Navigating Gluten? JWU Can Help

Celiac disease affects 1 out of every 100 globally — affecting more children than Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, and Cystic Fibrosis combined — while nearly 6% of the U.S. population has a gluten sensitivity. Even a gluten-free diet can’t always alleviate all of celiac disease’s up to 200 different symptoms — but as the only proven treatment for this autoimmune disease, diet should be taken seriously by those eating and those preparing meals.

Although celiac disease is recognized during the month of May, National Celiac Awareness Day is celebrated on September 13 in honor of birthdate of Dr. Samuel Gee. Gee’s research was the first to link celiac disease to diet, and his discovery is still contributing to the health and safety of humans 135 years later.

an imagine showing an overhead view of various grains and flours surrounding a sign saying "gluten free"
Many ingredients are gluten-free: but how do you know which to choose? 

Approaching this day of awareness, we wondered: how does Johnson & Wales University help students and JWU community members with celiac disease avoid gluten? And how can you reduce gluten in your diet if you have a sensitivity to it?

Navigating Campus Dining Menus

Erika Tetzner, campus dining manager for JWU Providence, and Paul Reinfeld, campus dining manager for JWU Charlotte, were happy to share how they help Wildcats stay informed of what’s in their food. Campus Dining posts menus and details on jwuLink for each campus, and also at for the Providence Campus and on for the Charlotte Campus.

In addition, JWU Providence Campus Dining shares its menus on Instagram every Friday with the menu for Sunday-Saturday for both its all-you-care-to-eat locations in Snowden on the Downcity Campus and Harborside Café at JWU’s Harborside Campus, while JWU Charlotte Campus Dining posts its all-you-care-to-eat dining menu six weeks in advance.

A student selects a beverage in the foreground while others dine at Snowden Hall on the Providence Campus
A student selects a beverage in the foreground while others dine at Snowden Hall on JWU Providence's Downcity Campus

“We have a gluten-free/plant-based station (the Plant-Based Grill) at Snowden, and Harborside Café has a kiosk where students can order a cooked to order item from the grill or sauté and customize it,” Tetzner shared of Providence Campus Dining. “Our commissary and dining locations also use a lot of substitutions that limit allergens, such as always using coconut aminos or tamari to make items gluten-free.”

Similarly, in Charlotte, Wildcats have a dedicated made-without-gluten station that creates a one-on-one interaction between the Campus Dining team and students.

a student exiting JWU Charlotte's dining hall passes a sign promoting fresh and local ingredients
The entrance to JWU Charlotte's dining hall

A caution: not all dining environments can always absolutely guarantee a 100% gluten-free product due to potential cross-contamination, but gluten-free ingredients are the first big step in ensuring that a food is safe to eat. In addition to GF, which means “gluten free,” students will want to seek the “made without gluten-containing ingredients” designation on menu items.

In addition to meals provided by Campus Dining, JWU Providence offers a "snack attack" program where families can order their Wildcats care packages for any occasion, from wishing them luck on finals to celebrating their birthdays. These care packages are fully customizable to adhere to allergens or dietary needs. “We always ask the purchaser if the wildcat has a preference on snacks/drinks/etc.,” shared Tetzner. “Already this year we put together a care package that had fresh fruits for a student!”

Although JWU Charlotte’s smaller Campus Dining operation doesn’t offer a formal care package program, the service would be happy to work with families to provide a care package for students upon request.

Consulting with JWU on Gluten

The best way for Johnson & Wales to work with students on allergens is to meet with them, and JWU provides multiple options for those conversations.

JWU Charlotte students can meet with JWU’s Allergen Expert Team comprised of "Chef Patch" (Campus Dining’s director and executive chef) and his culinary leads Mike, Syrenia, and Markalya, as well as the management team. The expert team will set up a one-on-one meeting with students to talk about what products are available and how to safely navigate menus. “It is always best for the student and team member to know each other so that the student can reach out or talk to them in the location about the menu,” said Reinfeld.

JWU Charlotte also supports dietary requirements through its Chatback number, 704-727-4616. “Through the Chatback, students can order cooked-to-order items to meet their dietary restrictions,” Reinfeld explained. 

In addition, JWU Charlotte’s online menu platform includes an option for students to contact Maggie Sullivan, a registered dietitian at Compass Group who can help answer students’ questions about food ingredients. Further, Sullivan holds “dietitian drop-in” hours on Zoom every other week, where Wildcats can virtually get answers to their questions about food allergies, intolerance or preference.

collage containing a flyer (left) advertising a Zoom meeting with a nutritionist for JWU Charlotte students and (right) a care package for JWU Providence students that can be customized
(left) A flyer advertising a Zoom meeting with a nutritionist for JWU Charlotte students and (right) a care package for JWU Providence students that can be customized to be gluten-free

At JWU Providence, Campus Dining Director and Executive Chef Ken Watt and the management team where the student most often dines set up a meeting with each Wildcat with dietary needs, going over the student’s allergen and letting them know what products JWU has. “It is always best for the student and location manager to know each other so that the student can reach out or talk to them in the location about the menu,” Tetzner advised.

She added that the campus also has a “clean start” program where if a student does not feel safe with any of the options on the line for that meal period, JWU Campus Dining can cook items such as gluten-free pasta or grilled chicken. “These items are always available, and dining staff will start with a fresh clean work space and fresh ingredients, cooking everything in a back kitchen where cross contamination is limited,” explained Tetzner.

Watt serves another important function as well: he is president of Rhode Island’s chapter of the American Culinary Federation, an organization dedicated to informing its nearly 20,000 members of the latest culinary industry issues. Wildcats can rest assured that if the culinary world discovers new gluten-free items or new ways of utilizing them, Watt is among the first to know.

Staying Gluten-Free Outside of Dining Halls

Snack machines on all JWU campuses include gluten-free options, while JWU events accommodate potential allergens and dietary restrictions by providing vegan and vegetarian foods, with gluten-free options always available upon request.

For instance, at JWU’s annual Ignite the Night event welcoming new students, s’mores are a JWU tradition. In addition to tradtional graham crackers, gluten-free vegan cookies are available to ensure that everyone can participate in assembling and eating these warm, gooey treats.

Wildcats’ Gluten-Avoiding Faves

On both campuses, the most popular gluten-avoidance menu item has proved to be a typical college staple: pizza! Students can choose a variety of pizzas made without gluten-free ingredients. (Want to make your own gluten-free pizza? JWU Assistant Professor Jonathan Poyourow, who had served as a division dietitian in the U.S. Army and who has hosted “Cooking with Class” segments on Providence NBC affiliate WJAR Channel 10, published a gluten-free pizza recipe several years ago that’s just as delicious today.)

closeup of slices of pizza on display at Harborside Cafe
With or without gluten, pizza is always on the menu at Harborside Cafe at JWU Providence's Harborside Campus

In addition, Providence Wildcats also love the Plant-Based Grill with Rice Noodles option, while plant-based proteins and cheese replacements, such as BarveQue, Nuggets, Impossible Meatballs and Impossible Sausage, prove popular at all meals for Charlotte Wildcats.

Gluten Expert Spotlight: Dean Lavornia

Johnson & Wales chefs and faculty tend to be well-versed in gluten-free ingredients and cooking/baking; when JWU Charlotte hosted a virtual International Symposium on Bread in 2021, sessions included "The Past, Present and Future of Gluten-Free and Allergen-Free Baking" and "Gluten-Free Baking: New Techniques for a New Time."

JWU Associate Professor Dean Lavornia is one of JWU’s most prominent gluten experts, aiming to mention gluten and celiac disease in all JWU culinary classes as well as having students do some gluten-free production in their Baking & Pastry Arts courses. Lavornia has mastered the art of creating gluten-free recipes that taste good.

Gluten avoidance is personal for Lavornia. When his wife was diagnosed with celiac disease 30 years ago, he began researching and developing gluten-free pastries. His son was also diagnosed with celiac disease, while his daughter is gluten-sensitive, so gluten became a family affair. “They were my fiercest critics early on in the development of these pastries and baked goods,” recalled Lavornia of his loved ones.

headshot of Chef Dean Lavornia
Chef Dean Lavornia has mastered the art of creating gluten-free recipes that taste good

Lavornia was also the faculty advisor for JWU Providence’s student club, Sans Gluten. The past two years haven’t received much engagement from students indicating they want to gather with other gluten avoiders on campus. He commented, “I would love to get it going again!”, so students interested in reigniting Sans Gluten this year can contact him at

Meanwhile, Lavornia recommends that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity pay attention and empower themselves with knowledge. “There really are so many options out there now for GF-alternative foods and snacks as well as naturally gluten-free foods,” he stated.

“Students that have issues with gluten need to get in the habit of reading labels and asking questions when they are in a restaurant or prepared food setting,” continued Lavornia. “They really need to be their own advocate for seeking out safe alternatives.”

As for navigating restaurant environments out in the world, Lavornia advised, “Always talk to your server or the chef about your celiac or sensitivity to gluten and ask for recommendations. Asian and Indian cuisines tend to have more gluten-free choices simply based on the ingredients used in those cuisines. Regardless, always mention the celiac issue to your server to have an enjoyable and safe experience.”

Gluten-Free Pâte à Choux Recipe

Wildcats in the College of Food, Innovation and Technology already tend to explore gluten-free ingredients in their baking and pastry courses so they can better learn to prepare food for all audiences, including those with allergies and sensitivities. But for anyone hankering for gluten-free fare in your own kitchen, try this tasty base to apply to several pastries.

Lavornia loves making pâte à choux, a delicate pastry dough used to make cream puffs, eclairs, gougères and more. “I have developed a gluten-free choux pastry that was highlighted in an article I wrote in January of 2022 for Pastry Arts magazine,” Lavornia reported. You can try out Lavornia’s citrus-thyme choux recipe at home.

closeup photo of a prepared lemon-thyme choux
Photo credit: Pastry Arts magazine

As you can see in the recipe, Lavornia creates his own flour blend of white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch for his base, preferring his mix to ready-made gluten-free flours so he can tweak the ratios of the ingredients to suit the finished product’s texture. But he noted that students without time to mix their own have multiple options for gluten-free flour blends on the market. His favorite in a pinch? “I reach for Bob's Red Mill Measure for Measure or King Arthur Baking GF all purpose flour mix,” Lavornia revealed.

He added, “Everyone has different tastes, and it really is a personal choice based on personal preference. I would recommend trying several products until you find the one or two that work for you.”

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