Aren’t we all different?May 24th, 2011 | Posted by in Daily life...
In our part of the world, special food diet, dietetic requirement and allergy is somehow not as widespread as in the US for example… or so we like to think.
As a chef and unless you or your family is directly concerned by such condition, you will, somehow, see it as a pain in the neck to do something different than your usual daily menus. Indeed, planning, purchasing and cooking whole different menus over a certain period of time for your guests will bring you out of your comfort zone and it will shake your world. Chefs have a tendency to create a menu with normal food items and vegetarian food items with the little awkward green leaf logo next to it; emphasizing an odd healthier fare. And that’s about it.
In America, the attention given to those special needs is amazing.
From peanuts to honey passing by gluten, dairy and sodium, each allergy or condition has an association creating awareness amongst the society. With this awareness, people learn and restaurants change their perception and behavior towards these needs. I don’t think the US has more or less cases as the rest of the world, but I’m certain they make sure the rest of the world is aware of their conditions… ok… and perhaps everyone knows how lawsuit is such a popular practice there, so restaurateurs better get their selection together at once!
Being aware of conditions and having paying customers expecting us to be adaptable and delivering quality products is nothing but normal. Until now, most of the customers with special needs would look at a menu and pick the only item they could eat, if any. But with a better awareness from our side and our much sought after adaptability, they can discover new dishes, flavors and a wider variety of food.
If you’re a chef and you think all of this is non-sense, then you’re in the wrong job – special need guests have the same rights to expect top quality food in top quality restaurants as anyone else. It’s not because someone is allergic to dairy products that crudités and green salad needs to be on the menu everyday!
These special needs give us a kick, challenges us and push us to think further than before. To judge a chef on his ability to create magnificent showpieces of sugar work or on cooking the world best black truffle risotto is one thing. But to judge a chef on his ability to adapt to special needs and requests is a whole new level of skills.
That said; I have to single out a very important point here. Just like when you blow your nose, 99.9% of people will look inside the tissue (It’s a psychological reaction…) Well… it’s almost the same when, for example, a gluten free person comes to dine, everyone turns to the pastry – which is the single most gluten packed place in the whole world – and ask: So what can we do gluten free? And every time it happens, I smile.
Yes, I understand the attraction of creating a cookie that isn’t meant to be gluten free, abracadabra and turn it into an actual delightful gluten free treat…
Baking without gluten is a great challenge and even if we can do it very well; but I think all of us need to take a step back and think about creative ideas on what is possible to do for special needs customers, not just for gluten, but for everything.
So here is my point of view. I compare food allergy with blindness. If you were born blind and never knew what a rainbow would look like – I could describe it to you all I want, you will still only imagine it. If you saw an actual rainbow and became blind later – you will miss it forever. To me, eating special need food is the same. If you tried it once in your life, you will remember it forever. If you were born and raised with a condition, gluten free bread for example will taste delicious to you, while it might make other people skeptical…
I like to think that if there are 99 people with 3 arms and 1 person with 2 arms: who is different? Sometimes, you need to put yourself on the other side of the fence to understand who is different.
Churning a dairy free ice cream for a 5 year old kid might not seems like the greatest achievement of your culinary career, but for that kid, it will mean the world.