What's our responsibility?

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by marmalady, Feb 18, 2002.

  1. marmalady

    marmalady

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    There have been some posts lately re alcohol in cooking, sulfites, peanut oil in cooking, etc. - that got me thinking; what is our responsibility to our customers to A) inform them of ingredients that may be allergens or off limits; B) to try and find substitutes for these items?

    Some might say it's up to the customer to ask what's in their 'soup', I just don't know. I know that as the mom and spouse of two vegetarians, there's been lots of times when we're at a restaurant, and they'll order something without realizing it may have been cooked with, say, chicken broth; If I don't step up and say something, on the one hand they'll never know - on the other hand, they're eating something they don't want or can't eat.

    I'm especially thinking of recovering alcoholics who are trying to adhere to the 'program'; it was only on a recent post that I was aware that not all alcohol was cooked out.

    Is it our responsibility to post items on the menu - or train the wait staff on ingredients - or not use things like peanut oil (I worked for a chef who wouldn't put nuts in ANYTHING because he was afraid of folks' allergies).

    Opinions, please? I'm not sure where the buck stops; ultimately with the customer, or with us as responsible chefs?
     
  2. nick.shu

    nick.shu

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    im not using this as a forum to diminish our responsibilities. My personal feeling is that individual requirements should be adhered to, as long as we are informed.

    My case being vis a vis:

    given that the planet is host to some 14,000,000,000 individuals.
    And let us say that without notice there is some 10 food based preferences. That now gives us some 140,000,000,000 variations on foods. So on that basis, the standard restaurant now has to cater to some 140 billion combinations of common foods.

    So to put it lightly, we do a have duty to our customers, but by the same token, if we are not informed, where are you going to find a restaurant that stocks 140 billion different combinations of burgers (for instance)

    I myself, am highly allergic to certain foods, but i cannot blame the chef if i dont ask, because by admission, it is both economically and socially irresponsible and unfeasible for me to not ask.

    Once the information is passed on and guidelines are infringed, then it is a different story.
     
  3. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    This is America....when restaurant owners hear there is a demand<paying > for certain things they must feel there is an economical reward for serving something.
    As a mother of a child with severe allergies, I searched out places we could eat with as little hassle as possible.
    ***An example is: now there are resaturants advertising that they use local farm products, one restaurant is opening an outdoor oven and grill that will only serve local foods.
    It's a moving trend......building momentum....same could be for other ideas....make your desires known or if your in a restaurant market special dishes....one of my cheffie friends is vegan and has vegan dishes marked on his menu< this is a very upscale restaurant with 500 customers a day> and I field calls all the time from vegetarians that wanna place to eat with a decent vegan protein.....read tired of pasta and cheese.
     
  4. suzanne

    suzanne

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    We cannot save people from their own poor judgment. If a customer has allergies or other reasons for not eating certain things, I believe it is that customer's responsibility to ask if a dish includes any of the offending item. It is the server's responsibility to know the full and correct answer. It is the chef's and/or manager's responsibility to make sure that the servers have all the correct information. It is ludicrous to expect written menu or the server to launch into a full, minutely detailed description of EVERYTHING. If we try to second-guess on a few things, there will probably be something important we miss, and still get in trouble, anyway.

    Think about it: do you want to read or listen to a complete recipe for each item on the plate, just because somebody might not be able to eat one thing? Please!

    When I helped train waiters on the menu, I made sure they knew what potential allergens any dish included, and whether or not the kitchen could make a substitution (olive oil instead of peanut, say) without a big hassle. Our GM -- herself a lactose-intolerant ovo-lacto-vegetarian -- felt this was sufficient.
     
  5. cape chef

    cape chef

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    I agree that the bottom line is the responcibility of the Guest.

    If he/she has certian restictions to there diet the need to let the server know, or better yet if they have a reservation at a restuarant they should make the host aware when booking the rez. One thing we do at work is when a program is being booked by a company, our conference managers ask the meeting planner to poll the particapents of the program to see if they have any dietary requests. This is done as far out as possible to the actual program coming on site. When the program resume is put together, under departmental notes I will see any request. I then send out a cover letter to the guest rooms of these people that states I am aware of there dietary needs and give them my name and number to contact me. This works very well. Ofcourse we get programs that pop up all the time and I don't find out until an order comes in the kitchen. For the most part I am able to fill there needs.
    But like I said and others also, We are not mind readers, we can only help our guests if they help us to be aware of there issues before hand
    cc
     
  6. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Duh! How could I forget....a dear friend has diabetes and is on dialysis, he eats out and can not have an exstensive list....so he gets fish with out tomato sauce and a lightly dressed salad, rice or bread and fruit for desert...

    I taught ice cream class for 2-4 graders last summer (and again this summer) and one of the kids had SEVERE allergies to peanuts. Everything was mostly from scratch, but Lindt white choc may contain nut particles.....we read the boxes but ultimately her mom decided that she was responsible enough to check with us on ingrediants (in addition to warning us and leaving a hospital number....tell me that is not scary). I didn't kill her, and it was a good experience to see this child apart of the group.
     
  7. marmalady

    marmalady

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    Thanks, guys - all good thoughts. :)
     
  8. compassrose

    compassrose

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    Heh. Sigh. I always seem to come cruising into these threads weighing in as "nightmare customer."

    Please. Please. Please. Do put a note into the menu or board if something that LOOKS as though it would be reasonably vegetarian is not in fact -- contains chicken broth, butter, whatever. Saves time. Saves aggravation. Saves server running back and forth into the kitchen. Saves testy customer realising that YET AGAIN the only thing she can eat, after all, is the salad, and not the tempting-looking whatever she originally wanted.

    This is probably wise for the major allergens, too: nuts, seafood, sulfites and the like. Any, in short, that can reasonably be feared to cause people to expire noisily at one of your tables... always bad, that.

    I don't expect a complete ingredient list for every entree... though I posted to another thread that I would REALLY love to see an estimate of nutritional content for each one. If I'm eating out because I have to, and not splurging, I do try to keep track of daily calories in/calories out -- essential, I feel, to making sure that none of my one hundred lost pounds chance to find their way home. And this would be SO easy, with the nutritional software around today: sling in ingredients and amounts, add on number of servings, and poof!
     
  9. panini

    panini

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    I guess we fall under a different catagory. Most of our brides who are ordering cake for 300-1000 guests usually don't take dietary restrictions into account unless someone close has a problem.
    We always inform about the use of alcohol,nuts,etc.
    One does not stop to think that one of their guests maybe on or in some type of program.
    I can just see old uncle Ed, who has been sober for 8 yrs. woofing down a dozen or two injected chocolate covered strawberries.
    As far as the allergies we offer different flavor layers of cake at no charge.
    Customers are on their own in the retail shop. We have nutritional and ingredients info, but we do not post it.
     
  10. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    It is up to a guest to notify a serve of any allergies or restrictions. It is not the responsibility of the the restaurant to babysit it's customers. On the other hand, once an allergey or restricion has been told to the server, it is the server's, chef's, and cooks responsibility to handle those problems. Alleregies are very serious. Many can kill in a matter of minutes. I would hope that a guest who has that serious of an allergy would be aware enough to let people know.

    The idea of putting nutrutional information onto a menu seems overkill. Unless you are on some sever diet, where every little calorie and fat gram must be taken into consideration, for medical reasons, a little common sense should dictate how you order. It seems to me that people have gotten lazy and want everyone else to do their thinking for them, and when that doesn't happen, they want to sue because those people were neglectful of their duties. Most restaurants offer a range of dishes from the fat laden to the relatively healthful. A little menu reading usually will tell you which ones are on the lighter side.
     
  11. compassrose

    compassrose

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    Not so. Menu reading is more likely to give me insight into the menu writer's literary ambitions, what with things like "delicately scented with" and "garlic braised."

    I can't begin to count the number of times that I've been shanghaied by a surprise sauce on an item that looked perfectly acceptable ("grilled"). And I am now the Nightmare Customer. "How is that prepared? Do they use butter? Do they use oil? Is there any sauce? Is it marinated, and if so, in what? Are there any animal ingredients? And YES, chickens are animals!" If something comes with something I didn't want and am not prepared, for whatever reason, to eat, I send it back. (I once ordered salad, dressing on the side. I got it... and every green in the poor thing had been pre-steeped in what looked like about half a bottle of olive oil, running all over the plate. "We always do that," I was informed. I sent it back, and as I happened to be on my lunch break, I couldn't get anything to replace it in time. I didn't pay, but I also didn't eat. I've never been back there.)

    I reiterate: most people dining out these days are doing it for reasons of necessity, not as a treat. Just as in the supermarket, we should be able to get information about what we're eating without having to annoy increasingly irritated waitstaff to do so, thereby wrecking the evening for everyone. (And most waitstaff I encounter have very little idea of what a chef actually puts into things. "It's really good," is not the answer I'm looking for. Nor is it the answer my husband, a much more serious vegetarian than I, is looking for. And it is AMAZING how many food service professionals truly believe that chicken and fish grow on trees!)

    People have not gotten lazy; people would LIKE to make informed choices. I don't think I'm alone in this, as a customer.
     
  12. suzanne

    suzanne

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    CompassRose: your requests sound reasonable to me. It is the restaurant's responsibility to answer your questions accurately. And it would be great if, after you're asked a few, for the server to see what you're getting at and suggest a menu item along the lines of what you're seeking, or that could be modified easily by the kitchen to suffice. But until we have all restaurants staffed by fully-trained, professional, intelligent waitstaff,cooks, and managers, I fear the chances of any of that happening are the equivalent of a snowball's in ... well, you know where. Sigh.
     
  13. fodigger

    fodigger

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    While I believe that it is the customers responsibility to ask questions, we take the following precautions: We clearly label anything that has peanuts and each server is given a little notebook that has every ingredient used in every menu item so that they may answer the guest questions right away. Also included is a list of vegaterian friendly items. I had a local dietition come in and explain the differences in the different deciplines so that they could know what is meant when they say I'm a vegan what can I have. It has worked well for us. I do include the peanuts because it seems to effect alot of kids. Just a little cya as I had a friend who was sued over it.
     
  14. marmalady

    marmalady

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    A story about chicken - My husband's mother, god bless her, a tried and true Southern cook, was a bit befuddled when her son came home from college and announced he was a vegetarian. Being a good mom, she did her research, and got some brown rice for him to eat while the family was eating their fried chicken. Hubbie thought the rice was exceptionally good, and asked mom how she cooked it. The answer 'why son, I just added a little chicken broth'!

    A story about wait staff and vegetarians - A good friend of ours from Canada was visiting a restaurant and saw a vegetable soup on the menu; he asked the waitress if it was vegetarian, and she said she'd check. Brought the soup to him, and he detected the grease slick that can only come from well cooked beef; asked the waitress about it, and her reply was, 'well, i picked the meat out for you!'

    I even picked up a pasta salad at the Wegman's prepared food center for my guys; got home, read the ingredients, and they'd used chicken broth in the salad dressing!!

    I don't know what the solution is - good points have been brought up by all. I think, though, that in today's business, it's basically, 'customer beware', that is until the day, Suzanne, when we have those 'professional, well trained wait staff' who can translate the menu items into ingredients! As for my mother-in-law, well, as I said, god bless her for trying!
     
  15. nick.shu

    nick.shu

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    i guess in a way i was lucky to work with some vegan waitstaff.

    Not only did this give me insight into vegetable options and variations of the above theme, it also educated me and challenged me. So from this experience, i gained and also had the opportunity to learn about this.

    From this i got some great ideas and contributed some of my own. Such ideas like "mushroom shawarma with houmus and lebanese bread", et al. I also found out which actual products were ok. I also taught them to make their own white chocolate (with a great deal of help from this forum).

    Above and beyond that, it also enabled me develop the philosophy of "what ever the meat eater has, there is always an acceptable vegan alternative, just look for it" basically meaning: just change the protein (85% of the time).

    I will always try to accommodate those with either a philosophy or dietary needs because that is good service and most of the time i can do it, but only if im told. Because on top of allergies, i cannot judge severity or whatever (because im a chef not a MD) and i actually have a lot of food allergies myself.

    From my own point of view, vicarious liabilities aside, the actual thought of causing death through my own cooking causes absolute horror. Imagine if it actually happened?. What if i wasnt told - people have to start taking responibility for their own decisions.
     
  16. nick.shu

    nick.shu

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    but my rant doesnt finish there.

    If someone makes it known that they have special requirements, then it should be dealt with in a professional and ethical manner.

    For a chef or floorstaff or whatever to alter the existing to what the customer wants, that item is contaminated - no ifs or buts. There is absolutely no excuse for doing that.

    After all that is why we reset plates if something needs recooking, and it also serves to protect you from unforseen circumstances.
     
  17. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Mo. chef's collaborative has done 2 series of 6 dinners each had a vegetarian option....one was a total vegan meal...check out www.saucecafe.com under chef's collaborative's archives...the Harvest restaurant meal was vegan. Pretty cool to see high end creative restaurants do a 4 course vegetarian meal....a stretch for some of the guys others made amazing dishes.
     
  18. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    I think we are getting a little sidetracked here in this discussion. The question is not, 'do restarants offer vegetarian items?' it is whether a restaurant should notify its guests about what is in their food (ie. should menus be full of warning labels and nutrional information). And the second question raised is, do we have a responsibility to try an eliminate as many potentially harmful items as possible from our food as a whole?
     
  19. compassrose

    compassrose

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    I don't think that chefs should be eliminating things from their items (just as I think it's going a bit far to have "peanut free" schools). People with allergies -- AND people with special dietary requirements -- do need to live in the real world, after all. We can't all go through life wrapped in a tender, legislated cocoon of contaminant-free organic cotton.

    All I ask for is that restaurants make it EASY for me to get the information that I want, so that I can make my own choices. And I think that includes nutrition information, and any possibly dubious items: gelatin, alcohol, nuts and the like.

    Is it a matter of "trade secrecy" that's making so many of the pros speaking to this issue sound so defensive?
     
  20. marmalady

    marmalady

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    Thanks, Pete, for keeping on track!

    How can we 'remove harmful items' when we can't all agree on what those are?! I guess in items where I had an equivalent substitute - i.e. subbing out veg oil for peanut oil, I probably would opt not to use the peanut oil at all. But things like nuts (which are pretty much incorporated into a menu description, i.e. 'walnut brownie') I would leave up to the 'customer beware' thinking. After all, most of our customers can at least read! Unless the nuts or nut paste were in a sauce or something that wasn't in the description.

    As for the alcohol, I basically agree with the 'customer beware' approach, as most things with alcohol in 'em are labelled on the menu; but there are sauces, i.e. berre blanc, for example where, if you don't know how the sauce is made, you don't know there's alcohol in it. I'm bringing this up, because I used to work at a drug/alcohol rehab center, and dated one of the counselors, who was a recovering alcoholic. They're so stringent in telling folks they can't have things like even mouthwash, at least until their recovery is more or less under control. I know we can't (and shouldn't) adjust dishes to accommodate the minority, it just seems that to be fair, they should be alerted to the fact that there's alcohol in the sauce.

    As for the gelatin, Pete, I think most vegetarians are aware of the fact that it's made from feetsies of critters - other than that gruesome little fact, I don't think there's a health concern.

    Re vegetarian/vegan dishes, I've seen a lot of restaurants put a star or asterisk on 'veggie' items on the menu. Fairly inobstructive, and it works.

    Good discussion, all!