I’m sorry. I’m one of those people; I’ve got to ask my servers about all of the ingredients in their restaurant’s dishes.
See, I’ve got that crazy tick-borne disease that caused me to develop an allergy to mammal meat as a full-grown adult.
Now, when I visit a Mexican restaraunt, I’ve got to ask if the refried beans are made with lard. If I’m ordering seafood at a place that does crawfish boils, I’ve got to ask if they boil sausage with the shellfish. I can eat the bejeebers out of a chicken sandwich, but if there’s bacon on it, I could go into anaphylactic shock.
I know this makes me a pain in the bum, but I like supporting local businesses and trying new things. I’m not going to crawl into a culinary hole and never eat out again. I try to be polite and flexible when chatting with my servers. And I always tip at least 20 percent.
So when I heard that a seafood chef from Down Under was railing against fake food allergies, I was ready to roast the cook like a shrimp on the barbie.
The Angsty Aussie
Patrick Friesen is a Sydney-based chef who runs the kitchen at Queen Chow, where they specialize in high-end Cantonese-style street food.
In addition to cooking expensive Chinese food, Friesen has an active Instagram account. In mid-July 2017, the chef took to the photo-sharing app to rant about people with peculiar dietary requirements.
“Can people with dietary requirements start knowing what you can and can’t eat?” Friesen began. “Shellfish allergy but loves oyster sauce. Gluten free but loves gluten as long as it’s not a piece of bread. Vegetarians that love a chicken wing. Pescatarians who eat chicken.”
It’s definitely not easy for a cook to navigate all of these minute details.
“Sort your s*** out and let your waiter know,” Friesen wrote. “You make it really damn hard for people with actual allergies and dietaries to go out to eat.”
I can’t blame a chef for getting frustrated at having to cater to guest requests—who doesn’t need to vent about parts of their job? But it does seem like Friesen was frustrated at a broad swath of the population.
Context helps to sort things out.
The Daily Telegraph caught up with Friesen and learned that the Sydney chef’s mother suffers from celiac disease…as he says, an “actual allergy.”
It’s not that the Australian isn’t sympathetic to his mother’s condition, but he suspects that some people are just being fickle with their requests.
“You have these people who come in on a first date and they say ‘I’m allergic to onions’ because they just don’t want to have onion breath,” Friesen told the Sydney-based publication.
And we say ‘well, it’s an Asian restaurant, you know there are onions in pretty much everything’…or eschalots or onion powder or whatever. And then they say ‘oh OK it’s fine. I’ll just eat everything’. So clearly it’s not an allergy at all.
“And for the kitchen it can be torture. Especially when we have real allergies to be concerned about.”
It’s a little easier to sympathize with the cook when you learn where he’s coming from.
Wisdom in the Comments (for Once!)
When you’re emotionally invested in a topic, the best rule of thumb is to avoid reading the comments about that issue. For some reason, I read them anyway.
Many of the comments on Friesen’s post seemed to fall in the “there’s no such thing as food allergies” category, but there was one gem that helped calm me down about the subject.
Instagram user rach_the_wanderer put it this way:
“You can please a customer who doesn’t like nuts by not giving them nuts. For someone with a legit allergy, you need to rewash hands, change gloves, break out newly dishwashed (not hand washed) utensils and open fresh packages of all ingredients. The point is, just say you don’t like something and it won’t be included—you don’t need to fake an allergy.”
I still feel like it’s a little rough for a chef to judge paying customers for what they order, but I can understand his frustration with the way we talk about our relationships with food.
A Persistent Problem
I don’t think Chef Friesen’s complaint is going to get sorted out anytime soon.
Let’s all agree to stick to a few simple rules. For restaurant patrons, if you have an aversion to some foods, don’t call call your preference an allergy. If you run a swanky restaurant, accept that your customers are going to be picky and that nothing you say on the internet is private.
As for me, I’m just stickin’ with chicken—I hope that’s not a problem in the kitchen.