Allergies, Intolerances and Opportunity

**Disclaimer: I am not an allergy specialist.  I do know that an allergy and an intolerance are different – please be aware of that, yourself, too, especially if you want to cook professionally.


One of the few things that I have found is a constant across all the kitchens I’ve worked in is this — when an order comes in with an ALLERGY ALERT!, the kitchen gripes.

“Probably not even allergic”
“You’re kidding, right?  Nobody’s allergic to that!””Probably just some picky #@$#@% on some fad diet..”

The reality is this, though — it doesn’t matter!  Whether your guest suffers from a ‘true’ allergy, “only” an intolerance, or just doesn’t like or want the food in question, the end result is the same:

If you serve it without taking that note into consideration, you’re going to make someone *VERY* unhappy with your food.

Now, in my experience, nobody gets into cooking for the money.  Very very few get into it for the glamor.  The ones that will rise (and frankly, the ones that will read cooking blogs 😉 ) are in this trade because they love food, and they love sharing it.  Here’s the thing for me, though — if I’m not willing to adapt my cooking to suit people’s special needs (allergies through to vegan-ism), that’s a lot of people I won’t get to share with.  For myself, at least, it’s more important to me that I share my food with people and see happy guests than it is that I make everyone eat the food one way, and one way only.

A perfect example is someone close to me that I met a few years before I started my culinary training.    We had some wonderful conversations about food (“I’m allergic to onions and garlic”  “What?  Seriously?!?”), and about her eating habits (“Yeah, they make my throat swell shut if I even smell them”  “Get outta here!  Seriously?!?!?”) and preferences (“Yes, I’m kinda dead serious about this…”  “Pffftt – I’ve never heard of that.  You can’t really be serious, can you?!?!?!?!?”).  She can never eat onions or garlic – they are a ticket to the emergency room at the local hospital.  (**Fun fact!:  Onions and garlic are closely related, and are both members of the tulip family!  Now you know!)  Additionally, her body reacts… poorly… to the following: seafood, bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, and more.  You would think that cooking for someone who has all these restrictions on what they can eat would be a pain in the patootie, and honestly at times you would be right.  On the other hand, however, I have never felt as proud as I do when I make her a meal that she loves.

I have become a better cook in many ways by learning to cook for this person.  I am more aware of what flavor each individual ingredient brings to a dish.  I have learned which flavours can mimic others.  I have learned how to balance the taste of a dish even when normally key ingredients are missing (like trying to make a stock from scratch when you can’t use two of the three ingredients to a mire poix!)

Cooking for this person, for the vegetarians I know, and even for the one vegan I know… all of these people have presented me with challenges that have made me understand my food better.  When you get right down to it, too, you have to remember that people don’t typically “choose” to be allergic or intolerant to food.

People want to eat good food.

If you can rise above the temporary challenge and difficulty of providing people with food they can safely eat, I promise you that they will be grateful.  They will appreciate and (in nearly every case) be fully aware of the difficulties that their health conditions pose — they have to live with it every day.  You, reading this blog right now, simply have to cook for it.  So take the opportunity and do a bit of studying, a bit of learning, and even just a bit of talking with the people who have these limitations, and seize this opportunity to improve your cooking, to improve your skills, and to reach even more people with your food!  Your guests will love you for it.



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