So many menus, so little time. Ask me to pick a favorite ethnic cuisine, and it’s impossible to name just one. But when an invitation came for the Worlds of Flavor conference next month at the Greystone campus of The Culinary Institute of America, I was all in.
Beyond the obvious allure of Napa Valley, this year’s focus on Asia and the Theater of World Menus has me hooked. Chefs from around the world will share culinary and cultural innovations and ingredients from the largest continent—home to more than 4 billion people and too many indigenous cuisines to count. Emphasis will be on the Far East, with dishes from chefs influenced by Japanese, Indian, Thai, and Korean cooking.
Sadly, there is one caveat to my love for Asian cuisine: A shellfish allergy requires I approach the fare with caution, knowing that ingredients often include fish stock, and the potential for cross-contamination runs high in many kitchens.
When I’m ordering Asian food, I always tell servers about this allergy but I’m often disappointed by responses, which can range from zero comprehension as to why this could be a big problem to an eat-at-your-own-risk ambivalence.
On the other end of the spectrum, restaurants that get it right deserve recognition: I had the most amazing response to my shellfish allergy at P.F. Chang’s, where I told the waitress about my allergy and ordered what I thought were safe choices. She checked immediately with kitchen staff, learning that the soup and entrée I’d selected were not advisable for guests with shellfish intolerances, so she printed out a special menu highlighting items I could eat without risk.
While that was more impressive than I’ve been accustomed to, the restaurant manager’s response was even more astounding. He stopped by our table to make sure we were satisfied and to apologize that it took longer than he would have liked to prepare the food. As he explained, a new cook was in the kitchen and the manager wanted to personally oversee our order to ensure the food was prepared with the appropriate care and caution.
The food at P.F. Chang’s was delicious; we honestly didn’t notice any lapse in service time; and I was able to eat comfortably knowing there was no threat of cross contamination.
This was a vast improvement over most experiences not only because it models how restaurants should handle special dietary needs, but also because it achieves what so many multi-unit operators are striving for: The ability to execute with the personalization of an independent operation rather than a chain mentality.
Kudos to P.F. Chang’s! And, read more about the Worlds of Flavor conference, which is slated for April 22–24, in the CIA column on page 80.
Here’s hoping I see some of you at Greystone next month.