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Robin Garr

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Marsha’s Industry Standard: Allergies vs. “Allergies”

by Robin Garr » Wed Jan 31, 2018 11:02 am

Allergies vs. “Allergies”

By Marsha Lynch

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At the suggestion of a chef friend, I recently began viewing the Netflix six-episode docuseries “Rotten.” It's a very well-executed look at the food supply chain and the crime and corruption which lie within.

Episode Two is titled “The Peanut Problem.” It examines the recent sharp rise of peanut allergies in the last decade or so. I'm sure you have either said or heard someone else say that “there weren't so many kids allergic to peanuts when I was young,” and it's true. Something is going on in our environment that has caused an explosion in the rate of many food allergies, and scientists haven't got it nailed down just yet. Famed chef Ming Tsai, proprieter of Blue Ginger (now closed) and Blue Dragon in Boston, started taking allergies seriously on behalf of his restaurants' diners when his own son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy when he was very young.

Anaphylactic shock is a serious and possibly life-threatening reaction to certain foods (among other things) wherein a person's immune system overreacts to allergens, releasing chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. The scale of the symptoms runs from mild to extreme. Often reactions worsen with each subsequent exposure to the allergen.

In “The Peanut Problem”, we're presented with a couple of cases from the UK where a group of restaurants under the same owner didn't take diners' claims of peanut allergies seriously. The diners both requested “no nuts” (it was even written on their order tickets). But the restaurant went ahead and added a cheap ground peanut filler to the dishes they served them. One got extremely sick, and one died alone in his apartment after just one or two bites of his dinner. The restaurant owner was eventually jailed for manslaughter.

Needless to say, most restaurants take great care to make sure allergy claims are taken very seriously – if for no other reason than self-preservation. In Ming Tsai's restaurants, they developed an allergy binder that lists every single ingredient of every dish, with common allergens highlighted at the top of the list. This helps the cooks and serving staff serve the public with confidence they won't sicken anyone inadvertently. But even without an allergy binder, a good chef should know exactly what's in every dish, and train his kitchen and servers what to do when an allergy claim is made.

Restaurant owners and staffs must take such claims to heart. So, imagine what we go through when an allergy ticket comes back to the kitchen. Normally the server will come speak to the cooks to reiterate the allergens involved. A cook will break away from the line to fetch freshly re-washed pans and utensils, check the recipe, don gloves, and stake out a place on the stove as far as possible from the area where regular meals are being prepared. They can't multi-task as they normally would, shaking this pan and tossing that one; they must be devoted to this meal alone until it's complete. It can slow the whole kitchen down, but it's worth it to make sure we're taking the best possible care of our patrons.

So when a guest claims a gluten allergy and we're in the kitchen taking the utmost care to be certain no gluten comes anywhere near their plates, imagine our dismay when the server comes back and casually mentions that the allergic guest was observed eating three rolls out of the bread basket. This happens often. It doesn't mean we can just throw up our hands and tell ourselves it doesn't matter that we follow through with allergy procedures. But it does have a desensitizing effect on the staff. It always makes one wonder if an allergy claim is real or simply a preference. We follow procedure anyway, and if a slow-down throws a wrench in the kitchen engine, so be it.

Claiming an allergy where none exists does a disservice to the restaurant staff, other diners who'll have to experience a delay in their meals, and especially to diners with true allergies. If you don't care for tomatillos, just say “I don't care for tomatillos.” Don't claim an allergy to nightshade vegetables and then turn around and order eggplant parmesan with a side of frites. We see you. And you're chipping away at our resolve. We'll happily leave the tomatillos out of your appetizer, without having to devote a whole portion of the stove to your meal.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.

Read it on LouisvilleHotBytes:
http://www.louisvillehotbytes.com/aller ... -allergies

Read it also in LEO Weekly’s Food & Drink section today:
http://www.leoweekly.com/category/food-drink/
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Gary Z

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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: Allergies vs. “Allergies”

by Gary Z » Wed Jan 31, 2018 11:39 pm

I just don’t understand how these people lived as long as they did before gluten allergies became a thing. And 95% of guests I encounter who claim the allergy are the type mentioned above, seen eating rolls. I’m sure there are people out there with real allergies but all the pretenders are giving them a bad name.
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Iggy C

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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: Allergies vs. “Allergies”

by Iggy C » Thu Feb 01, 2018 10:30 am

Gary Z wrote:I just don’t understand how these people lived as long as they did before gluten allergies became a thing. And 95% of guests I encounter who claim the allergy are the type mentioned above, seen eating rolls. I’m sure there are people out there with real allergies but all the pretenders are giving them a bad name.


My brother-in-law has a gluten allergy. The way he lived was by farting constantly, and now he doesn’t.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: Allergies vs. “Allergies”

by Steve P » Fri Feb 02, 2018 11:50 pm

Don't get me started. My lovely bride has Celiac disease - in other words No...Nada....ZERO gluten. Based on 3 years worth of experience, we trust the national chains to successfully accommodate this condition a LOT (!!!) more than we trust "the locals". Show me a local serving "Gluten Free" items on their Sysco/GFS inspired menu - and then give me 10 minutes in the kitchen and 80% of the time I'll prove to you they don't have a clue...
Stevie P...The Daddio of the Patio
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Terri Beam

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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: Allergies vs. “Allergies”

by Terri Beam » Sat Feb 03, 2018 1:01 am

I have an onion allergy, not one that causes anaphylactic shock, but onions can make me very ill (extreme nausea and vomiting). I have to keep a prescription for nausea medication on hand because onions are in everything! I tried experimenting with raw vs cooked onions and also onion powder, but they all seem to make me sick. All of this started after a particularly severe episode of colitis 9 years ago. Doctors can't explain it.

In general, if the menu indicates explicitly that onions are in a dish or on a sandwich, I will request no onion. The problem is that some dishes have onion powder which is never listed on a menu (soups are possibly the worst culprit). I never knew how hard it was to avoid onion products until I started getting sick from them. I've learned I can still order a plate of bulgogi and pick around the onions and still get the flavor though.

And I'm a (former) Vidalia onion lover, too. *sigh* I just try not to put too much pressure on waitstaff over tiny amounts of onion. It's not going to kill me, but it's pretty uncomfortable. I can't imagine what it would be like for a kitchen to avoid onion in dishes altogether.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: Allergies vs. “Allergies”

by Carla G » Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:17 am

Iggy C wrote:
Gary Z wrote:I just don’t understand how these people lived as long as they did before gluten allergies became a thing. And 95% of guests I encounter who claim the allergy are the type mentioned above, seen eating rolls. I’m sure there are people out there with real allergies but all the pretenders are giving them a bad name.


My brother-in-law has a gluten allergy. The way he lived was by farting constantly, and now he doesn’t.


Some allergies don’t show up until later in life. As a kid I loved cashews, mangos and mushrooms. In my 40s I developed an allergy to both cashews and mangos after a very severe bout with poison ivy. (All of them - poison ivy, mangos and cashews are in the same plant family.) In my 50s I developed an allergy to mushrooms after attempting to go vegan and pretty much lived on meat substitutes made from mushrooms. I keep thinking that now, after a few years, I could tolerate some of those things that I used to love and eat regularly but unfortunately it always results in pretty nasty reactions with my face swelling to look like a Shar Pei puppy and my body covered in sores.
Food allergies are no fun and trust me, most of us would prefer not to have them.
"She did not so much cook as assassinate food." - Storm Jameson

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