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Mar 9, 2008 04:30 AM

Food Allergy or Allergic to Flavor?

I know this topic has been brought up again and again, but after working tonight, I suppose I needed to vent?

I've worked in various kitchens for the last 12 years, and the only thing I hate about this field is "Well, I'm not REALLY allergic... I just don't like ____" after I've spent a good 20 minutes or more trying to come up with a solution. While I'm fussing over a fake allergy, I'm neglecting the other guest's orders.

I, along with all of my coworkers, take allergies VERY seriously. We do have separate cookware for certain allergies (nut, seafood, etc.). Getting out that specialty cookware, the utensils, and all the special ingredients takes time - but for someone who has a real, severe allergy... it is worth it. I would say all of the real allergy-guests are more than understanding, and gracious. They let us know "Hey, I can't have ____." when they make their reservations, and we prepare ahead of time. I like the challenge of allergies and dietary restrictions when they are honest. I have made sugar-free dessert platters, gluten-free dessert tastings... and my proudest moment: a totally vegan dessert platter (5 desserts, with accompaniments).

Over the last few weeks, I've had several 'gluten allergies'. A few of the guests were very happy as I pieced together gluten-free desserts from things on the menu, and a few thing not on the menu. The rest? One of the guests tonight claimed we ruined her night by not having a selection of gluten free desserts. I offered the same pieced-together dessert as I have been all month (menu changes monthly), and I offered some 'works still in progress' (for next month's menu). The outcome? After 20 minutes or so of 'this won't do', it turns out 'gluten allergy' actually means 'special diet'... and she ordered off the menu.

Lately, on orders and reservation sheets I've seen: 'Allergic to all cheeses, except cheddar and swiss', 'Highly allergic to all peppers - wants extra chipotle sauce on the side', or my favorite 'Extremely allergic to onions, onion powder, garlic, etc.'. Oh the onion allergy: you can't have any of the sauces. Huh? The sauces are made with stock which is made with about 10 pounds of onions. Oh, well it's not REALLY an allergy...

I guess my point is, restaurants DO take allergies very seriously... and my question is: Nearly every GOOD restaurant will try and accommodate your likes and dislikes - and where I've been working for those honest people who say "I just don't like___" we go the extra mile, so why fake an allergy?

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  1. I have a friend with an onion allergy, and it covers everything in the onion family. But the weird thing about her allergy is it's related to the actual onion itself. She can eat onion oil, powder, and stuff where the onion has been cooked in it and removed, like stocks. But if she gets a piece of onion she breaks out in itchy ugly hives in the next few minutes. I've seen it happen to her multiple times. She'll tell someone that she can have something in which onions were a flavoring but she can't have anything with bits of onion in it, get reassurances that something is onion bit free, eat it, and have a reaction before she leaves the table. Now she tries to avoid anything where the onions were diced because she knows it's near impossible to get all the bits out. But it's really hard for people to understand her allergy until they've seen her have a reaction.

    1. Amen brother from a nut and venom allergy person and mrs jfood shellfish.

      And restaurants are usually great about. An example from yesterday. Very coolplace for lunch serving three mini burgers, a tuna, a beef and a chicken with pesto. Server not sure about pesto after being asked and would check the kitchen (jfood sorta knew) and jfood told server, if the pesto had nuts leave it off and if not serve it. Server returned, pesto was actually mixed into the chicken mixture and offered either a tuna or beef substitute. Good service.

      So jfood is with you on "diet" and "do not like" mis-people. Heck jfood does not like certain things and mentions this to the server or orders something else. Jfood was on atkins and ordered a white pizza and ate the toppings and left the crust. Everyone got a good laugh. But people who hide their personal tastes behind those of us who have real allergies and seem to manage fine, are, quite frankly, dispicable.

      BTW - if the fakers get something they do not like or is "off diet" no big deal. Those of us with allergies and then need to stab ourselves in the thigh with an epi-pen sorta ruins the night for many people.

      1. I'm going to play devil's advoate for a moment & In response to OP & the customer's gluten free desert request. Just one thing to consider, when people request gluten free - it is possible they are suffering from some sort of IBD - be it Chrohn's disease, colitis, and the like. And while it may not be an "allergy" - it can make some people very, very sick. It is easier to say there is an allergy, rather than a "special diet" as said person may wish to protect their privacy. Its much easier to say "hey i'm allergic to gluten", rather than "i've got ulcerative colitis and gluten makes me really ill." It is a very humbling disease. But I do agree that they should have let you know ahead of time, sometimes people just forget. C'est la vie. That said, your guest did sound way out of line by saying you ruined her night. The fact you have gluten free to begin with is a good reflection of your food.

        I'm specifically responding to that single part of the post and just giving the OP some food for thought. That said, I do find it entirely inappropriate that people create allergies at restaurants in order to get what they want. If I see a dish that has an ingredient in it I'm not crazy about - I will say to the waiter, "is it possible I can get that without ___?" If not, I pick it out. No biggie.

        1 Reply
        1. re: amanda3571

          I'm with you Amanda. An allergy or an intolerance is one thing, but if you don't like one of the ingredients, it is acceptable to ask if the dish can be prepared without it, under certain circumstances. (Or just, please, choose something else!) A lot of food in a restaurant is prepared in advance, so to ask for salsa without onions, for example, is kind of silly. And let's not even get into the people who want to tell the server how to cook the dish (I want this on the side, and no salt, and could you poach it instead of grill? ... sigh). I don't think many of these diners realize what a kitchen actually goes through to prepare an "allergy free" meal -- separate knives, pans, bowls, ingredients, etc. all to avoid the anaphalactic potential that lies therein. Some of them think that if they are paying for the meal they are entitled to tell the restaurant how to cook it. These are the kind of people who might to go a sushi restaurant and ask that their fish be cooked instead of raw. Honestly if it the dish as it is described on the menu, does not suit you, just order something else!

        2. I've got a lifelong strong aversion to eggs as standalone items. If it's a component protein, it ranges from like (mmm key lime pie) to somewhat tolerated (mayonaise) . But the smell of scrambled eggs or omelets has made me nauseous since I was young, and I find hard-cooked eggs revolting.

          But I'd never think to describe my intense dislike as an allergy, and I realize I'm something of a freak in that regard. I just stay out of breakfasty places because the smell gets to me there, and I try to be careful about looking for the presence of hard-boiled egg in sandwiches and salads.

          For the most part, the restaurants are good about accomidating my freakiness. The only time I can remember being told 'no' was at a place where they did a huge batch of dinner salad every night where they put everything including the dread egg in the giant bowl, and then dished out individual servings, and they said they couldn't just give me lettuce and dressing instead of that. (That restaurant didn't last long)

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