Aversity or Adversity…?

2007.Nov.21 Wednesday · 6 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Life, Popular Posts

“I’m not going to make calf’s brains. But at a certain point, I’d like to retain the permission to do something that’s delicious — to have the chance to win them over.”

– from The Finicky Gourmet by Alexandra Jacobs, in the NY Times

Good doggy...

Buenos Aires – There’s no question that I’ve invited this surplus upon myself. It was something that started out simple enough – an enquiry when folks reserved at Casa SaltShaker as to whether they were allergic to anything that I needed to be concerned about. My intent was to avoid sending anyone off to Hospital Alemán’s emergency room, or worse, the Recoleta Cemetery. Now and again, someone would ask if I could accomodate something that wasn’t an allergy, but was either a dietary restriction or preference… low sodium, or no red meat… that sort of thing… and everyone was very understanding about how it might be approached. For over a year and a half I’ve done my best to supply an alternative, or fit their needs, wants, desires. When I didn’t feel I could, I simply let them know, and left it to their decision whether or not they still wanted to come – no hard feelings if not, perhaps another time…? Every now and again I forgot when it came to planning a menu, but we worked it all out before anyone keeled over.

Somewhere along the line, about 7-8 months ago, I decided to just include the question in my responses to reservation requests – any dietary restrictions, or things you simply can’t or won’t eat? Initially, I got few additional requests – perhaps a few more vegetarian requests, or pescetarian sorts (there is no such thing as a “fish eating vegetarian” – fish are meat, you’re not a vegetarian, and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise – you simply choose not to eat red meat and/or poultry, for whatever your reasons are – medical, spiritual, religious, capricious) – and, it’s irrelevant, I respect the request, and when possible, I go for it. In truth, it’s often the easiest – most of our meals start with three vegetable appetizers, perhaps one that’s fish based, rarely are they red meat, other than perhaps as a garnish or addition that can be left out of a portion – and if the main course is a simple piece of meat prepared with a particular sauce and garnish, it’s generally easy to substitute another type of meat, or something vegetable, soy, or grain based. Sometimes it’s not easy to do, and I simply won’t – a long cooked stew, like our recent couple of lamb curries – and I simply pass that info on.

But the last month or two have brought a heavy increase in requests – notedly hand in hand with us moving into tourist season, and particularly from the U.S. and western Europe – more the former than the latter. I know the U.S. is apparently in some sort of epidemic of food allergies – it’s been reported in all sorts of press, popular and medical – and there are many theories on why. I also know that both categories of folk are big on various diets. And, this is where it’s led us to…

Over a one month period, i.e., 8 dinners, the requests have run: 2 no fish (allergy), 1 no shellfish (allergy), 1 no bivalves (allergy), 1 no nuts (allergy), 1 no dairy (allergy), 1 no raw nuts (allergy), 1 no raw onions (allergy), 3 no seafood (preference), 4 no red meat (lifestyle), 2 vegetarian (lifestyle), 1 no pork (preference), 1 no cilantro (preference), 1 no raw meat (preference), 1 no mango (preference), 1 no eggplant (yick), 6 no pork or shellfish (pseudo-kosher requests), 1 no cheese (appalling), 1 no mayo (preference), 1 nothing cooked with alcohol (preference), 1 no garlic (had a date after dinner), 1 no squid (icky), 1 nothing with sugar in it (on a diet), 1 no olives (textural), 1 no olive oil (on a diet???), 1 no tomatoes (preference), 1 no chocolate (preference), 1 no blue cheese (ewww)… you get the idea… out of 39 requests, only 8 are allergies, the rest are all a personal lifestyle choice and/or “I don’t like/want…”. At the same time I’ve turned down a dozen requests for “strictly vegan”, “don’t seat me with tourists”, “don’t seat me with anyone who doesn’t speak English”, “provide a babysitter for our children”, “our children want to learn to cook, we’ll be dropping them off for the day for you to teach”, “we’re bringing our dogs”, “we want to eat earlier”, “we want to eat later”…

So, here’s the scoop. I’m going back to just asking about allergies. When it comes to personal preferences, other than something simple for me to deal with (not to do a “poor me” – I enjoy cooking, and putting on these dinners – but I’m the sole cook, for a five course meal for twelve people… that’s sixty plates of food out of an apartment kitchen, just to do the math for you – I don’t have a kitchen staff to prep something else), I’m simply no longer going to worry about them. I am going to make it easier, you’ll note that I’ve started posting the planned menus at the same time as posting the themes for the evenings – which won’t always tell you if a particular dish contains something you don’t like to eat, but at least may give us a start. I’m happy to entertain inquiries about whether or not I can accomodate something, but I’ve gotten far less interested in whether or not I will – while folks are paying for the opportunity to come to dinner here, it’s a set menu dinner party in our home, it’s not a restaurant with a list of choices, it’s “closed door” for a reason – not exclusivity, but at the same time, not simply open to anyone to walk in. And, I have numerous friends here who have other sorts of in-home or regular restaurants where the food may fit closer to what a given customer is looking for… picky eaters are welcome, truly, but just like going to a dinner party at anyone’s home, may just have to accept, if they choose to come, that their preferences won’t be catered to.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Saratica November 22, 2007 at 09:37

I will eat WHATEVER you cook!!!

ksternberg November 22, 2007 at 13:13

I especially love the request to drop off their children so you can teach them to cook. Good idea to stick only with real allergies, Dan. The menu is posted well in advance, so prospective guests can see what they will be eating. From there, it’s a yes or no choice for them.

I was wondering though… My cat has always wanted to be a chef. May I fly her down there so you can teach her how to cook?

dan November 22, 2007 at 16:48

S – yes, but I can’t get you on a plane to come down for a visit!

K – you can send the cat, but just recall all of my cookbooks for offbeat and obscure recipes… I leave the rest to your imagination.

dmurbach November 23, 2007 at 23:30

ah its easy to be difficult my psychiatrist friend says that people who are vegans or specialty preferences do it to capture attention who knows

i just have likes and dislikes

not as bad as a friend of mine, a horticultural person also, who will only let plants grow in his nebraska garden that are in plant families that have relatives in mexico, his country of study he calls himself a plant bigot

personally i like my food round, close to a 1/4 pound, with cheese, onions, and no bugs

then other days, i am just happy to have food

Stovetop Traveler November 26, 2007 at 02:20

For a period of time I cooked for a catering company that prepared the meals for a local diet plan. This diet plan delivered 3 meals and 2 snacks a day to each client. The owners of the plan (NOT the owner of the catering company) allowed each client to list as many food allergies and preferences as they wanted. It soon devolved to the point that we were preparing individual meals and snacks for each of the 100-odd clients that were being served, no longer the standard meals for everyone. As soon as he could, the caterer got out of that contract – it was a labor nightmare for the amount of money the diet plan was paying out. If you can get away with it – don’t give people choices!

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