being a second class citizen then being dairy free is like being a third class system. Lots of places now label things gluten free but it is very rare to find other allergies labelled and you end up having a negotiation with the server or eating the only thing on the menu you can. Having visited you over the Christmas break I was delighted to find that the Pancake house offered a dairy free batter only to be very disappointed when it arrived as it was half the size of the normal ones and a gluey tasteless mess. Full credit to you for thinking of us though!

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment. I can confirm there will also be a menu at Huck’s American Bar and Grill for those with an intolerance to lactose.

  • http://Glutenfree PATRICIA ROBINSON

    I am delighted you are adapting your menus to become gluten free. My eldest daughter was diagnosed as a coeliac 18 months ago and what a huge learning curve we have been on since then. On recent visits to center parcs we were disappointed not to be able to eat at Hucks but we were happy to find that we could at Hawtons. I am sure you will be making so many people happy that you are addressing this problem because it can be so difficult to eat out as a family and when you are on holiday that is something we love to do. Can’t wait to visit again and try out your new menus. Thank you

  • http://www.thewolfdogblog.com Stephanie coombs

    Wow, awesome way to get a reality check on how difficult it can be. I recently went out for Sunday lunch to a local pub with family and they struggled to offer me anything for a main meal. I ended up with some dry chicken and veg – no potatoes or gravy and for dessert just ice cream, which I declined….seeing as it was December and I am not a child!
    Will be looking at the longleat parc as an option now!

  • emma french

    Wow,such a good article, non gluten friends don’t realise how hard it is too eat out. I can’t wait to come and visit centre parks

  • Nicola Bennett

    Brilliant news about gluten free, and highly encouraging that you tried a coeliac lifestyle for a month to see what it is really like. Our 5 yr old son is coeliac and I spend my life recreating dishes for parties, and at home, so he never feels different. Going out to eat can be a massive issue, mainly due to cross contamination fears as many restaurants do not understand that it has to be an entirely separate area, clean hands, clean utensils etc etc, not just different ingredients! Thank you so much for taking the time and making the effort, things like that mean the world to coeliacs, and coeliac parents, as it is certainly not just a ‘fad’ for many of us. Have you considered being Coeliac UK accredited like Pizza Express? We come to elveden next weekend, and can’t wait to have the ease of dining out with our very excited little boy! Best wishes.

  • David bailey

    Great to hear – as a vegetarian coeliac it’s great too see more options coming onto menus.

  • https://www.facebook.com/Thefortypercentclub Cait Green

    This is great news that Centre Parks is working in this way, from real experience into menu planning. Gluten free eaters I’m sure will appreciate the work and efforts made on their behalf.
    Can I make a plea for those with dairy issues — this is not just lactose intolerance, but also cow-milk protein allergy and sensitivity – a need for avoiding the proteins of milk rather than the sugars.
    Removing only lactose, or providing menus with lacto-free alternative ingredients is, of course, a great achievement, but there are 3.5% of the adult population of UK with milk-protein problems and a greater proportion of children who find that eating out, staying in hotels and going on holiday can be really difficult
    Compared the number of vegans (180,000) in the UK this is a significant portion of your potential guests and it would be wonderful to see proper understanding of their needs and provision for them at your restaurants.

  • Heather Jellett

    This is great news – finally someone is listening to those of us who have dietary needs. Although I am not a coeliac I do have Type 2 Diabetes and IBS. I therefore have to look at menus quite closely to make sure that the sugar content in foods are not too high. Would it be at all possible to mark menu items with a “D” to denote a suitable food for diabetics similar to the “V” currently used for vegetarian food. Also I very often have to forego a dessert as there is nothing I can have (all desserts seem to be sugar-loaded) and no cheese & biscuits option (only at Hawtons at Longleat!). Could cheese and biscuits be offered in all the restaurants please?

  • Joy Snape

    Great to see progress in considering dietary needs. However, I am also lactose intolerant and find that most gluten free menus are then loaded with dairy products especially desserts. There are plenty of recipes that are dairy and gluten free. Lactose intolerance is quite common but few restaurants seem to have considered it.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Joy, thanks for your comment. Don’t worry, there will also be a lactose-free menu at Huck’s American Bar and Grill.

  • Kate Wakefield

    I love the article, it is so true. We feel really safe about eating at home or properties where we can self cater, but I don’t want my son to become anxious about eating out because it is not feasible or stressful. My son is allergic to Dairy, Egg, Fish and Tomatoes. I find the dairy allergy is harder than the nut and gluten, as it is catered for less. The biggest thing my son misses on our weekends to centre parks is chocolate ice cream. I have to say I did enquiry about eating out, at one of the restaurants and they were very helpful, compassionate and thoughtful.

  • Annemieke Fox

    Great article, thanks you so much James for recognising the importance of offering a variety of dishes suitable for those with allergies or intolerances. I have to say that most places, center parcs included, are very sympathetic and knowledgeable about what is suitable for me as a coeliac but this issue is more about a lack of choice, or having to not have a sauce with your dish etc. Great news that you are addressing this, I’m looking forward to my stay in March even more now!

  • Leanne Brown

    Really pleased that you took the time to find out what it’s like to be Coeliac as it will mean you won’t treat us as a nuisance like many places do. You also sound very knowledgeable- you’d be amazed how many waiters/chefs either look blank or just give a blanket ‘no’ when you ask if anything is gluten free. One of the most difficult things about being coeliac is that your condition dominates where you can go out to eat. We are visiting Center Parcs at Easter and I am excited to know our options will be expanded. Whilst I agree with previous posters that staff at Hucks/The Sports Bar have been helpful on previous visits, what I really want is a menu that I know is safe and to just blend in with other diners, not having to make a fuss. Your changes will make this possible on our next visit so thank you very much for your efforts.

  • Rhiannon Wheeler

    I’m coming to Center Parcs for the first time in May 2015. My daughter has been several times and sent me the link about gluten free food at Huck’s. I am used to making do when eating out, so I am already looking forward to a better eating experience than expected on my holiday. Thanks James, and keep up the good work!

  • Claire Garden

    Thank you for your reply Amy. I’m disappointed that you seem to confuse lactose intolerance and a dairy allergy. Those with a cow’s milk protein allergy, often small children, can have a reaction as severe as any peanut allergy, which seems to be better acknowledged by the catering industry. It seems after my initial enthusiasm there will be no dairy free menu, so no progress for my family and many like us.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Claire, thanks for your really useful feedback and apologies for my error. Although, the lactose-free menu features dishes for those with an intolerance to the sugar in dairy and not the intolerance to the protein in dairy, our chefs would be more than happy to accommodate your dietary requirements if you speak with the server.

  • Claire lund

    Hi this sounds great. Could I please just point out though that dairy allergy is not lactose intollerance. It is an allergy to the protein in milk and there are unbelievable amounts of people who have this allergy so a few total dairy free meals would be a great idea. :)

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Claire, thanks for your feedback and apologies for my error. Although, the lactose-free menu features dishes for those with an intolerance to the sugar in dairy and not the intolerance to the protein in dairy, our chefs would be more than happy to accommodate your dietary requirements if you speak with the server.

  • Rebecca Jewell

    I stayed at Woburn last Sept after recently switching to a dairy and gluten free diet -I was very impressed with how helpful the staff were in the restaurants. Particularly lovely was the GF/DF pancakes from the pancake house, although shame they don’t do a waffle with sorbet for desert -I would be in heaven! Sorbet is a great easy option for dairy free, so it was good to see this offered in some restaurants and at the sweet shop in the Plaza.
    I’m going back in Sept this year, so looking forward to seeing the new Hucks menu!

  • Kate Holton

    This is great, as is having a lactose free menu but I do feel the need to point out that dairy allergy and lactose intolerance are not the same thing. Allergy to cows milk is very common in children and involves an allergy to the protein. Lactose is the sugar in milk so those allergic to milk protein cannot eat lactose free products if they still contain milk protein. As the mother of a child with a dairy allergy eating out can be very difficult so to have dairy free options would be great.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Kate, thanks for your comment and apologies for my error. Although, the lactose-free menu features dishes for those with an intolerance to the sugar in dairy and not the intolerance to the protein in dairy, our chefs would be more than happy to accommodate your dietary requirements if you speak with the server.

  • Kelly Allen

    Great blog.
    Like other comments before a dairy free one would be good. I see on the replies you say there is a lactose free menu however Cow milk protein is completely different and which a lot of children have. Milk seem to get in to so many foods which you wouldn’t expect it to!

  • http://www.jilltaylorconsulting.com Jill Taylor

    I run a small business concentrating on accredited food safety training and consultancy services. The latest training course in our portfolio is the brand new CIEH Food Allergen Awareness Level 2 course, which was released in Late December to help food businesses comply with the new allergen declaration legislation. I am a pro-active trainer and am always on the lookout for resources from the “real world” & would love to use this blog post as a case study and example of how to approach catering for food allergies and intolerances in a positive manner, rather than just a “tick the box” exercise.
    I hope this will be ok, feel free to contact me on the email address supplied or check out the website if you want to verify my business.
    Great blog & even better approach to getting it right!

  • Lisa tolliday

    This is great news. Having stayed at centre parcs before I can say you were already doing a better job than most of catering for our severely allergic daughter.
    Can I please reinforce that an allergy to cows milk protein is a very serious condition and not to be confused with lactose intolerance. And that soya is nota good milk substitute as a lot of people with milk allergy are just as bad with soya. We’ve yet to find anywhere that would use oat milk or similar as a substitute.

    Very good effort though. Well done. Xxxx

  • Leigh

    Can I point out that cows milk protein allergy and lactose intolerance are completely different.

    However I do love this approach to eating out with allergies. I was very impressed when staying in Sherwood in November that the staff at the restaurants were so attentive and able to provide my son ( milk and egg allergies) with nice meals out. I would second the suggestion of highlighting on the menu what meals have other allergens in them or having a full breakdown available on request ( beefeater chain does this) it does make eating out just a little bit easier.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Leigh, thanks for your comment. Great suggestion regarding breaking down allergen information; I’ll pass this on to the relevant team.

  • Jackie Cocklin

    I am pleased to hear that you did the trial, we love center parts but had to stop eating at hucks diner because of the menu, my 17 year old daughter has been coeliac and type one diabetic for 9 years and it has been really tough to eat out due to lack of gluten free food however the availability has improved vastly since she was diagnosed, although more availability is needed, it would make a nice change to eat out without the worry and having to ring in advance. I must say though that the staff have been great when we’ve been to the pancake house and sports cafe and nothing has been too much trouble.i think a visit to hucks, when we come for her 18th ,is on the menu :)))

  • Joanne

    This article is so true! As a mum of a newly diagnosed 2 yr old daughter to coeliac disease I agree with the comments. I hope that when we visit in December that these new menu changes benefit the childrens menu as well as the adults!

  • Beth Harvey

    I applaud you for trying a gluten free diet for a month James but I must point out that even the bountys in Celebrations aren’t safe for coeliacs due to cross contamination in the factory where they are made.

  • Jenny

    This is a good read however as a mum of 2 children with cows milk protein allergies I find gluten free diets are catered for far more then dairy free diets. We use to eat out a lot but since having the children we are always made to feel like we are asking for the world if we ask for allergy information so we are very limited on where we can go. We have a long weekend in center parcs booked in June and I’m hoping the restaurants will be able to cater for my little ones. I have heard good reviews from other allergy mums so fingers crossed it will be a nice relaxing time for us.

  • Tracey

    This is brilliant news! I am a coeliac and visiting whitnell in July. Eating out or take aways are generally a no go for me, so I can’t wait to try the menu!

  • Elaine Cheshire

    We are regular visitors to Whinfell forest where I have found the staff in all the restaurants helpful when I ask about wheat in the menu. I cannot tolerate wheat, even gluten free, so need to find if it’s in certain sauces & gravy etc. A lot of people assume it’s a gluten intolerance when I ask so have to make it clear. I know quite a few people with a wheat intolerance like myself. Many dishes can be adapted to avoid wheat using cornflour etc.

  • Shareen

    Well done to James! I wanted to find out which Centre Parcs is James’ place of work?
    I’m trying to work out which the best Centre Parcs is to visit as a mother of an 8 year old coeliac.

    Presumably Hucks also has cross contamination controls in place? E.g. to ensure chefs wash their hands, have a separate food preparation area and separate cooking utensils for the gluten-free food items. Otherwise, despite “gluten-free” items being available, they could be contaminated with small amounts of gluten and this could make coeliacs very unwell.

    Thanks!
    Shareen

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Shareen, thanks for your comment. We have prevention of cross contamination procedures in place in all our kitchens, in line with FSA guidelines

  • Louise Taylor

    Great news! I am gluten free and we’re coming to stay for the first time at the end of March (Sherwood Forest) and I was a bit concerned what it would be like eating out etc. Just out of interest – will you be publishing info/leaflet on which restaurants will be offering a gluten free menu (so we can pick this up on arrival) or will this be something that will be applying to all of your eateries? (not sure if it’s just Sports Café and Huck’s?) I know you do take-aways, so it would be great if there were some gluten free options there too (e.g. for Chinese food it’s possibly to substitute soy sauce in cooking for tamari, which is gluten free…) – just a thought…

  • Karen

    Very good read, excellent way of learning about living gluten free and menu will be welcome change. There are numerous people asking about dairy free in this comment section and being told there will be a lactose intolerance menu, which is NOT the same as dairy free. Dairy allergy is dairy allergy whether the lactose has been removed or not. My kids are both gluten and dairy allergic, does the menu account for multiple allergies or just one at a time?!

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Karen, thanks for your comment. Although there is no dairy-free menu, only a lactose-free variant, the chefs in our restaurants are always happy to accommodate any dietary requirements you might have; just ask your server and they’ll be able to assist.

  • Cathy & Ian Haywood

    It’s great to hear you’re catering for restricted diets. We are regular visitors to Elveden (and now Woburn as well) and we are both vegan.
    We often find it hard to eat out and can feel outcast, and when at Center Parcs we have often struggled although there have been some establishments, particularly the Foresters and Zillis, who have gone above and beyond to help us. It would be great if we could also eat easily at others, such as Hucks, Bella Italia and the Sports Cafe.
    So please don’t forget us vegans!
    Keep up the good work!

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Cathy, thanks for your comment. I can confirm there will also be a vegan menu for Huck’s American Bar and Grill alongside our allergen menus, which will hopefully offer you a bit more choice during your next break. Hope to see you again soon!

  • Emma Hutchinson

    A fantastic exercise for understanding living with a dietary requirement. I have already heard great comments regarding eating with dietary requirements at Center Parcs.

    As a customer with a dairy allergy, lactose intolerance and possible coeliac disease please can you make sure all staff understand the difference between lactose intolerance and cows milk allergy. It is completely different and essential when creating a menu.
    I am also an allergy awareness trainer and if you have sn questions I would be happy to chat more.

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Emma, thanks for your comment. I can confirm all of our staff receive the appropriate training regarding allergies. Indeed, there will be a gluten-free and lactose-free menu at Huck’s American Bar and Grill and, although there will not be a specific dairy-free variant, the chefs at our restaurants are more than happy to accommodate any dietary requirements you might have. Just ask your server during your next break.

  • Brooke Ahmed

    This is great news, I’ve been pouring through the menus on the Centreparcs app trying to see what I might be able to eat as I’m gluten and dairy free and this will now give me a wider choice of options. Great news Centreparcs

  • Maxine Rider

    This is music to my ears!!! We love Centreparcs and have visited about 11 times in the last 6 years since my daughter was born. Last year after being very poorly my 3 year old son has been diagnosed with coeliac disease, eating out is definitely a stress, handing over the control of food preparation and knowing that my son could be very ill, is worrying indeed. As a vegetarian of 25 years I know what its like to be considered a ‘fussy eater’ but in my sons case a gluten free diet is not a choice he has an auto immune disease. Your work towards including gluten free food in your menus will not only take the pressure off parents like me but also undoubtable have positive effect on peoples attitudes and knowledge of coeliac disease. Thank you.

  • Claire

    Do you cater for children with a nut allergy?

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Claire, thanks for your comment. I can confirm we cater for those with a nut allergy. In our restaurants we are able to advise if nuts feature in any of the menu dishes. If you let us know of your nut allergy, we can also ensure appropriate prevention of cross-contamination while it’s being prepared. If your little ones are taking part in an activity, I can also confirm that Activity Den is a nut-free zone.

  • http://www.happyigloo.com Kate Hardie

    This is such refreshing news to hear, Thank you James Haywood! As a parent of a child with coeliac disease and a huge fan of visiting Center Parcs it is really refreshing to hear a chef really listen to people’s needs and on top of that really experience what it is like to live with coeliac disease. Thank you.

  • http://www.n1c79eats.blogspot.com Nicola

    This is greats news as I went a whole holiday at centre parcs a few years ago eating in the villa. Please don’t forget about other allergies too such as dairy free and egg free as they often come hand in hand with gluten free. Look forward to trying in future.

  • Katy Smith

    With the recent change in allergen labelling,I have found, as a mother to a child with multiple allergies (milk,egg,nuts,prawns and sesame) that providing a separate menu, showing what meals contain in terms of the top 14 allergens and any info on how meals can be adapted to reduce allergen content is by far the easiest for everyone. Thanks for considering gluten and hopefully you can expand this concept with other allergens.

  • Gill

    Well done to Centerparcs – I have never been and never really thought about going – this article may just have changed my mind. A lot of restaurants could do so much more and quite easily and cheaply so its good to see Centerparcs leading the way forward. Well done please spread the word! Gill

    • Amy Dickson

      Hi Gill, thanks for your comment. Great to hear that James’s post has changed your outlook on Center Parcs. If you’d like more information on our locations, accommodation and restaurants, visit http://www.centerparcs.co.uk

  • Georgina Crawford

    Thank you, James.
    As someone who is gluten and dairy intolerant, I really struggle. I get round it by eating steak and salad – no dressing every time I go out, so I’m looking forward to our two breaks with Centre PARC’s even more now! Being on the road and taking long car journeys is a pain with these two dietary restrictions, as all convenience food on the run is wheat based. Look forward to our break in Feb.

  • Deb

    Great! Now what can you do for someone who is allergic to dairy egg soya and wheat. Coeleacs are well catered for in comparison to a little boy with eosinophilic gastro intestinal disease :(

  • Nick Bradley

    It’s great to read this article and for a chef to actually try and experience GF for real is very impressive and I must congratulate you on your endeavour.

    However I’m staying at Sherwood Forest (writing this from my Villa) and have to say that the reality isn’t living up to the best intentions of your team. There are two main areas of concern: firstly the range and mixed quality of GF options and secondly the very minimal choice when a customer has more that one dietary requirement or choice.

    Firstly – the quality of the bun for burgers in Hucks for example was poor. It was dry and difficult to eat and the bottom disintegrated at first touch. The chips in the Forresters was so bad that I took only one look and the waitress took them away totally embarrassed at having had to try and serve them. However the chocolate and orange tart (which was not on the menu) was excellent. Cafe Rouge was a disaster with bland risotto being the only option. Pancake House however has excellent omelettes and pancakes which are really good. Strada pizza was excellent but there was no pasta choice.

    Secondly – like many coeliacs I am also dairy protein intolerant (many others are lactose intolerant) and I am also vegetarian so I often opt for a vegan choice to cover the bases so to speak. Hucks choice was only the vegetarian burger which is bits of vegetables in a bun which was not a burger in any shape or form. Fries very poor too. Cafe Rouge was only the risotto which was bland. Canopy bar is salad which was poor and fries also poor. Forresters only choice was super food salad which was actually quite good. Dexters and Sports Cafe had nothing on the menu for me.

    I do applaud you for the progress so far but all you have done really is slice and dice your old menu into GF and lactose options which simply restricts choice and with only a couple of vegetarian offerings in half of your restaurants. Even your staff and telling me that they can’t believe how restricted the offerings are and whilst they do try their best they don’t control the menus.

    I also acknowledge that you only control your own restaurants and don’t control the franchisees but you do have a responsibility to your customers to lead the way and enforr better choice and quality in your own and franchised offerings.

  • Rebecca elliott

    As the mother of a 3 year old coeliac I think any step forward to offer more for anyone who suffers, either from an allergy or an auto immune disorder, should be applauded. Establishments have to start somewhere and this is a positive move for everyone. Let’s hope we can build on this. Well done centre parcs!!

  • Catherine Elizabeth Nightingal

    We have always felt spoilt – myself and my 2 daughters (5 and 2) and my husband (allergic to the wheat family) have always felt spoilt at Hucks – and even the Sports Bar – we have had the chef come and talk to us, have found it one of the easiest places to find somewhere to eat and actually feel so at ease there that we have recommended you to others. You really are great -and thank you for trying to understand – it really is the problem of what to do when you realise you have stayed out longer than you meant to and haven’t got food and drink for everyone…

James Haywood

Post Author:
James Haywood

I’ve been working for Center Parcs since 2006 and, as Group Executive Chef, I am responsible for all restaurants on our Villages, from recipe development to quality control. Tuck in to my monthly posts to get a taste of my day-to-day life, as well as discovering recipes and tips.