I have been fortunate enough to have a career where I traveled the world and had to entertain. For me, there is something exhilarating about sitting down with clients for a culinary experience, getting to know them, and knowing you may have to close a deal. In that situation, you want to stay focused and be charming. Nothing zaps the energy out of a dining experience more then having the focus of the evening on your food allergy. I dread the drama of it all and my clients enduring the waiter/ kitchen sprint because of my food allergies.
I have developed such an intolerance to all capsicum, i.e. cayenne, paprika and cumin, that my throat closes up, I start to shake and then, within 10/15 minutes, I actually projectile vomit. It comes on so quickly, violently and unexpectedly that, even during a lunch, I was rushed to the hospital projectiling (as I ruined my new red silk suit).
After several of these rushed trips to the ER, I finally went to an allergy specialist who diagnosed my malaise as the worst possible allergic reaction one can suffer and still survive.
Thanks to Emeril, and the influx of some certain cuisines, most restaurants have infused, charged, and drilled their menus with chili, cayenne, and paprika and made it impossible for me to dine in many restaurants. I have discovered that even the nicest restaurants now marinate all their meat, fish, and chicken dishes with some form of capsicum. That means even a chicken salad is off limits and watch those candied pecans; they have chili on them now. For some reason, many restaurant salad dressings have cayenne or paprika—even a simple Caesar dressing. Deserts, from cheesecake to tiramisu, are now spiked with cayenne. I have even been served strawberries with a “surprise.” Thankfully, I asked what the surprise was or the restaurant would have been surprised! I have gone to restaurants and not been able to have any dish on the menu.
My strategy now is to check out a menu first before I suggest a restaurant for business. I ignored my own advice last week; I went to a good sushi restaurant thinking that I would not have to bring up my food allergy in front of my clients. To my chagrin, I opened the menu and the first sushi listed was “Jalapeño Sushi” and, along down the line of the menu, most had heat. I had no other choice but to have the proverbial conversation to make sure what dishes I could eat.
The frustration lies not only in its increase of use but in its use in dishes that historically never had any form of heat. Even when I order a dish that couldn’t possibly have cayenne, Fettuccini Alfredo, I have had it come with cayenne sprinkled all over. I have asked for plain poached fish (“nothing on it, plain, please”) trying to be discreet. And the fish came covered in chili flakes. When I explained finally that I had an allergy, I was told “You don’t know what good is!” This is not about taste, this is about health and, in my opinion, our taste buds are being hijacked by all this heat!
I am meeting more and more people daily who are developing this allergy due to the proliferation of this spice. Hopefully, chefs will begin to take notice and will begin to create more interesting dishes instead of just throwing in the heat.