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How Food Allergies Affect Professional Life


Teddy Devico
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Fish, nuts, and seeds gone. Never are you to eat, touch, or smell them. If you do possible death. Worrying about cross contamination is awful. Did the clam chowder have fish bones? Did the pad Thai have fish sauce? Are there pistachios in the terrine? These are the questions I must ask every time I go out to eat. Allergies irk the restaurant and the diner that has them. I know from experience working in restaurants that when customers say they have allergies the kitchen staff gets very annoyed because most people do not really have the allergy. I do actually have the allergies and I feel bad when I have to tell the restaurant about my allergies. If I eat something I am allergic to I would go into anaphylactic shock. My throat would close and I would have to stab myself with an epipen and get rushed to the nearest hospital.

I would do anything to get rid of my allergies. I am absolutely obsessed with food yet I have never tasted a morsel of sushi, tuna, salmon, Dover sole, bass, etc. The list goes on an on. I always ask people what these foods taste like. They try to explain, but it is not even close to actually tasting the food.

A drug came out recently that enabled lactose intolerant people to eat dairy products. If a drug came out that enabled me to eat fish, nuts, and seeds I would be ecstatic. I would go to Masa, Sushi Yasuda, Le bernadin, L20, Esca, Marea, etc. and have the best seafood possible.

I do not know if it is possible for me to work professionally in a kitchen with these allergies. Pretty much every station works with these ingredients in some way. I would not be able to saute a piece of fish, or work with nuts or seeds. I guess I would be able to work the meat station, but then how would I evolve as a cook? To become a chef you must work every station and master every station so when you become the leader of the kitchen you instruct every one what to do. If I was to be an executive chef I would not be able to taste the fish dishes, so I would not know if they were up to my standards. Maybe it would be possible to have a restaurant that had nothing I was allergic to. Would it be possible to have a restaurant without seeds and nuts? Yes. Without fish? Probably not.

What do you (the readers) think of my situation?

Also if you would like, please check out the rest of my blog which is hyperlinked in my closing signature.

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Teddy, I'm sorry to say this, but I can't imagine how you could work in a kitchen unless the kitchen was designed around your allergies. Perhaps there are other areas of food service that you could pursue, but working in a kitchen while avoiding fish, nuts, and seeds, plus all of their by-products.... I just can't see it.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Are you at all interested in being a pastry chef? You would be the exact right person to run one of those allergen free bakeries that are starting to pop up - nut and seed free, often with lots of gluten free products. Maybe something like that would satisfy the itch to cook professionally without endangering your life?

Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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If you need to stay fish-free, you could try working at a vegetarian restaurant. I think nuts would be more diffcult to avoid...how allergic are you? Can you handle them, or does being in a room with them make your throat close up (don't laugh, I have a friend who starts to choke if someone in the office eats peanuts)?

Don't give up your dream, I'm sure you will find a way.

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So what you are saying is that kitchen staff get annoyed at all who claim an allergy because an unknown subset doesn't actually have an allergy. That would be like saying doctors ought to be annoyed at all of their patients because some of them are hypochondriacs or voters should be annoyed at all politicians because some percentage are liars(oh, wait, bad example).

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So what you are saying is that kitchen staff get annoyed at all who claim an allergy because an unknown subset doesn't actually have an allergy. That would be like saying doctors ought to be annoyed at all of their patients because some of them are hypochondriacs or voters should be annoyed at all politicians because some percentage are liars(oh, wait, bad example).

No, that's not what Teddy's saying at all. He wrote,

Allergies irk the restaurant and the diner that has them. I know from experience working in restaurants that when customers say they have allergies the kitchen staff gets very annoyed because most people do not really have the allergy.

Teddy is stating an historical fact from his experience -- and, I'll add, from mine as well -- not saying what "ought to" happen. Your comparison is just wrong: does happen doesn't mean should happen.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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You are right. I expressed myself poorly. My point was that it is irrational for kitchen staff to be annoyed by those who have allergies because there are some people who don't have them but assert otherwise. Now, whenever my wife mentions her mushroom allergy(some may call it an intolerance--regardless, the effects are quite unpleasant for her) in a restaurant, I will have a vision of a kitchen full of annoyed employees, skeptical of her condition. That might annoy me a bit.

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You are right. I expressed myself poorly. My point was that it is irrational for kitchen staff to be annoyed by those who have allergies because there are some people who don't have them but assert otherwise. Now, whenever my wife mentions her mushroom allergy(some may call it an intolerance--regardless, the effects are quite unpleasant for her) in a restaurant, I will have a vision of a kitchen full of annoyed employees, skeptical of her condition. That might annoy me a bit.

-The annoyance doesn't arise from the deception, but from the disruption it causes to the cooking process, the all too common use of deception to justify a food preference just adds fuel to the fire.

I'm sorry to hear of your wifes allergy, and obviously I'm not referring to her specifically but to allergy sufferers generically when I say that in my experience many of those with special needs either fail to understand the stress they can place on the kitchen staff or simply don't care, hence our frustration.

In these times kitchen staffs (like most businesses) have been cut to the bare bones, and unless you're Le Bernadin or the French Laundry you don't have a guy out back sitting on a milk crate smoking cigarettes just waiting for someone with special needs to show up. What really happens is that the overstressed, overworked, barely managing to keep pace guy who gets your order, suddenly has to stop everything he's doing and basically make something from scratch because all his mise has mushrooms, gluten, or whatever the affliction of the moment is in it, and while he's doing that all the other orders are piling up because all the other tables need stuff from his station, so the chef is screaming, the orders keep coming, the servers keep glaring, and every other table in the restaurant seethes at how long their food is taking.

While those with legitimate afflictions certainly have my sympathy, I would truly prefer to make do without their business.

I'm so awesome I don't even need a sig...Oh wait...SON OF A...

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All my wife wants is information. Specifically, she wants to know which dishes she cannot eat(including soups in which mushrooms were used to make the stock)and then she knows which dishes are safe to order. All that requires is a well-informed staff.

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All my wife wants is information. Specifically, she wants to know which dishes she cannot eat(including soups in which mushrooms were used to make the stock)and then she knows which dishes are safe to order. All that requires is a well-informed staff.

I heartily agree! One restaurant I worked in was very bad about documentation. Finding out ALL the ingredients in a dish usually required tracking down the Sous to inquire. PITA for Front of House people!

But really... how hard is it to make a Manual of recipes? Jeez Louise. I'd like to know what is in the food, too.

Karen Dar Woon

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Chefs typically do not want to change dishes on the fly. Lets say the dish on the menu is foie gras with cocoa powder, pomegranite seeds, white chocolate, and frisee. Then if the diner says he cannot have cacoa powder it completely screws up the dish. Without the cocoa powder the dish would to be too sweet, etc. And if the customer still want the foie gras it pust the busy kitchen into a panic mode to find something that will be able to replace the cocoa powder. And whatever they find to replace it probably would not be as good as the cocoa poweder because the cocoa powder is meant to be there.

I am not saying that customers are asking too much when they have restrictions. I am saying that it just put the kitchen into a tight situation.

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