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Respecting Your Allergies

Written By Tyler Da Silva
Respecting Your Allergies

Allergies vs preferences. That’s a huge topic of discussion happening these days within our industry. Being diligent on continuing our food safety practices. With preferences, it’s the question of when do we as culinary artists have our vision altered or jeopardized because the guest wants to change our dishes and is that fair?

Respect is a two way street - a value true to S/os. This comes into play when we’re dealing with allergies. What does it mean to a restaurant when you come in with an allergy? Well, we change our complete outlook on service for you. We don’t take it lightly. So it’s important that guests respect their allergies and what it not only means to their service, but to the service for everyone dining that evening.

It’s shitty to say, but this is something that is happening more and more. You see a ton of chef’s nowadays post on their facebook about what a gluten allergy really is. It started off as kind of comical, “UGH, these damn glutens!” but now it’s quickly evolved into a hot topic of discussion.

Chef’s spend months creating new dishes. When dining out trust that a Chef is going to provide an experience with unique flavours that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Is that really worth alternating their idea of what a dish could be because you don’t like garlic? One of the fundamental ingredients of all cooking.

Cause that’s the point of going out. You want to experience something that you can’t get at home, or even anywhere else. You go to a restaurant for a complete dining experience for sure, but does that mean that you have to alter a Chef’s vision because of a preference rather than  an allergy? It would seem the gluten ‘allergy’ example has become a victim of this.

When you go to a restaurant and let your server know of any allergies, it’s a serious thing for everyone who’s working. From the Chef, expo, food runner, to server, nobody is taking your potentially life-threatening allergy lightly. Cutting boards are switched out, everything is re-sanitized and the communication has to be at a higher level between everyone. Keep in mind, that this could all be happening while the entire restaurant is packed. We want to give you a complete experience and we also don’t want to bring any harm to you. The way a kitchen is run comes down to speed, finesse and communication. All three are happening at the same time amongst 4-8 cooks depending on the size of the kitchen. So when an order with an allergy comes in, everyone's hyper aware of what steps need to be taken to ensure quality and safety.  

This can easily be taken for granted when you don’t know or see what happens on the other side.  There’s in-depth discussion about the allergy, the severity of it, what the guest can and cannot have, tools to avoid for cross-contamination, stations that may need to be moved, the delay this may cause for other tables/dishes, and all the steps that need to be reconfigured for these accommodations to take place. All this, only to have that person share some bites of food others are having that may contain the allergens that were discussed with the server beforehand. It just comes down to the shared respect for what we’re trying to accomplish. Allergies aren’t a joke, and we don’t make light of it. It seems as though we’re becoming a society that indulges in our own preferences at the cost of others. This, relative to what a Chef’s menu is trying to accomplish, is a detriment.

It becomes insulting when someone comes in with a “garlic allergy”. Garlic most of the time is going to be the base of a lot of recipes used in menu items. The shitty thing that happens though is a discussion takes place as to what we can and cannot serve, what we can alter, and what we absolutely need to avoid. The server diligently ensures their information is correct, and lists all of these options only to have a guest say well they’re not really allergic and they can have it if it’s only a little bit. This, plain and simple, is an insult. There are people out there with legit allergies. The frequency in which this happens is so often that I fear a desensitization to these situations will occur, similar to the Crying Wolf parable,  and Chef’s are going to start rolling their eyes when these moments come up. Only we can’t, because that’s an ignorance we won’t allow ourselves to have for the betterment of the guest that we’re serving. Plus don’t worry, no good Chef is going to make a dish where the garlic is so prevalent that Dracula is going to call a restraining order on you.

The thing is, I’m somewhat of a picky eater as well, which is kind of funny given my chosen career. When I go to a restaurant and see more than one or two things in the description of a dish that I might not like, I just skip it.  Why would I change a Chef’s idea of what a porchetta is if I’m not a fan of some of the accompaniments they put with it?! I love porchetta but maybe I don’t love the blue cheese or pesto that go with it. I move on to something else that I’ll enjoy. I don’t ask for the porchetta with no blue cheese or pesto, because at that point I’m altering the creative process and vision the Chef has for that dish, and that isn’t fair in a line of work built on passion.

An example of this in a different context is when I went to watch Blade Runner 2049. Since cinema and food are both considered forms of art I found it interesting to think about this. I loved Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 movie “Prisoners”, and when I saw the first trailer for Blade Runner 2049 I thought to myself that this was something special. IMAX was the only choice to see this movie. For the most part I enjoyed it, mostly the cinematography. It was so beautifully shot. Outside of that though I had some criticisms on how I felt about the movie. Which I will keep to myself because we’re not here to review or critique. But I couldn’t change the movie, what I saw was how the director envisioned it and I gave that respect. So why can’t it be same with dishes. We’ll always have people reviewing our art form (which we will be discussing at a later date; foreshadowing) but I couldn’t change what I was watching at the time. I couldn’t change his vision on what the film was before viewing it. I couldn’t go into the theater and say “I would like a ticket for Blade Runner please, but can I get an epic Harrison Ford building-to-building leap, and less camera panning of Ryan Gosling walking in a desert? Thanks”

The point is, preferences are not allergies. Don’t hinder your own dining experience, as well as the experience of others. When you go out to dine, of course you’re spending your hard earned money. But when you go out to eat you are making the conscious decision to take the preparation and cooking of food out of your hands and into those who work really hard to give you something that you’ll remember, and hopefully come back for. In the age where people proclaim themselves as foodies and love talking about their dining experiences with others, the places you dine need and deserve that respect back from you.

When we’re living in a world where places just serve up plain boiled chicken and lettuce with a touch of olive oil, you’ll ask yourself “Why is the food so bland?” The answer might surprise you. It’s crazy for me to think of all the time and care we put into dishes for people with legit allergies, only to have that be taken advantage of. That is the reality. More mods are appearing on chits that are hindering a Chef’s creativity.

Respect your allergies because we in the industry don’t take them lightly. We are always here for you. We don’t fuck around when it comes to them. Don’t limit your experience because you don’t like basil, it’s probably a crucial part of the dish. And if you’re so distraught by it than be an adult, pick it off, and enjoy what your eating.

As always, we’re just trying to do a good thing. We’d love if you could be a part of it with us, and share in the passion behind the dish you are consuming.

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