Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, Psychotherapist; Specialist in Food Allergy Management, Speaking At Mylan Specialty / EpiPen Event (© Noel Malcolm 2013)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Interview: Chef Matt Abdoo, Del Posto

November centerpiece

Cool, marble floors. Low, romantic lighting. A dark wooden bar. A sweeping staircase headed to parts unknown. Even at 9:00am, Del Posto is stately; a Tuscan Castle dropped onto Tenth Avenue. Which is exactly what happened ten years ago when the B&B group transformed a former Nabisco factory into their New York Times four star rated restaurant Del Posto. (Read the glowing review here, written by Sam Sifton’s deft and poetic hand.) Against the cool floors and steep prices, there is a ton of warmth to be had. It’s emanating from the kitchen, in part from Chef De Cuisine, Matt Abdoo

Picture of Chef Matt Abdoo copyright Matt Abdoo
I interviewed Chef Matt for an Allergic Living Magazine article about the third annual Allergy Eats Conference. (You can read that interview in the Winter 2015 issue.) I was particularly struck by Chef Matt’s passion for food, for his guests, his attention to food allergy details and that he kept using the word love over and over again in his presentation: he loves food, he loves his job, he just wants his patrons to leave happy and feeling the love.

Recently, I had a chance to have a deeper conversation with Chef Matt about Del Posto’s food allergen and gluten-free programs, created with Executive Chef Mark Ladner. (Please note, I have not yet dined at Del Posto.)


Allergic Girl: In the last few years, Del Posto made a splash by creating the first high-end (that I know of) fresh gluten-free pasta menu/options in New York City. How did the gluten-free program start?

Chef Matt Abdoo: About four years ago, we were noticing that more and more guests with dietary restrictions or allergies, whether it was to wheat or gluten. As we encourage our guests to order the price fixed menu with the taste of two pastas, we always felt badly if a guest couldn’t partake in the most courses.

We had always dried, commercially made gluten-free pasta available, we used rusticella d’albruzzo rice penne and corn fusilli, and if someone came in, we’d put on a separate pot of water and we’d use the same sauce so they could have something similar to other diners. 

But we wanted to go a step further so these diners could have the same exact thing like the other diners. And that has been the driving force for a lot of our work to create a gluten-free pasta program: to mirror our Del Posto entire experience but gluten-free. 

(AG: Del Posto uses Cup4Cup as the basis for their gluten-free pasta. It involves egg and dairy. Here’s more about Cup4Cup.) 

AG: Were the chefs and staff always so aware of dietary restrictions? Or has something changed since Del Posto opened ten years ago?

MA: What’s changed, more so than anything, is that dietary restrictions and allergies have risen. More and more people are discovering they have some kind of restriction and we need to be able to accommodate those guests in one way or another.

What hasn’t changed at Del Posto is that whether a guest doesn’t have a single dietary restriction and they are just blown away by the food or if they are a guest who says ‘I’m really hard to accommodate”, we at Del Posto always find a way to accommodate them and give them an experience that is memorable and that blows them away. 

That’s what’s important to us. We want to be able to make our guests happy. We want to be able to fulfill an experience that is above and beyond anything that they thought was possible.

So, accommodating our guests with allergies and dietary restrictions is no different than how we have been and would accommodate any other guest.

AG: What is the procedure, generally, when a food allergy or gluten-free order comes into the kitchen at Del Posto? (NB: The process is more extensive and detailed than what is below, this is just a sample of some of the steps they stated that they take.)
MA: When guests make a reservation at Del Posto, our reservationists are trained to ask if there are any dietary restrictions in the party, and so the very first point of contact with guests is an attempt to get any pertinent information regarding allergies. 

The reservationist will then note the restriction on the reservation for the main dining room staff and the kitchen to be aware of from the get-go.

During dinner service, all tickets that include orders for food allergic guests or dietary restrictions of any kind include that guest’s seat number, as well as a special notation each time a ticket comes in.

Once the tickets are in the kitchen, they are marked with red dot stickers, which serve as a visual cue for everyone involved that there is a dietary restriction at the table.

Chef Matt and the red dot sticker for allergy plates 

Each plate for a food allergic guest is marked with a red dot sticker, and then hand delivered by a manager when the food walks for that table.

Finally, and most importantly, we do our very best to keep cross contamination at a minimum. Food is cooked in separate vessels that are free from the specific allergy in question- pans, pots, water, and special spoons are all used.

AG: That’s extensive. What about raw products?
MA: The food allergy process at Del Posto begins, in fact, with receiving products and inspecting products. An employee goes through all deliveries to ensure that the correct items have been delivered, and that those items have not been subjected to potential contaminants, for example: we don’t want to see a bag of almonds on top of a bag of wheat flour. 

To this end, our receiver also makes sure that all the ordered goods are in the appropriate condition. We do not accept dented items, or anything that looks tampered with. It’s a lot of work-- training your staff what to look for-- but it’s necessary.

The next step is processing ingredients. We make sure that all team members are aware of the top 8 allergens: shellfish, soy, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and wheat.  When we are producing allergy friendly dishes they are prepared in a work environment free from the top 8 allergens, and all ingredients are treated with extra care and concern. 

For service and the service team, we provide extensive staff training, from meeting to pop quizzes, to testing, and a huge number training documents available to study from.

And then we wait for the reservation and enact those procedures I mentioned before.

AG: Incredibly extensive! So, in your opinion, generally speaking, what mistakes should a diner with food allergies watch out for when any restaurant is handling a food allergy or special diet order?
MA: There should be clear and continuous communication throughout the entirety of the meal with managerial staff. If there isn’t, that is a red flag.
Additionally, guests should watch out when the food is not delivered by either the manager or the person that took the order.
Make certain that the person you have been interacting with about your food allergies or their superior is the one that is looking out for you and understanding that your plate has a special request on it.
For example, at Del Posto, we require that a manager is the one point person who has contact with a guest with a food allergy request and sees it all the way through to delivery.
If when a manager delivers your meal to the table, if a discreet announcement is not made with eye contact about your special requests, it may not be your meal. Don’t eat if you are unsure.
AG: What are the top three things you need to hear from a guest to accommodate them when dining at Del Posto?

1. What a guest can not have. 
2. What a guest can have. 
3. What they had last visit, if there was a last visit. 

If they have chef or restaurant card, use it. We love the card.

As chefs during a busy meal service, we’re processing a thousand things at once. When an allergy order comes in, we stop. And then our brains have to reprocess and go through every ingredient to every dish according to your needs, and we check and double check, because we get nervous and get scared. So, if you use a chef card or something like Sloane's word document and tell us what you can have, as well as what you can’t, it’s great!

AG: I know many people with severe dietary restrictions feel like chef cards or giving lists of can/cannot haves flags them as a difficult or undesirable guest. Do you agree? Basically, what’s the perception of special requests?
MA: Here at Del Posto every guest is welcomed like your Italian grandmother would; with a warm, welcoming hug. We love getting the information about you that will help us serve you better and safe and make you comfortable. 
AG: What’s the best way a diner should get in touch with Del Posto to start a dialog about dining with you, especially if they have severe food allergies or special dietary requests?

MA: Call (212.497.8090) or email us through The most important thing is that you reach someone and get a confirmation of your needs.
Thank you, Chef Matt and the Del Posto team for all that you do for guests with severe food allergies and dietary restrictions!
Del Posto
85 10th Avenue 
New York, NY 10011
(212) 497-8090

1 comment:

Erin Smith said...

Great interview. Chef Matt is so fantastic! Everyone should dine at Del Posto at least once in their lives.