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Chefs don't tell all when writing menus


FoodMan
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From Today's Digest:

Way Off The Menu

Dai Huynh examines the not so new attitude of the Chefs’ “don’t ask, don’t tell” practice when it comes to unorthodox ingredients in our food. Actually sometimes it seems like an “ask, don’t tell” attitude.

I do agree that most people in the US really do not want to know what is in their food like "squid ink", "monkfish liver" or "Kidney Fat". Somethings taste good but might not sound appetising, and chefs choose to keep them off the menu.

what do you think about the comments in this article? Should they list these items?

what about chef clark's comment?

"I'll never list anchovies, never," Clark says. "Sometimes, I'll even lie and tell them, 'No, I don't use anchovies.' "

I personally think this is wrong and if asked, a chef should inform the diner of what is in their food. Afterall someone might have a bad reaction to anchovies or squid ink!

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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i agree with that completely...one should be told whats in something as many people do have food allergies and if not informed can have a very bad reaction to an ingredient which could result in legal action against a restaurant simply because they failed to inform...though idelaistically if one had any kind of food allergies they need to let the waiter know as well to thereby avoid something the body just cant handle..for instance i recently discovered im lactose in tolerant where i never used to be...but then again im also diabetic so still have to be careful of certain things...

with the lactose intolerance...if i order something that could trigger the problems caused because it has some kind of dairy product in it...i want to know about it as i just dont like the problems the intolerance creates...its not fun...now if they cant alter the dish ive ordered so that i can avoid the problem..at least i will know that i need to take a lactaid with that meal so that i can digest the dairy with little to no problems

Edited by ladyyoung98 (log)

a recipe is merely a suggestion

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I would never lie about what's in a dish. :wacko:

Menu writing in America is a little tricky at times, especially at the fine dining level. Some of them look like shopping lists, naming each boutique supplier (get's on my nerves a lot), others read more like a recipe of sorts, misuse of French culinary terms is common, naming the cooking vessel (wok cooked vegetables at a high end French restaurant :blink: ), etc...

But then I also have to make my dishes clear to the dining public. In America we have so much variety, choices, new dishes, etc... that a little "spoon feeding" when it comes to menu descriptions is neccessary. I try to limit it to the main ingredient (obviously), how it's cooked (grilled, roasted, etc), primary flavorings (if using something not typically French) and primary garnishes...

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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This is a tough one.

While I see their point, this could get dangerous. I am thinking real food allergies here. I can't get too worked up about the kidney fat or marrow butter. I mean, if eating something like that once in a while bothers you because of cholesterol, don't go out to eat. But the allergies are another thing altogether. I was particularly appalled at the lying about anchovies.

Take the scenario where the diner who is allergic to fish (I am assuming that that allergy exists.) asks about the anchovies. The server, or maybe even the chef, makes the assumption that the diner is just another anchovy hater and lies about it. The diner doesn't want to sound silly and doesn't mention the allergy. The diner also makes the assumption that he is getting the truth and full disclosure.

But then, deceitful diners faking food allergies as an excuse for a less than adventurous palate are not entirely blameless, either. I have to count myself as a skeptic about an avowed food allergy articulated by the bimbo to my right. But then, I do know people who have real problems, mostly shellfish. But the key is that I know them and they are not bimbos. The servers and chefs have no such knowledge.

Given our litigious society, I am surprised at this.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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This is a tough one.

While I see their point, this could get dangerous. I am thinking real food allergies here. I can't get too worked up about the kidney fat or marrow butter. I mean, if eating something like that once in a while bothers you because of cholesterol, don't go out to eat. But the allergies are another thing altogether. I was particularly appalled at the lying about anchovies.

Take the scenario where the diner who is allergic to fish (I am assuming that that allergy exists.) asks about the anchovies. The server, or maybe even the chef, makes the assumption that the diner is just another anchovy hater and lies about it. The diner doesn't want to sound silly and doesn't mention the allergy. The diner also makes the assumption that he is getting the truth and full disclosure.

But then, deceitful diners faking food allergies as an excuse for a less than adventurous palate are not entirely blameless, either. I have to count myself as a skeptic about an avowed food allergy articulated by the bimbo to my right. But then, I do know people who have real problems, mostly shellfish. But the key is that I know them and they are not bimbos. The servers and chefs have no such knowledge.

Given our litigious society, I am surprised at this.

I happen to suffer from gout. While it's pretty well controlled by meds, it can still act up if I eat too much high-purine food. Anchovies are one such high-purine food; they're on the no-go list of almost every anti-gout diet I've ever seen. So, while I don't specifically have an anchovy *allergy*, I do have a medical condition that can be aggravated by them. Now I love anchovies, as well as a whole bunch of other high-purine foods, so I'm always doing a balancing act re how much of these foods I can consume without getting that telltale throb in my big toe. But I can't do that balancing act correctly if I'm not getting full disclosure on the ingredients in my food. Certainly one or two anchovies in a dish isn't enough, usually, to throw me off. But still. This non-disclosure bit does give me pause.

(In any anyone wonders--yep, I do know about the tiny bit of anchovy that's supposed to be in Worchestershire sauce. Usually doesn't do a thing to me. But if I'm in the middle of an acute gout attack--which hurts like you wouldn't believe--I go on high alert foodwise and avoid **everything** with even a hint of purines till my system calms down, and that would include the W-sauce. Pain is an amazing motivator. :rolleyes: )

Edited by mizducky (log)
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mizducky . . . You bring up a point that I had not thought about, conditions that cause a person to definitely want to monitor and control what they eat. It appears to me that there is a range of concerns, maybe on a scale of being concerned with cholesterol as a long term cumulative issue, a more immediate issue like your avoidance of purines, to the acute as in a severe allergy. Whatever the case, and even though I don't have those concerns, I just might like to know what I am eating. I certainly don't appreciate being lied to. (Hmmm . . . The more I think about this, the more incensed I get.)

Moderator's note: I am moving this topic from Texas to General Food Topics due to more universal interest.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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No menu has a complete list of ingredients. How could they? There's just no way to tell all on a menu.

The thing to do is train the FOH to know the ingredients in each dish. Chances are customers who have allergies won't order blind off the menu without consulting the server. After reading the article alot of the chefs who are withholding information seem to be doing it in rather benign circumstances.

I don't know any restaurants that are careless about allergies. They can't afford to be.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I guess I am just a catfish of the human variety, because I didn't see any ingredients that made me blink twice. But I feel that if you've a food reaction or genuine allergy, there must absolutely be truth involved if you ask if a dish is exclusive of that ingredient. C'mon, really, that's just a stupid thing to do.

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I'm allergic to anchovies. I have a severe allergy to all fish, not shellfish, just fish. Though my husband cringes, I tend to make a huge fuss and explain to the server that my throat WILL close up if there is fish stock in the clam chowder, or anchovies in the sauce. Usually, once they understand the severity of my allergy, they are more eager to be honest about the ingredients.

Danielle Altshuler Wiley

a.k.a. Foodmomiac

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No menu has a complete list of ingredients. How could they? There's just no way to tell all on a menu.

The thing to do is train the FOH to know the ingredients in each dish. Chances are customers who have allergies won't order blind off the menu without consulting the server. After reading the article alot of the chefs who are withholding information seem to be doing it in rather benign circumstances.

I don't know any restaurants that are careless about allergies. They can't afford to be.

Heh. Nor am I expecting the *menu* to list every single ingredient. I agree with the sentiment that a lot of more high-endish menus are starting to read a little too much like grocery lists; not that it's a such a big deal to me either way, but yeah, stylistically it can get a little odd-looking.

It's the quote in the original article in which the one fellow indicated he'd lie about an ingredient's presence, apparently even in response to a point-blank question about it, that's given me pause. That, I feel, is kinda tempting fate for both customer and restaurant.

Edited to add the quote in question--re-reading the article, he doesn't say in so many words that it's his response to a point-blank question, but I don't know how else to read the implications of his choice of wording:

"I'll never list anchovies, never," Clark says. "Sometimes, I'll even lie and tell them, 'No, I don't use anchovies.' "
Edited by mizducky (log)
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I'm allergic to anchovies. I have a severe allergy to all fish, not shellfish, just fish. Though my husband cringes, I tend to make a huge fuss and explain to the server that my throat WILL close up if there is fish stock in the clam chowder, or anchovies in the sauce. Usually, once they understand the severity of my allergy, they are more eager to be honest about the ingredients.

Too bad that you have to make a fuss to get your point across. If you just say that you are allergic to fish they should respect that right away.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I may have missed it, but I'm surprised that no one has mentioned halal or kosher diets, in which certain foods are associated by some with profound impurities. Corrupting their soul seems like a good reason to let people know that they're eating something forbidden, don't you think?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I was about too. I don't eat pork. I'm not strict about it. I'm a French chef/instructor. I just don't eat it, but I've cooked it and teach how to cook it. (how's that for a contradiction!).

I've had problems in the past with being lied too about pork in dishes at restaurants. I prefer to draw my own hypocritical lines. :raz: I don't appreciate being lied too. I'll just order something else.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I don't blame chefs for leaving ingredients off the menu. An ingredient might scare people away from ordering a dish, particularly if it is used in an unusual way. But if a customer asks about something specific and is lied to, I think that is very wrong.

Let's say I have a preconceived notion that I hate anchovies. I ask if a dish contains anchovies and the waiter, suspecting I only fear the flavor, lies and says no. What is gained? Is the chef going to come out to my table afterwards and dance a jig while singing, "You ate anchovies and you liked them"?

I see no point to lying. And I also see no point in the forcing the customer to go into details about why he or she needs to know if there are anchovies (or any other ingredient) in a dish.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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I knew about shellfish allergies, even allergies which only involve bivalves, but I didn't realize there was a "fish" allergy until I met someone who had that. She simply never ate in Chinese restaurants because of the ubiquity of "fish sauces" used in that cuisine.

In view of that, where does personal responsibility come into play here?

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. . . . .

In view of that, where does personal responsibility come into play here?

In my mind, personal responsibility lies in making any restrictions clear to the restaurant. I will go a little farther than that. If I had a serious allergy, I would actually call ahead to the management and be sure that they understand the situation, perhaps discuss specific menu items, kitchen handling techniques that might cause a cross contamination problem, the whole drill. In that case I certainly wouldn't rely on just the server who may or may not be well trained.

How far you go with this depends upon the severity of the restriction, of whatever kind, to you. After all, a restaurant is cooking for the majority. While they do need to be aware that there are folks out there that have dietary restrictions, they can't be expected to read minds.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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What about the flip side? Sometimes I ask about the presence of an ingredient because it will make me more likely to order it. Think of all the varieties in preparation of even classic dishes.

That said, I don't like the assumption that if someone is asking about something they don't like or can't eat for whatever reason that the follow-up will be to ask to make the dish without it. That there will be more work involved in pleasing the customer. Sometimes it really is as simple as choosing between dishes.

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I knew about shellfish allergies, even allergies which only involve bivalves, but I didn't realize there was a "fish" allergy until I met someone who had that.  She simply never ate in Chinese restaurants because of the ubiquity of "fish sauces" used in that cuisine.

In view of that, where does personal responsibility come into play here?

I'm always dubious when someone orders the "veggie" option at a Thai restaurant as well. I'm willing to bet money that the "veggie" pad Thai has fish sauce in it. It sure smells like it does.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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That said, I don't like the assumption that if someone is asking about something they don't like or can't eat for whatever reason that the follow-up will be to ask to make the dish without it. That there will be more work involved in pleasing the customer. Sometimes it really is as simple as choosing between dishes.

Yeah - except then you get the asshat that wants "the Seven Grain Bread with no oats, please", or the guy that wants the server to pick out just the kidney beans in the 15 bean soup! I've seen and heard ludricrous requests of this sort. Really. :blink:

The world would be a happier place if people simply chose between dishes. But often they don't and feel it's the restaurant's responsibility to pander to their severe dietary restriction (which can be well handled in advance with a phone call, as fifi suggested) or worse, their food neuroses that have no basis in need, just desire. The same obsessive compulsive fool that can't urinate unless the towels are hung straight in the bathroom thinks we have time to make sure his veggies don't touch his protein. :wacko:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I agree that it is totally wrong for chefs to lie about ingredients, such as the anchovy thing. I will go one step further: I disagree with the whole concept of hiding cool ingredients in dishes.

If I saw 'Squid Ink' on a menu it would make me 10x more likely to order the dish, same with monkfish liver or kidney fat, those just sound tasty, and I don't have the means to prepare them at home. Just be open about what is in the food, and if it is good eventually people will order it. After all, you will never educate the dining public if you are pandering to the lowest common denominator.

I also took great exception to the relabeling of 'pomengranite molasses' to 'indonesian soy sauce'. While I can eat soy sauce, molasses is most definately a major dietary no-no, and I would be quite upset to order a dish expecting a salty soy-based sauce only to find it covered in sugar-syrup instead.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Personally, I think it can be a bit insecure of chefs to not say all the ingredients, but when it comes right down to it- if a good cook already knows some of the ingredients and knows the smell and taste- that person'll be able to figure it out. Otherwise, it's pretty hard to get a dish exactly as someone else does it when all you have is part of the ingredients.. the procedure is different with .. a lot of people.. eh

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I knew about shellfish allergies, even allergies which only involve bivalves, but I didn't realize there was a "fish" allergy until I met someone who had that.  She simply never ate in Chinese restaurants because of the ubiquity of "fish sauces" used in that cuisine.

In view of that, where does personal responsibility come into play here?

I've never had a problem with Chinese restaurants, but I am very leary of eating at Vietnamese or Thai restaurants. I would actually be nervous about traveling to Thailand or Vietnam, given the ubiquity of fish sauce. There are a couple of local places that respect my wishes for no fish sauce. They are usually not happy about it, and explain to me that it won't taste right, but, it still tastes pretty good to me, and it's not like I have a point of restaurant.

So, there is a degree of personal responsibility. I'm aware of the cuisines that are potential danger zones for me, and I make sure that when I am at one of those restaurants that I am very communicative and very careful.

If I were traveling in a country with limited English, I would prepare note cards that state my allergy in the appropriate langauge. And, when I travel to Europe, I always learn how to say "fish" in the appropriate language, and I dog-ear the page with fish terms in my dictionary.

Danielle Altshuler Wiley

a.k.a. Foodmomiac

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