Did the golden era of no allergen requests and no TripAdvisor ever exist?

Jonathan Harvey-Barnes is Senior Development Chef at Essential Cuisine. Having started kitchen life under the tutelage of the highly respected John Williams MBE at Claridge’s in Mayfair, he spent a further 22 years cooking in AA Rosette country house hotels until eventually swapping his whites for the blues of the north west manufacturer of class-leading stocks and sauces. Jonathan now works as part of a team of three business development chefs, dedicated to inspiring customers and the next generation of chefs.

Here, he talks to Footprint and calls on a wealth of experience as a professional chef to talk about the rise of allergen awareness in working kitchens, looking at how far the industry has come, and examining how responsible manufacturers have a key role to play in the education game.

Many (how do I put this diplomatically?) ‘senior’ members of the chef community have a canny knack of harking back to simpler times when TripAdvisor was just a distant concept, where personalisation of dishes was guided by chefs and not by diners, and where allergen requests were few and far between.

Did this ‘golden’ era really exist? When it came to allergens, there certainly wasn’t the sheer frequency of requests we see today. Shellfish and dairy were two of the most prominent, but lupins? Some chefs would have had to Google, or the bygone age equivalent – visit a library or ask a member of their brigade – to even know what a lupin was!

Fast forward a couple of decades, by way of the 2014 legislation from the Food Standards Agency making it law for outlets to tell customers if their food contains allergens, and it really is a different ball game.

I remember acutely the weeks leading up to and immediately after the implementation of the legislation and it was nothing short of panic from some kitchens who felt wildly unprepared for the change. In the five years since, it’s fair to say that in terms of allergens, the dining out scene has undergone a massive shift.

Education has played such a large part in awareness and growth. As consumers learn more about their own allergies – its estimated that 44% of British adults suffer from at least one* – so you begin to see more successful diagnoses which has inevitably led to more requests when dining out.

Lifestyle is also a factor – coeliac disease is on the rise, but so are the number of diners who are looking to avoid gluten for health and wellness purposes.

Examining the situation from another angle, it will invariably be the coeliac or dairy intolerant diner within a group that will dictate the dining location. Therefore, it also starts to make sound commercial sense for kitchens to actively adapt certain dishes to ensure there are options to satisfy all tastes and requirements.

Since 2014, the Food Standards Agency has done a good job in educating caterers and chefs; we have even seen some customers create in-house ‘allergy working groups’ to ensure best practice, such are the implications of getting it wrong.

The Essential Cuisine position is that it’s also incumbent on responsible suppliers and manufacturers to help working kitchens overcome allergen challenges.

That’s why we not only supply more than 20 products that are completely free from declarable allergens**, we have also sought to remove the gluten from every product in our range.

In a recent survey by the Change Group^, almost nine out of 10 chefs (89%) said they were taking food intolerances into account when planning menus and at 94%, gluten was the allergen given the most consideration.

Because of this, we have created a bank of relevant food intolerance and allergen information alongside dedicated recipe inspiration to help remove the headache for working kitchens.

A source of constant inspiration and support, our chef brigade is also never happier than when back at the coal face, helping chef teams to manage their own allergen challenges.

So, if your kitchen is experiencing challenges or you simply want to know how to better cater for diners with food allergies, let’s talk!

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