If you didn’t read my rant last week in response to the Telegraph article about the letter from 100 top chefs up in arms about the new allergen regulations, where have you been?
Social media has been buzzing with irate allergics and coeliacs but not much from the supposed Top Chefs in question. First of all, the chefs and restaurants who complained were not top chefs. The letter was conspicuously empty of any top names. Instead, they were independent restaurateurs who perhaps have more cause for concern about the new regs? Maybe, maybe not. Some of the most clued up places have been just that; small establishments with flair, creativity and a passion for making everyone’s meal enjoyable – even the allergy freaks like me.
However, within hours of sharing this blog, BBC Radio 5 Live contacted me to ask me if I would join the Phil Williams show that evening so of course I agreed, with some trepidation. They were going to get Prue Leith on but felt it would be more interesting to hear the other side of the story.
Interestingly we haven’t heard anything from any other chefs, except those who are standing up for the regulations and have a more positive outlook, like the very lovely Aldo Zilli who says chefs should see it as a positive thing and embrace it.
So there I was in a studio in Wing at 10.30pm, which was more like a cupboard under the stairs, waiting to be bombarded with questions. Hang on a minute – it was the cupboard under the stairs! I’m not even kidding.
Special thanks to Mr What Allergy, my chaperone and David Monteath for the loan of the studio, the tea and the calming advice. I was shaking with nerves…
It was a tough interview, very rushed, but he at least had his facts correct which was refreshing for a start.
They played an awful clip of Prue waxing about how, “most of these allergies don’t make people that ill…”
Words fail me. Prue if only I had videos of myself being rushed to A&E I would share them with you so you could see – they make us dreadfully ill. And I know you mean all these other weird allergies that are less well known, but just because they are rare does not mean they cause less of a reaction.
Phil Williams kept interrupting, cut me off mid flow on nearly every point I tried to make, but I held my own and I think managed to answer all his questions. I think he was rushing to get the feature done and back to the more interesting news.
I just knew he would ask, “So you seem so good at coping with eating out, why can’t we just stay the way we are with you phoning the restaurant and checking with staff, why do we need these regulations?” I think I gave as good as I got and had a succinct answer to all his questions, because the thing is, whilst I have great plans in place for making my eating out experiences safe, I have had so many near misses. Some due to my mistake but most due to cross contamination, poor communication and staff not checking. This is serious stuff and these regulations should make eating out a much safer place for all of us with allergies, coeliac disease or food intolerances.
So a huge thanks to Radio 5 Live, Phil Williams et al for giving me the chance to put across the allergic diner’s perspective. We heard a lot from #noclueprue so it was about time we had our say. Just to have that forum was fantastic.
Can we have a larger feature next time? It was so short. Maybe even on a programme more people are listening to… Come on media – show the real news, about real people – not the moaning chefs.
Michelle Berridale-Johnson shared James La Fanu’s roundup of news in the Telegraph where he refers to the allergen regulations furore – his column is called the Doctor’s Diary but he seems to have very little grasp on the real facts around allergy. Using the LEAP study where kids were de-sensitised to peanuts hardly gives much real hope – this was a tiny selection of lucky children who had the treatment and can now eat peanuts – the rest of us are unlikely to see such cures available in our lifetime. It’s just too costly. Read “The Telegraph needs to get a grip of the facts” here.
Chef Hermes has also written an angry response. He clears up something that was bugging me, because there is more than one Roux brother chef. Read The Guardian response from a Coeliac.
I don’t agree with Chef Hermes comments about the rest of the article. I think it’s a good piece putting across the coeliac’s side of the story which has been pretty much ignored thus far. And I think Lisa was clearly referring to Michel Roux’s past comments so he’s not altogether innocent it would seem. However it was a while ago and his views may have changed since then.
So far this month I have been on Radio 5 Live and Michel Roux has actually tweeted me. I’m easily pleased ;).
I am saddened however to hear that Liz Smith has received negative and trolling comments since this mistake. Come on people. It’s not necessary, it’s not nice, and there was some context to the mistake which I thought needed clearing up. Cowards troll. Reminds me of the awful comments I received after being on the BBC. Best not to read them but that’s easy to say.
So who heard me on the radio then? Be quick and listen before it disappears.
As a chef it bewilders me how people can be against these new regulations. I may be different as I enjoy the challenge of free-from cookery, BUT, regardless of that what chef doesn’t know what goes into his food. I’ve read all this tosh about it spoiling creative flair etc etc and I’d love to know who makes these ridiculous claims.
If I buy a new ingredient I read the side to know what it contains… If I’m in any doubt I ring the manufacturer and they are always happy to help.
My dietaries take me about 10 minutes to complete, doesn’t cost me anything and allows sufferers to dine in comfort knowing I actually know what I’m working with. If people claim it’s to hard to complete maybe we shouldn’t dine at their establishment, after all they obviously dont know what is in their food.
Chris thank you for being the voice of reason. I am fed of this attitude too. You are my favourite chef in the world and I just wish more chefs could be like you – with REAL creative flair and ingenuity. I had the best holiday at your old hotel in the Lakes. How’s the new job going?
New job is going well, launched new bar menu 2 weeks ago and mid June hoping to push a ‘free from’ menu; just waiting on new equipment arriving so I can ensure no cross contamination (plant mixers, fryers etc). Getting excited about it all and busy training staff in some of my old recipes; yesterday my new gf sourdough was born :-).
Hoping to enter this years FFEOA so busy updating policies etc… What’s chance you’ll be my secret judge again? Be nice to try some of my new ideas out on u :p
Ruth Holroyd says
Oh I love that! your new #GF sourdough was born! I’m glad you’ve entered again and thrilled that your new bosses are behind your passion to cater for those of us who have food limitations of one kind or another. And who knows – I wouldn’t be so secret next time now you’re rumbled my cover!
Well done Ruth. You put your point across well, especially considering you were in a cupboard.
It was a very nice cupboard but it was face to the huge microphone with the padded door against my back. Very odd indeed but the sound quality of the piece was pretty good so it was worth the effort. Mum you will be pleased to read I did not go to a random man’s studio in the middle of the night on my own too 🙂
I saw the programme of Food and Drink to which Liz was referring. I seem to have it in my head as just a few months ago, but Michel Roux Jnr was definitely disparaging about the prevalence of food allergies and seemed reluctant to cater to what appeared to be (according to him) fussy whims. This view was backed by the other presenters on this programme who included William Sitwell. it was something I’d have loved to blog about around that time, but time constraints meant I couldn’t. SO I think that regarding the 100 ‘chefs’ Michel Roux Jnr either wasn’t asked or decided to judiciously remain in the closet!
Yes it doesn’t sound good does it. I’m quite glad I missed it or I would have been smashing the TV screen with my fist! Hopefully these chefs will get their act into gear and rise to the challenge. This law is here to stay so they really don’t have much choice. And those who take the attitude that we are time wasters and will stifle their creativity can carry on. We will all find places to eat where they do care and welcome us. I hope that they also see that we as allergic consumers have a huge amount of power. We will not sit here and quietly take this rubbish without a fight. It’s a disability that seriously limits our lifestyles and we will not be treated like second class citizens who can be barred and excluded in this way. It’s nasty, it’s a bit like being bullied. I’ve had my share of that in my life. They are lazy cowards and deserve this backlash. I sincerely hope that Michel Roux Jnr has changed his views on this subject since that TV programme and he also had far more sense than to get on the back of that misguided campaign. He at least had more sense in that regard and he did tweet the other day that he does take allergies seriously so let’s hope he’s taking the more positive attitude now.
It is difficult though when some people ‘say’ they have an allergy when in fact they do not. It doesn’t help chefs understand the seriousness of the situation and it does muddy the waters somewhat. It drives me mad in fact. But we just have to keep educating and doing out bit to raise awareness
There are some fantastic, innovative and creative chefs out there who care. Check out Chris Bridges comment above. He is based up in Cumbria so if you’re up that way his new restaurant would be a safe place to eat. He made such an effort when I stayed at his old hotel in the Lake District I didn’t know what it was like to have so much choice. I was in seventh heaven and put on about half a stone in a week!
Liz Smith says
Thank you so much for the fair assessment of what happened.
I did not, as you discerned, get my facts wrong. My intention was never to imply that Michel Roux signed the letter, but the way the article was edited and the choice of photo, I can see how people thought it did.
I don’t want to shift the blame to the editors though, they didn’t help matters, but I should have ensured that it was crystal clear Michel didn’t sign the letter. Journalists can’t wriggle out of things by blaming the editorial team – the right thing to do is own your mistakes. I’ve tweeted Michel in fact to apologise for the confusion.
I’m sorry you have had to deal with the dark side of the internet too – it’s not pleasant, but it’s part of the deal these days that you have to develop a thick skin.
You did really well on the radio, fantastic work! Keep it up.
Ruth Holroyd says
Hi Liz, no thank you! I realised after I’d tweeted the Guardian that there was a link there which went to your blog about the Food & Drink programme (Thanks to Alex Gazzola for pointing that out to me). I missed the programme myself but it frustrates me how many people think it’s OK to belittle or dismiss a very serious condition such as coeliac disease or allergies. I did try to find you on Twitter so thanks for reaching out. I’m glad to have discovered another brilliant blogger. Love yours by the way. Great blog name too. I guess it was just unfortunate the way his photo was used, making it appear he had signed the letter. These things happen. I work as a freelance copywriter too so I know how it goes. Keep up the good work.