Interview with the allergic chef

Those of us in the Food Allergy community can’t  wait to read stories about other folks with food allergies, but what is really interesting is to read a story about a chef at a really cool restaurant who has food allergies!  About one week ago  we were at one of my favorite spots “Vinsetta Garage” in Berkley, Mi; I asked the server if there was any fish in a sauce they served, I was told “let me check, our chef has food allergies too, so we are always really careful. ” I was so excited and I asked for Chef Aaron’s card; he was right there, he introduced himself to us and agreed to answer some questions at a better time in his busy schedule. The following is an interview with Chef Aaron from Vinsetta Garage:

Leslie: You have food allergies, what is it that you are allergic to ?

Chef: I have had an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts since I was a baby, my mother found out the hard way when she feed me a boiled peanut and the side of my face swelled up.  I made it through with only a few accidental run-ins with peanuts. When I was a teenager I developed an allergy to fin fish, now I have a reaction to nearly all regular fish. It’s been a touch and go process of finding out if I can have a new fish without a reaction; it’s always an adventure.

Leslie: Did you always want to be a chef knowing that you could create a safe menu/environment for those with food allergies?

Chef: Various things contributed to my decision to become a chef, but the  way we handle allergies in my kitchens is just a natural extension of the way my world is. There are certain things that I can’t touch or taste and I work around those foods. Peanuts are kept in their own special area of my kitchen and I use separate spatulas for fish and a special set of tongs for shrimp. Early on, I realized that this is the same care that we need to take with an allergy so we have strict polices regarding allergies. Our waitstaff always asks our kitchen when an allergy question is raised no matter what they think the answer might be. We also have bright red indicators on the tickets for an allergy that lets the kitchen know that a certain item can’t be anywhere near the dish being prepared.  When my mother was diagnosed with a gluten allergy it inspired me to make an entirely separate gluten free menu for the Woodshop(another restaurant in the group) so that people with such a tricky allergy can see the entire menu as they can eat it. We recently won an award for our gluten free menu at the Woodshop. I have a gluten free menu for Vinsetta that we will be printing soon and in the meantime there is a huge selection including meatballs made with oats instead of breadcrumbs, gluten free pizza dough and gluten free buns for burgers and dogs. 

Leslie : When you dine out, (when you have time), how do you handle your food allergies, do you inform the waitstaff ?

Chef: As a chef, I tend to know when an item may have the kind of things that I’m allergic to, it’s not often that there is salmon hiding in a steak dish.  However, I do always mention my nut allergy as there are oils and things than can be used that may not be apparent on the menu. I also ask about fish stock whenever I order any type of seafood, just to be safe – I’ve had to change that order a few times.

Leslie: Do you have any long term plans for helping the restaurant industry deal with food allergies and create safe practices ?

Chef: I hope that our influence is changing the way other people treat food allergies.  I try to make sure our joints are always moving the industry forward. There are lots of ideas that we throw out there that others pick up on and use in their places. I hope that putting out as many vegan and vegetarian options that Vinsetta has to offer or the dedicated Gluten Free menu at the Woodshop pushes other places to rethink what they offer and how they offer it.

Leslie : What advice do you have for those that need some extra comfort in dining out safely ?

Chef: Well, bring your Epi-pen and MAKE YOUR ALLERGY CLEAR TO THE SERVER when you order.  Tell them the severity of your allergy and make sure they are communicating it with the kitchen – because that is ultimately who will be handling your food .

Thank you Chef Aaron from Vinsetta Garage in Berkley Mi and the Union Woodshop in Clarkston Mi or visit www.unionwoodshop.com

Comments

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