As a personal chef your goal is to make your clients happy with food that not only tastes good but perhaps also addresses health issues they face.

But what do you do when their health issues conflict with yours? What if, like APPCA member Jennifer Zirkle, you have celiac disease and yet still make baked goods and dishes you can’t taste?

This is neither a small issue or a rare one. Think of all the people in your life with gluten allergies, seafood allergies, and other random food allergies. Just because someone’s a chef doesn’t mean they’re immune to them.

Chef Dakota Weiss of Sweetfin, an L.A.-based chain of fast casual poke shops, told Forbes back in 2016 that she can’t even touch fish without reacting. She explained that her throat will close up, her tongue gets itchy, and it gets difficult to speak. So, how does she do her job? When scaling fish she dons two sets of gloves and wraps a bandanna around her face so that a scale doesn’t fly into her eye. It’s not always successful and failure results in her eye swelling shut.

Celebrity chef Amanda Freitag discovered she has an intense allergy to hazelnuts. She told Cooking Light that she worked with her allergist to create a plan and gather the right tools. “On the set of Chopped, I’m a regular. They know about my allergy. Hazelnuts are never on set when I’m there. They’re not usually on set at all. Any guest judge appearances I make, I let them know before I come in that I’m allergic to hazelnuts. That’s my first step. Second step is to always have an EpiPen.”

APPCA member Christine Robinson has issues with green peppers and gluten. “I can take digestive enzymes for small amounts of wheat and we use an Italian non-GMO flour that does not cause me to react…we tell clients ahead of time that we use every color of pepper except for green bell, as I can’t taste it…in nearly 20 years no one has minded…”

Similarly APPCA member Shelby Wassel addresses her watermelon allergy by leaving it out of dishes. “It’s not a big deal, but I never offer watermelon, feta and mint salad to my clients as I’m allergic to watermelon! No one has ever missed it.”

If food allergies dog you, your first responsibility is to your health and well being. Here are four tips for staying safe while still making delicious meals for your clients:

  1. “Just do the best you can, protect yourself first and if you can get someone to help that you trust then have them help you out,” Zirkle advised. That could mean hiring an additional person with you to handle the ingredients you’re allergic to–not just for prepping, cooking, and packaging, but also shopping for the ingredients so you don’t have to handle them at all, tasting the dish, and even cleaning up.
  2. Carry Benadryl and at least one EpiPen on you at all times. Double up on gloves and wear a mask if you absolutely have to work with an ingredient you’re allergic to.
  3. Be honest with your clients. Let them know that you have specific allergies and can’t prepare dishes with those ingredients in them at all or unless someone else you bring in handles them. Ask that anything you’re allergic to that they may have in their kitchen either be removed or stored away and well labeled so you can avoid it.
  4. Depending on the level of your reaction following exposure, don’t even offer it. It’s not worth the potential medical emergency that could land you in the hospital or worse.

And, if food allergies are an issue for you, let that be an opening into turning your compassion for potential clients who may also have food restrictions into new business opportunities. It may lead to your developing a new set of recipes that compensate for the ingredients you can’t work with, a new culinary specialty, and even new segment of clients who will appreciate how your limitations mirror theirs.

Do you have a food allergy you’re dealing with when cooking for clients? How have you addressed it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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