Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Funny? Not So Much.

Next week, I’m heading to a new spot with Fab Foodie Four and I called ahead to make sure all would be Allergic Girl friendly. My thinking was that it because this is the new outpost of a famous French chef’s New York empire (any guesses?) it should be better than your average spot.

This is how the conversation went down with the General Manager. You tell me: how would you feel?

“Hi. I’m going to be dining at your fine establishment next week and I have some food allergies and wanted to make sure that the kitchen felt comfortable handling these issues before we came in.”

“OK, sure, what are they”

“Nuts and fish equal death.” (Yes, I really said that, no time to mince words).

“OK. Your server should be able to handle that. They are very well versed on the ingredients of all of the dishes here. Just let them know what you need and they can direct you. Have you looked at our menu?”

“Yes, I'm looking at it right now and I see that some of the Charcuterie on your menu has nuts? The kitchen feels OK handling a nut allergy?”

“Yes. It shouldn’t a problem. I mean, I don’t eat pork or beef and I have no problems eating here.”

“Are you allergic to pork or beef?”

“Uh...no.”

“So, you choose not to eat those things?

“Uh...right.”

"But you won’t have an allergic reaction if you eat them correct?”

“Uh...right.”

“I see. OK. Thank you.”

Hmmm.

If you read between the lines, you may get that this conversation did not inspire confidence. In fact the latter half of this conversation made me nervous which in turn made me a bit of a snippy (read: bitchy) Allergic Girl (not her most effective incarnation).

Why would this manager equate choosing not to eat a certain food with an allergy to a food? What did this say about the staff's training on food allergies? Should I trust that the servers would know what I meant if the manager seemed confused or at the very least made a poor choice of analogy: not eating pork = allergy to nuts.

Oy.

We shall see. It may end up being a liquid dinner for this Allergic Girl.

UPDATE: March 14, 2008

So before I met my Fab Four counterparts, I had a business meeting with a very well-known New York-based chef who's acquainted with the Allergic Girl sitch. I've been to his restaurant many, many times and eaten safely and he has allergic kids. So he REALLY gets it.

Upon hearing where I was headed for dinner he said, "Don't eat. There are nuts everywhere in the kitchen and in the food, there are too many chefs back there so the possibility of cross contamination is certain, and the corporate chef has probably already moved on so you don't know who's cooking. Don't chance it. Don't do it."

When a chef tells you it's not safe to eat, listen.

So my dinner ended up being all vino, which was delicious, and three of us stumbled (well, I stumbled) to a burger joint afterwards for an AG safe burger.

Thanks again to the Chef for the heads up and to my Fab Four friends who are food allergic supportive and totally understanding.

8 comments:

ChupieandJ'smama said...

No it's not funny and no I wouldn't trust them. Choosing not to eat something is much different than "I'll die if I eat it". It's sad that they just don't get it. It ticks me off that in this day and age that resto staff are still under trained in this area. It's ok not to accommodate, but know the difference and communicate it effectively.

Allergic Girl said...

truth is i just don't know exactly what she meant. really i don't.
and as i am very sensitive to issues of tone i TOTALLY could have overreacted on this one...

which is why i'm gonna and check out the restaurant and start fresh and see what happens when i get on site.

as i said, it is an outpost of a very well known and highly respected/professional chef's business. i really think he'll know what he's doing.

will keep you posted.

allergic diner said...

This would make me extremely nervous. I'd have the whole conversation again when you get there and make sure to emphasize the death thing. I've actually said "trust me, your management won't want that sort of episode in their dining room - it's bad PR" - not very nice, but the point was made and it helped make my meal safe.
I don't think you overreacted. We all HAVE to overreact. The minute you worry about someone else's feelings you get, well in my case, the tomato that the waitress 'graciously' picked off the food (ACK!). I'd still go b/c they said they could accomodate you. Fingers crossed! :)

caramelsparrow said...

My thought as a fellow allergic girl and a line chef in a restaurant is that his (albeit poorly worded) question was likely an attempt to make sure that while you don't eat beef, it won't kill you if it gets near your food.
Or it's possible he was just being rude.

Who knows though, in the end you just have to trust your own instinct and not eat there if you feel uncomfortable.

Allergic Girl said...

thanks allergic diner. i will most def have the whole convo again and i'm happy to over -react rather than under-react which equals sickness potentially.

but it may be that the GM was trying to connect with me, on a human level--as in "i can't eat stuff either but it's cool here".

but as i said, her her word choice made this AG nervous!

more soon and thanks for the comment!

we shall see.

Allergic Girl said...

hey caramelsparrow (cool name BTW),

thank you for weighing in on this.

if the GM, as you say, was trying to ascertain that nuts near my food would be cool or safe, than THAT is a HUGE problem.

but that wasn't my gut sense.

i think she was really trying to say that "this resto has alot of options for everyone, even a non-meat eater."

of course i took it the worng-o way...

all will be revealed when i get there next week and see for myself what is shaking.

i will not take any chances if i don't feel they have a grasp of the allergic girl sitch but my guess is b/c of the owner/chef's rep, all will be cool.

fingers crossed.

thanks for the comment.

ps you're an allergic girl AND a line chef, do tell!

Shannon B. said...

Yikes. That sounds like a nightmare conversation. It's beyond me why restaurants don't have a policy on food allergies that they can share with their guests. It's just so insensitive and misinformed. I don't think you were wrong for getting a little miffed.

Joseph Papaleo said...

I've had similar experiences and still have the same problem with our preferred caterer at work.

I'll ask them to check and if I don't feel comfortable with their response, I'll tell them that if it contains nuts, then they'll need to be prepared to have ambulance staff in their hospital for a while attending to me. They invaariably go and double check and the meal is suddenly altered or unavailable.

Good luck with your dining experiences,
Joseph
Melbourne, Australia