Anybody that reads this blog regularly knows that I love reality TV shows that deal with cooking and chefs. I do a lot of cooking at home and also get a lot of inspiration from these shows with regards to recipe ideas and family meals. Plus, it's fascinating to me, as the mother of a child with life-threatening food allergies, to discover how much chefs know or care about food allergies. How do kitchens cope with allergy requests or issues "behind-the-scenes?" And are food allergies even on these people's radar?
In the past year, especially, I've found more and more cooking shows to confront food allergies, dietary restrictions or food intolerances. Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" handled a Hollywood actress's gluten-free, non-dairy dietary requests (it wasn't clear if this was a life-style choice or medically necessary, but still) and last season in the BBC America show "Last Restaurant Standing" aspiring restaurateurs were asked to serve diners with celiac disease.
What you learn from these shows is that the range of knowledge about food allergies and intolerances on the part of chefs is vast. Everything from complete ignorance to savvy understanding -- and everything in between. I learn from these shows to never assume a chef knows or understands the severity of any food allergy and that's why I follow my doctor's advice to serve my daughter only simple, basic foods when at a restaurant.
Well, the latest Bravo TV chef show offering "Chef Academy" featuring the world-renowned chef Robert Novelli left me with a very fishy feeling after I viewed an episode in which he questions the reality of a contestant's squid allergy. She had been working with squid and her face and eyes started burning and she was feeling really ill. She also had pretty bad facial swelling. (In the clip I'm about to share, that had gone down somewhat but if you saw the whole episode she also had big facial hives.) The contestant describes to Chef Novelli how she believes she needs an adrenaline shot (Epi Pen, basically) to counteract her reaction.
Here's the brief clip if you'd like to "watch what happens."
You'll see that the chef's assistant had to look up food allergies on the Internet in order to prove to him that shellfish allergies can be life-threatening. OK, the chef didn't know that???? So scary. Or maybe he just doesn't care. Even worse. In the full episode, one of the other contestants (a much more inexperienced chef than Novelli, by the way) is shown to explain to the camera that shellfish allergies "and peanut butter" (her words) are two of the most serious food allergies.
Also, to clarify when you view the clip: the chef keeps talking about Suzanne, the contestant's "two red dots." No, he's not referring to hives. The contestants are kicked out of the Academy after receiving 3 red dots.
Actually, I'm glad that this show aired and that the chef's very insensitive reaction to a person's food allergy was shown. I actually believe that people will learn something from this--maybe they've never seen someone have an allergic reaction. A food allergy reaction just isn't pretty, even when it doesn't progress to anaphylaxis.
Chef Novelli may think he's all that but he would do well to have a little food allergy education if he wants to truly be "world-class." I wish Bravo had included the FAAN website at the end of the show so viewers would know where to go to learn more.
Did anyone see this show and if so, what did you think?