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I'm not a picky diner, I have serious food allergies

Lisa Ellen Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 100 countries.  Niver is the creator of popular travel website, We Said Go Travel, a top 100 travel blog with monthly reach of tens of thousands and with international t...

My restaurant requests are about being safe — not picky

Sitting at brunch before the conference, I did not want to make a fuss, so I ate the pineapple stained red by the strawberries. As the roof of my mouth began to swell like I just ate a piece of pizza straight out of wood-burning fire, I knew I was still allergic.

I was able to continue my breakfast and speak at the conference. My food choices are not about being fussy; they are about my well-being. Many children and adults have life threatening allergic reactions to foods. I am not being unnecessarily picky; I am taking care of my health. Still, sometimes it feels uncomfortable to speak up and say, "This is what I need for me."

During St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, I was served a piece of chocolate cake. I had specifically alerted the restaurant team that I am allergic to strawberries when I ordered. Suddenly, I knew they had simply brushed off the offending fruit from piece and served it to me. I was rushed to my hotel to take medication and was able to participate in the parade the following day, but I was very shaken by the whole experience. When I returned home, I told my sister emphatically, “I am never eating pastry again.”

She said, “You are not allergic to pastry.”

I said, “Yes, but I am allergic to stupidity.”

My experience lately in California has been that chefs are happy to accommodate customers' needs. I was invited to a private dinner at Dave Koz’s home to celebrate the start of his new restaurant venture, Spaghettini & the Dave Koz Lounge, in Beverly Hills. When I realized the efforts the culinary team had gone through to accommodate my food issues, I was embarrassed. I apologized to Chef Scott Howard and he said, “I have a food allergy, also. I am happy to make this meal work for you.”

I still feel concerned about being perceived as picky and a troublesome guest. The impact of my special requests depends on how attached the other person is to the outcome. Chef Scott understands certain foods don't work for everyone, even if the fresh berries from the local farm are a centerpiece of his meal.

At Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, Chef Olivier knows all about my food issues, requests and preferences. After we cooked souffle together in his kitchen, he asked if he could send out items for me and my dinner companion. I thought about if I could trust his choices for me. It turned out to be one of the best meals I have had. I could eat everything! It felt great to be understood and not be concerned about the dishes that arrived or what my dining companions would think.

I realized that while chefs are willing to work with me, my dining companions have a larger range of opinions. One friend who also has food allergies was disappointed when I would not share the dishes she could eat. I was shocked when she called me picky, as my expectation was that she would be understanding. She wanted me to eat what she wanted. It was not about sharing something or finding common ground, it was about getting her way. That was revealing to me.

At the Outpost restaurant in Goleta, our dishes arrived carefully selected by Chef Derek to match my food requirements. Everything was fantastic. My dining companion was surprised certain dishes he felt would be highlighted were missing. Chef looked at him and said, “But Lisa won’t eat that!”

Like all relationships, sharing at restaurants works better with fewer surprises. By managing expectations with dining companions and telling chefs preferences in advance, I have had less dramatic experiences. I am still wary of pastry. However, I now classify myself as "particular," not "picky" — and it is with a purpose.

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