Having food allergies shouldn't stop you being a chef

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd October 2014
National Indoor Allergy Awareness Week 2014 runs from October 20 - 26, and aims to raise awareness and highlight the plight of allergy sufferers across the UK. With more and more people suffering every year, we spoke with chefs who have struggled in both everyday life and their careers because of allergies. Mikael JonssonThe story of Mikael Jonsson’s allergies is an interesting one; the Michelin-starred chef of the Hedone restaurant in Chiswick, London, was allergic to shellfish to such a degree that he had to have cortisone injections regularly to help prevent the severe symptoms of his allergies. Mikael’s allergies were so bad that he was unable to pursue his dream of becoming a chef for several years. However, after changing his diet to the Palaeolithic diet, his allergic symptoms cleared up completely. “I really wanted to be a chef when I was in my teens, but I couldn’t really be in a professional kitchen due to very bad allergies,” explained Mikael. “It just wasn’t feasible to be in a professional kitchen.” “I was tested a couple of times in my early teens and the conclusion was that I was allergic to almost everything. I tried using gloves but it actually got worse. I had to use Cortisone off and on for a very long time.” However, Mikael explains how a change in diet helped to alleviate his symptoms and eradicate his allergies altogether. “I started the Palaeolithic diet, where you avoid eating grains containing gluten and lectins, as well as avoiding man-made sugars and oils, which basically meant a diet rich in fats, red meat and eggs – it worked for me,” said Mikael. “It took probably three months before I dared to think that they had gone forever.”tom-kerridge While a complete change in diet worked for Mikael, it might not work for the rest of us. Instead, other chefs have to simply adapt to work in the best way they can without aggravating their allergies. Tom Kerridge, of The Hand and Flowers, has been allergic to shellfish all his life. “I didn’t realise I had a shellfish allergy until I was 24; I didn’t eat shellfish until then,” explained Tom. “My allergy started as crustaceans, but it’s progressed to shellfish as well now. When I first had shellfish I was violently sick, but I didn’t associate it with being an allergy initially.”
EU Top 14 Allergens – What to look out for in your kitchens: - Eggs - Molluscs (Mussels, oysters, clams and squid) - Crustaceans (Crab, lobster & shrimp) - Celery - Milk (Not to be confused with lactose intolerance) - Fish - Tree nuts (Almonds, cashews, coconuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts; Brazil & Macadamia nuts) - - Sulphites (Found in jams & preserves, bottled condiments, dried fruit, beers, wines & ciders, and maraschino cherries) - Soya - Sesame (this allergy is most common in those who suffer from peanut and tree nut allergies) - Peanuts - Mustard - Lupin (this allergy is most commonly found in those who suffer from peanut allergy) - Gluten (Found in pasta, breads, cakes, cereals, and flour)
Tom doesn’t let his allergy affect his menus though. He said: “It doesn’t hamper our creativity at all. We never have shellfish on as a main ingredient, but we have crab and scallops as a starter occasionally and every dish is created and driven by a team effort; it’s not just me in the kitchen. “We work very closely together; it’s a huge team effort. I’ve surrounded myself by phenomenal people in my kitchen, and I rely on them to let me know that everything’s alright.” New EU legislation will come into place in December, following the directive of pre-packed foods displaying allergy information, stipulating that the top 14 allergens must be identified for foods sold non-packed (or freshly made). This means identifying allergens on a menu if they are included in a dish, as well as staff at restaurants being able to identify any allergens on behalf of customers. Top dietary allergens for our population include shellfish, nuts, dairy and eggs. One way in which allergies develop is when antibodies in our immune system mistake a non-threatening protein with a threatening one; for example, mixing up a protein found in pollen with a bacterial protein, which results in hay fever. Catering for those customers with allergies is no big deal for Tom. He said: “About ten percent of customers have some form of allergy or intolerance when they come to eat with us – from our point of view, it’s down to the kitchen to deal with, and we adapt dishes accordingly. “It’s slowly happening across the board that customers are more aware of their allergies and dietary requirements, and that’s part and parcel of the industry and the way it is evolving. As restaurateurs and publicans, we attract customers and you can’t alienate people with allergy issues – you have to be accommodating of these things for the sake of the customer.” shane osborn  Tom added: “The new legislation is complete common sense. The more your staff know about the dishes on the menu, the better the customer experience. It’s not red-tape – it enhances the customer experience which is making your business a better place for your customers.” For Shane Osborn, his allergies started when he was exposed to fish on a daily basis – filleting fish and handling seafood in his kitchens while working under incredible amounts of stress. This led to his weakened immune system reacting inadvertently to the proteins found in seafood, causing him to develop allergies which could be fatal to him. “It started off with itchiness but it became worse when I was getting shaky and my eyes watered. Now, when I touch fish my lips swell and I have breathing problems,” said Shane. “It is life threatening, but I’ll never give up my career.” True to his word, Shane went from running the Michelin-starred Pied-a-Terre to today running St Betty’s restaurant in Hong Kong, refusing to let his allergies stop him from doing what he loves. Will Smith, co-owner of Arbutus and Wild Honey and co owner Anthony Demetre Will Smith, co-owner of Arbutus and Wild Honey, spoke to us briefly on behalf of Anthony Demetre, the Michelin-starred chef who was diagnosed as a coeliac. “Our menu certainly hasn’t changed because of his diagnosis, but it has made him more aware. When he was first diagnosed he started investigating alternatives to wheat, such as quinoa,” said Will. “The most common allergies we cater for are gluten and lactose intolerance, but we can work around almost anything if we need to. “It’s very common and we have to embrace that. If we don’t, it’s like sticking two fingers up to your guests! By changing the dishes and making the effort, your customers appreciate that and leave happy.” Do we need to improve awareness around allergies and food intolerance? “I think in general if you don’t suffer with an allergy, you are less aware of the consequences,” said Will. “But within our restaurant all of our staff understand guests may have different needs. They may not know specifically about the allergy, but they’ll do everything they can to accommodate it.” By Conor McArdle      

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd October 2014

Having food allergies shouldn't stop you being a chef