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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

EATING OUT with ALPHA-GAL - Navigating Menus

I have always considered myself a pretty healthy eater - even when dining out.  I peruse the menu for items that are different but without all the heavy sauces and cream.  So I don't feel like I am missing out there.

The biggest problem is knowing how the dishes are prepared.  As a previous restaurant owner and chef - I am at an advantage when it comes to deciding which items would be safest to eat with the Alpha-Gal allergy.

Living in Tennessee there is a "Meat and 3" type restaurant on almost every corner (if you are not familiar with this term - it means you get a meat of your choice along with 3 vegetable sides).  The meat is usually not chicken and the vegetables are cooked with some kind of pork fat, etc.  So - these restaurants are out.

But Nashville is finally coming into its own.  We have many local, eclectic style restaurants now to choose from.  That being said - here are some rules for eating out and being safe with Alpha-Gal:

  1. Call the restaurant personally and ask to speak with the General Manager or Chef.
  2. Explain in detail what the allergy entails. 
  3. Then, after explaining the situation, I let them off the hook and tell them if they do not feel comfortable cooking for me it is perfectly okay and we will find another place.
  4. When you make a reservation they will then have your information and your server should be aware.  But always double check and go over the "rules" again with them.
Here is how my conversation usually goes:
  "Hi - my name is September Norman.  We would love to come eat at your restaurant but I have a very unusual allergy and hopefully you can accommodate us."  Then I proceed to explain that I cannot have any mammals meat or their milks - only chicken and fish and these items cannot be anywhere near where meat has been - especially on a grill.  I then proceed to tell them my chicken or fish can be sautéed in a clean pan with olive oil - no butter - and the same with any sauces.

So far, everywhere restaurant we have been to has taken very good care of me.  The best was Eastland Café in East Nashville.  The chef made me a wonderful fish dish with risotto without cheese and cooked in a vegetable stock - a basil pesto without cheese and sautéed sweet peppers.  It was outstanding.  Thank you Chef Paul.

The one thing you should do is find 2-3 restaurants that you get to know and vice-versa and then you will always feel comfortable going out.

Where should you not go:  Fast-food chains; Mexican restaurants (chips are fried in same oil as beef chimichangas, plus cheese is always around; casual dining chains (the one exception here is Carraba's - I have had success with our local store -as they managers are always there and are very attuned to allergens).

Stay safe and eat well.

Please let me know if you have any other tips or any experiences you have had eating out.  Next post:  safe and unsafe foods at the grocery store.  How I learned the hard way.