Some may call it an unfunny joke from Him or Her upstairs, the son of a chef being born with major, life-threatening food allergies, thereby limiting what he can eat to a narrow window of "acceptable" foods. But I never felt that way, nor did David. He always ate well, and probably because I am a chef, we always just worked around it, viewing it more as how one would view another child's likes or dislikes and less as a life sentence, albeit always being extremely aware of the side effects of a potential cross-contamination. David grew up eating organic lamb, steak, and rice noodles--he was definitely well-fed. And, on a side note, he developed a great palate!
You could say having David really kicked our allergy awareness at Blue Ginger into high gear, and you'd be right. But the thing that really crystallized the need to be vocal about it was an experience that David and I had at a different restaurant in Massachusetts.
When David was about five years old, I took him into a casual, family-friendly restaurant and, before we were seated, I spoke to the manager to let him know of David's allergies, which I always did. I think it is important for people to take that first step and let a restaurant know, at the first possible moment, of any allergies. In theory, it should make everything go more smoothly.
In this case, that didn't happen. Instead of being greeted with a can-do attitude or any amount of graciousness, I was literally told, "We'd prefer not to serve you." As a father hearing that, my blood boiled. It's a good thing my son was there, or I probably would have popped him, especially when I had to explain to David that, yes, we were hungry, but no, we couldn't eat there after all. Hearing those words as a restaurateur, I was absolutely incredulous. I kept thinking, "You're turning down two paying customers because you can't guarantee me you know what's in your food? That's scary and wrong."
That was really the catalyst for me to start speaking out about food allergy awareness and safety and to try to teach people what we do at Blue Ginger. I became a national spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) not long after. The system we use at Blue Ginger is simple, low-to-no cost, and it works.
The first step is proper training. Every restaurateur has got to have the time and the means to properly train his staff. It's Rule One of being open. At Blue Ginger, we've always trained our staff not only on the proper handling of food, as any restaurant should, but also food allergy safety. What that means is our staff is extremely cognizant of cross-contamination during prep and during service. I always give the example that everyone knows to wash their board and knife thoroughly, if not change out their board entirely, after working with raw chicken because of the risk of salmonella.
At Blue Ginger, every ingredient is raw chicken.