Teens in the Real World
  Food Allergies in the Real World  

Quiet Time with the Chef

By Kelly, age 17, allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish

For the past eight years, my parents and I have vacationed in South Carolina. Interestingly, when I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about eating out with food allergies, it was this particular summer that I learned several new things when it comes to dealing with restaurants. Usually, my parents and I wait until we sit down for our meal to discuss my food allergies with the chef. For some reason, on this vacation, we decided to take a walk over to the hotel and talk to the chefs during their slow hours. I came to find that this made dining out so incredibly easy. Since they were not busy, they were able to offer additional suggestions of foods I could eat in addition to the food I would ask about on the menu. The chef also offered to talk to the pastry chef and have him prepare a surprise dessert during the day for me to have later that evening. Usually, I never have desserts at restaurants for fear of hidden ingredients or cross- contact. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to get dessert!

When we sat down to dinner the first night, the waiter came over and introduced himself, listed my allergies, and told me exactly what I had ordered earlier in the day with the chef. The meal was totally stress-free. While I realize this seems like common sense to talk to the chef ahead of time, I just don’t know why I never did it before.

Another thing I learned is that although there may be different kitchens at the hotel for the main dining room, casual dining room, lounge, and poolside, you may not be limited to having your meals cooked in the kitchen connected to where you are eating. For instance, in previous years, I never ate at the outdoor restaurant by the pool or the lounge in the lobby. The menus seemed too risky with my food allergies. However on this vacation, when we were talking to the chef in the main dining restaurant, he offered to make me whatever I wanted for lunch even though we would be eating outside. He personally walked down to the pool to deliver my meal to me, and we then proceeded to have a 15-minute conversation about his travels and hunting adventures to Alaska, Wyoming, and Africa.

I had always assumed when eating at a restaurant, that I was probably the only one in the restaurant that night with food allergies. When my mother was complimenting the chef on how the staff handled my food allergies the previous evening, the chef told us his kitchen had to accommodate 17 different food allergies that night. I was amazed at the large number and the variety of allergies at one restaurant in one night, and was totally impressed the kitchen could handle it. The chef told us about one young boy who could only eat six things, and they were able to work around his allergies. Another guest from the Caribbean was allergic to a very unusual fruit.

The last lesson I learned on this vacation is not to assume that certain restaurants will always remain off-limits. The first year we vacationed in South Carolina, we went to a restaurant about which we had heard great things, but we ended up leaving because they used peanut oil. For the past seven years, we never went back, which was unfortunate because there were a limited number of restaurants on the island. This summer, my dad suggested that we give it another try because he said maybe their menu had changed. Sure enough, many years ago the restaurant eliminated peanut oil from their kitchen because of the increase in peanut allergies. We could have been eating there for the last several years.
Lesson learned: always ask! Never make assumptions!

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