I’m standing in a space the width of an airplane aisle, staring at frying oils. It’s the kitchen of the Stapleton, Colo., location of Next Door, one of the country’s most-high-profile casual restaurant companies. Until now, I’ve given very little thought to frying oils. But I’m on a quest for understanding: to get behind the scenes in a kitchen that is equally friendly to gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and various food-allergic customers as it is to everybody else.
At Next Door, eating restrictions don’t just pepper the menu, signaled through such acronyms as “GF” (gluten-friendly), “DF” (dairy-free), “V+” (vegan) and “GFO (gluten-friendly optional). They downright define it. Instead of topping a salad with nuts, Next Door chefs sprinkle on sunflower seeds. Before frying calamari or pickles and pepperoncini, they dredge them in cornstarch or polenta, respectively, instead of the traditional wheat flour. For their veggie bowl, they use quinoa, because it’s a whole grain that doesn’t have gluten.
The chefs also use three separate fryers for dishes that are vegan, vegetarian or that contain gluten and/or seafood (for their twice-weekly beer-battered fish tacos). Nothing gets cooked in the wrong oil. For customers getting the gluten-free hamburger bun, chefs use a different toasting surface. On “the line,” little buckets of salad toppings are arranged to avoid cross-contamination — bacon and dairy toward the bottom row so as not to drop into the innocent ingredients.
Peanuts aren’t allowed on the premises. Period.