*Update September 2011: This time, they were less careful about food allergies e.g. a manager who wouldn't talk with me, and visible cross contamination by bussers and servers so much so that I was unable to dine. The lesson here is: even with doing all of the steps, sometimes the risk is still high. Don't eat.
Did you see this New York Times article a few weeks back? "Have It Your Way? Purist Chefs Won’t Have It"
I know quite of few of you read this article and posted it on your Facebook pages (or on mine) and the reactions ranged from anger, anxiety, resignation and frustration – all of the natural feelings when you read about a chef saying people are making up allergies to get special treatment in a restaurant. You and I both know that is not true. However, this article was making a point and they found a few NYC-based chefs who are more concerned with their kingdoms than with their costumer.
Reading this article confirmed many of our worst fears: chefs don’t want us in their restaurants; they think we’re lying, annoying or a liability. (and PS: sometimes there are those customers that do lie, that are annoying and do tell a restaurant that they will sue them for a mistake.) But I can tell you, this is the aberration in NYC, not the norm – most chefs want to have happy costumers who are dining well and safely in their restaurant, food allergic or not.
And even in this article they are showing only one side of this “Chef trend”. For example, I’ve heard that David Chang’s restaurant is great wth gluten-free guests, yes - really. And at Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte, the place that opens the article: "...diners are asked a single question: Would they like their meat cooked well, medium, rare or bleu (extra rare) - I went there over the summer for a birthday party and they were great with my allergies: they made adjustments as necessary and they have a dedicated fries fryer (totally safe for gluten-free and food allergies). So, even in this article not everything is as it is written or all one-sided.
Our job is to have a dialogue with a restaurant to determine the level of safety and/or potential risk. Talking with the chef or management directly will give you that information: are you dealing with a restaurant that prides itself on hospitality (that's what you want) or one where what the chef says is law (that is going to be a trickier prospect).
Don’t be scared off by one article quoting a few outlier NYC chefs. Keeping having those positive dialogues and finding the chefs who welcome your business.