Tag Archives: Saverio M.

My Favourite Restaurant: T-Bar NYC

I love to travel to New York – whether it be for business or pleasure, there is a magical and electric element about the city that you cannot experience anywhere else in the world. In the past year, I’ve had to travel to the city, specifically for business. One of the difficulties with travelling to the Big Apple, is the fact that most hotels do not have kitchens. In fact, most native New Yorkers eat-out very frequently. This poses some issues to those of us in the severe food allergy community, where eating-out can be a potentially dangerous experience. Having lived with the risk for an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts for the past decade, I found myself in this position on one of my most recent trips to the city.

While in Manhattan, I researched “nut-free restaurants in New York” on Google, and stumbled across a restaurant called T-Bar: an upscale, modern restaurant on the Upper-East side. I was very eager to try this new place out, given that nut-free restaurants in Toronto are a definite rarity.

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order

When I arrived, I was greeted by a team of very friendly staff who assured me that my meal would be completely nut-free. I was ecstatic! So much so, that I ordered the left-side of the menu; everything from fried-artichokes, to fresh breadsticks, to an entire pizza. In short, the food along with the overall ambiance of the place was amazing. The restaurant is quintessentially New York – elegant, classy, modern and buzzing with activity.

Further, my experience at T-Bar was the best I’ve ever had in any restaurant in a very long time. The restaurant has now become a staple during my trips to New York – if you visit the city, definitely give this restaurant a try!

If you’re looking for more options, a college student has created a blog finding allergy-friendly places in New York City. Check it out at https://nutfreenewyork.com/

– Saverio M.

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Travelling to Italy with Food Allergies

Italy is a beautiful country to visit year-round. The sights, sounds, smells, and flavours of the country underpin Italy’s rich history and classical traditions. Having an Italian background, I have frequented the country as a tourist a number of times, both before and after I was diagnosed with a severe food allergy to tree nuts in 2004. In this post, I will list-out some tips (drawn from my past experiences) that you can use when planning your next trip to Italy. By no means is this list definitive – its intended use is more as a quick reference during the initial planning stages of your trip.

Things to do before you go

  1. Brace yourself for the language barrier

When travelling to any foreign country where you are not fluent in the native tongue, try to seek-out ways to overcome some of the language-barrier obstacles that you may encounter. Purchase an Italian-English dictionary (assuming you are travelling to Italy) and make a short list of key words and phrases that may be helpful to you. I suggest writing-out the Italian translation for all of your allergens. Here is a translated list of a few common allergens:

  • Peanuts = Arachide
  • Nut = Noce
  • Milk = Latte
  • Egg = Uovo
  • Wheat = Grano

*Note the pronunciation and spelling of these words may vary depending on the region of Italy that you are travelling to. Most people speak standard Italian, but there are a number of dialects in the language that vary with the geography of the country.

Vintage scene with Vespa on old street.

  1. Find a hotel equipped with an in-room kitchen that is located near a grocery store

Most hotels in Italy, outside of the major cities, are usually smaller, more intimate inns that are family-owned. When booking your accommodations, try looking for rooms with kitchen facilities or hotels that will allow you to use their kitchen temporarily to prepare your own meals. As intoxicating as fresh Italian food can be, you need to take precautions and cook your own meals. The severity of food allergies are not as well understood in Italy as they are in the United States or Canada. This, coupled with the language barrier, may make it difficult to eat-out safely. To play it safe, find accommodations near a grocery store and cook your own food.

  1. Bring-along some cooking equipment (just in case)

Although there are plenty of hotels that have in-room kitchens, some are reluctant to lend out cooking-equipment. This is more of a rare case, but I have encountered it a couple of times while travelling in Europe. To avoid this unpleasant surprise, be sure to ask about this when booking your room/accommodations. Additionally, I would recommend packing a small, lightweight grill that you can place on a stove-top, in your carry-on luggage.

Throughout the years, I have found these tips to be useful when planning any of my trips to Italy (and Europe, in general). Again, Italy is a beautiful country with a lot to explore. Don’t let food allergies ruin the experience! Plan appropriately and reap the rewards!

– Saverio M.

Long Weekend at the Cottage: The ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’

The great thing about June is that it is the month that officially kicks off Summer. I like to think of the Victoria Day Weekend as the unofficial inaugural long weekend devoted to the beginning of Summer: re-opening the cottage, outdoor barbeques, and family get-togethers. The Canada Day long weekend, only a month later, allows you to really enjoy all of the greatness that summer has to offer.

Green Canoe and Dock on a Misty MorningAs fun as family barbeques and cottage get-togethers can be, effectively managing your severe food allergy will always be a factor that you must keep in mind when planning your ‘getaways’ to the cottage. Here is a list of some tips and tricks to keep in mind when planning to host or attend events during cottage season this Summer. I’ve drawn these from my own personal experiences, so by no means is this a definitive list of ‘must-dos’. Think of this as a way to complement your existing routine and mindset.

  1. Managing the Barbeque Scene at the Cottage:

I love barbequed food – who doesn’t? I’ve always found barbeques to be the least “intimidating” form of a food-centric event, specifically in regards to managing allergies. This is usually the case given that I usually have complete access to the grill – I can see exactly what gets cooked and keep track of who handled what foods. Additionally, in most cases, barbequed food goes from grill to plate directly, which reduces the risk of cross-contamination as long as no sauces or marinades contain my allergen.

Having said this, however, you should always be acutely aware of what food is being prepared, and how that food is being prepared. At times, certain meats may be marinated in a sauce that may contain your specific allergen. In addition, some barbeque sauces contain a number of allergens, which brings home the point of ALWAYS reading the label, even if you think something is safe to eat. If possible, always try to handle you own food. Grill to plate, as mentioned above, is often the best policy when it comes to barbeques as it can reduce the risk of cross contamination. In cases where you know sauces containing your allergen have been used on the grill, try to clean the grill with soap and water before even turning the barbeque on.

Family having a barbecue party in their garden in summer

  1. Bringing Appropriate Awareness to your Allergy:

Always make sure that the people around you are aware of your allergy. Make sure that you show them your auto-injector, and, if necessary, do a quick demonstration of how to use one (with a trainer injector) just in case. It is essential that you speak to the “chef” (cousin, relative, etc…) preparing the food – make sure to explicitly explain the severity of your allergy and thoroughly explain the concept of cross-contamination. Many people (family included) have a difficult time grasping the risks involved with cross-contamination. Explain what it is, its importance, and how to ultimately avoid it.

  1. Travelling to your Friend’s Cottage:

The rules described above hold the same relevance when travelling to someone else’s cottage. Always let your “host” (friend or relative) know that you have a severe allergy and where you store your auto-injector. Never be afraid to speak-up about your allergies and never be peer pressured into doing something (or eating something) that makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy in any way – your health is too important for that.

Remember that your allergies aren’t everything – it’s something that is a part of you that you have to deal with. Own your allergies, let people know about it, but don’t let them stand in the way of having a relaxing and enjoyable long-weekend.

Saverio M. 

Managing my Food Allergies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Managing your food allergy can be somewhat of a roller coaster ride. The reality is that some people just “get” or understand severe allergies – understanding its severity and implications – while others just don’t, no matter how much you explain it to them. As frustrating as the negative experiences can be, there are often rewarding learning experiences that emerge out of them.

In this post, I’ll share some of my stories of positive and negative experiences in managing my tree nut (Hazelnut and Walnut) allergy.

The Good:

Finding “that” restaurant

Truth be told, I never usually eat-out. Usually, a bag of chips is as far as I am willing to go in terms of eating food not prepared by myself or my family. It can be very difficult to trust restaurants (specifically, restaurant staff), when your allergy is severe. However, with enough research, you can often find that “diamond in the rough” – a restaurant that is completely free of your allergen and can guarantee it. A few summers ago, I travelled to New York City with my family. I said to myself, “there has to be one restaurant in this massive city that is Nut-Free.” Low and behold, I came across a restaurant in the Upper East Side, called T-Bar, that could guarantee a nut-free meal with little risk of cross-contamination. I was elated – these people got it!

Male chef garnishing his dish, ready to serve

After my New York Experience, I became more active in my research of nut-free restaurants. Usually, many restaurants in the U.S. and Canada do have allergen policies in place. Having said that, always make sure to call each restaurant in advance to get briefed by the manager or chef on the specific policy at each restaurant, even if you are eating at the same chain (different restaurants within a chain may have different policies given the standing franchising agreements). In any case, always call in advance. When you are at the restaurant, get a “feel” for how safe the restaurant is in addition to reminding the restaurant staff of your food allergy. I learned that it is possible to “eat out” but it depends where you eat and the specific allergen policies that dictate how seriously the restaurant takes your allergy.

The Bad and the Ugly:

Friends and Family that just don’t get it:

Throughout the past 12 years living with my food allergy, I’ve come across some friends and family members that just do not understand the severity of my allergy. I have one friend that keeps on insisting that we eat out at different restaurants: “Come on – the food should be safe here…I don’t see any nuts on my dish.” Even after explaining the concept of cross-contamination, it is hard for some people to empathize with the severity of Anaphylactic reactions.

To mitigate these situations, politely remind your friends or family about the severity of your allergy (even if you have to repeat yourself for the 150th time) and be sure to re-explain the concept of cross contamination if necessary. Never feel peer-pressured into doing or eating anything that you do not feel comfortable doing. Your health is always your first priority.

Managing your allergies is achievable! You can travel and you can eat-out with your friends, but always be cautious. Again, your health is your first priority, so always be sure to be vigilant, do your homework, and go with your gut, especially when eating-out at restaurants with your friends or family.

– Saverio M.

Birthdays for Adults with Allergies

Birthday cupcake in front of a chalkboard

Birthdays are often synonymous with fun and excitement. Celebrating, relaxing, and catching-up with old friends are all things that we look forward to when we plan our own birthday parties, or get invited to one by our friends or family members. Food allergies may initially pose some complications to birthday party celebrations, especially if the party takes place over a meal, or at a restaurant.

This is an all too common, and potentially stressful, situation encountered by many adults living with severe food allergies. The initial excitement for the party that you were just invited to is suddenly overshadowed by doubts, and even anxiety, that stem from how to properly manage your food allergies in the given situation. Some of these doubts may come in the form of the following common questions that I ask myself:

  • “Will there be a meal served at the party?”
  • “What restaurant will my friend/cousin/significant other choose for their birthday?”
  • “Should I call the restaurant in advance?”
  • “Should I avoid eating at the party all-together?”
  • “Will I be singled-out if I don’t eat anything? Will I feel awkward?”

This post will attempt to address some of these questions by providing you with some tangible tips that you can use either when planning your own party or if you are invited to a birthday party in the near future.

Scenario 1: Planning your own birthday party

This is the easiest scenario to face since you have complete control over every detail of the party. In this case, you can either:

  • Plan your party around a fun activity (e.g., A karaoke party or informal get-together) that doesn’t involve eating-out at a restaurant.
  • Plan a lunch or dinner party at a “safe” restaurant, which is a restaurant with a strong food allergy policy that you have eaten at before; a restaurant that you generally trust and feel safe eating at.

Reminder: If you do choose to hold your birthday at a restaurant, always call the restaurant in advance of the party day. This is an absolute must, even for restaurants on your “safe list.” Restaurants change their policies and menus all the time, so you should always be extra-cautious and call the restaurant staff in advance. It is also essential that you remind your friends that you have a severe food allergy (name your allergen) and what specific actions they should take in the event that you do have an allergic reaction. Always have your auto-injector with you, especially if you are dining-out. Make sure others know where you keep it.

Beautiful young woman celebrating birthday with friends at nightclub

Scenario 2: You are invited to a birthday party

In this case, you have less control over the details of the party. You can use my steps below as a broad guideline to handling this scenario:

  1. Call the party organizer in advance (your friend, colleague, family member, or significant other that is organizing the party), and confirm the restaurant name and location (note that different restaurant locations may have different food allergy policies, even within the same chain of restaurants).
  2. Call the restaurant well in-advance of the party (as soon as you get the location information) and inquire about their food allergy policy. Ask whether or not they have one, how they have handled food allergies in the past, and whether or not they can accommodate your specific allergies..
  3. Based-on the information you receive from the call, make a personal judgement to determine whether or not you feel comfortable eating at the establishment. Never feel pressured to eat at a restaurant by anyone, no matter what the occasion! Your health is much too important!
  4. If you decide to go ahead and eat-out, make sure you remind the wait staff at the restaurant (and the chef, if possible) that you have a severe food allergy, and that extra precautions should be taken in preparing your meal.
  5. As mentioned before, remind your friends that you have a severe food allergy, and let them know that you are carrying an auto-injector. Show them where you are carrying your auto-injector.

These are the steps that I most often revert to when planning, or when attending, a birthday party. The most important take-away from this post, is that severe allergies should never overshadow the fun and excitement out of birthday parties. By taking the proper precautions, and following some of my advice provided, you can face any birthday party (or special gathering) with confidence and ease.

– Saverio M.

Top 5 Perks of Having an Allergy

Closeup portrait happy successful student, business man winning, fists pumped celebrating success isolated grey wall background. Positive human emotion facial expression. Life perception, achievement

“In order to carry a positive action, we must develop here a positive vision”

-Dalai Lama

In life, nothing is as bad as it ever seems. Think back to the time you discovered that you had a severe food allergy. In all frankness, I remember being very upset and discouraged by the news. I was diagnosed with my life-threatening food allergies at the age of 10. I was a child at that time and I saw my allergy as a massive barrier that would inevitably prevent me from doing the things that I wanted to do in life. Over the past 10 years, my views have changed significantly. I’ve taken ownership of my food allergy, and, in some ways, have found ways to embrace it. Here are my five perks about allergies that you can keep in the back of your mind:

  1. You will be healthier

Living with food allergies means that restaurants are not the automatic go-to for quick-fix meals on a daily basis. As good as restaurant food can be on occasion, eating-out every day may not be the best option for your health. When I dine-out, I often throw caution to the wind when it comes to “healthy” food options. If I’m at a steakhouse, I’m not eating broiled salmon and arugula. I’m ordering the thickest, juiciest steak on the menu. The point I’m making is that the unhealthy option is readily available and easily accessible. You are more likely to buy the steak on impulse for instant gratification, rather than the healthier options available. With food allergies, you are less likely to find yourself in that position on a frequent basis. Often times, I cook what I eat, as it is the safest way to ensure that my meals are allergen-free.

  1. You will learn how to cook well

Eating-out less implies that you will be cooking for yourself frequently. Cooking is an important life skill. Personally, I find it relaxing – it’s a great distraction and de-stressor at the end of a long, busy, and stressful day. Although there is a definite learning curve to cooking, you will begin to hone this skill: you will get better and better at it. After a few months, you will be cooking-up a storm – you can show-off your new skills to your friends and family.

  1. You control exactly what goes into your body

This is a lead-off from the last point. If you are cooking for yourself more often, you have control over the ingredients that you use to prepare your meals. When shopping for these ingredients, you can opt for higher-quality, organic ingredients. Restaurants may boast using these ingredients, but more likely than not, the quality and freshness of the ingredients will not be the same as a home-cooked meal.

  1. You will learn how to become more resourceful

This point is most pertinent to managing your allergies while traveling or dining-out in unfamiliar places. When encountered with these unfamiliar situations, you will find creative ways to manage your food allergy. Over time, you will get better at sourcing out allergy-friendly restaurants or a close-by grocery store, so that you can assure a safe meal, regardless of where you find yourself. For example, if you are booking a vacation getaway with friends, you will know to find hotels and resorts that have restaurants with a thorough food allergy policy. Alternatively, you will also get better at finding resorts close to allergy-friendly restaurants or grocery stores. Having food allergies makes you a great problem-solver, which is a skill that can cross-over into any other aspect of life and work.

  1. You will become a stronger person

One of the most rewarding aspects of living with (and managing) food allergies effectively, is the realization that you have become a stronger person out of it. It means that you were faced with a challenge, found ways to counter the challenge, and came out on the other side a stronger and more resourceful person. Managing severe food allergies are challenging, but they do not have to dictate or control what you want out of your life.

– Saverio M.

Bringing Food to Restaurants

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One of the realities of living with severe allergies is the limited exposure to many restaurants. Although you can make plans to eat-out by speaking to the appropriate restaurant staff, most restaurants cannot completely guarantee an allergen-free meal. If you are faced with an important event that cannot be missed, or if you are travelling abroad, bringing your own food to a restaurant may be a safer alternative. I personally love to travel and, in some cases, have had to bring my own food to restaurants. Below, I’ll briefly outline my experiences (positive and negative) in doing this.

When I was younger, I always felt awkward or “out of place” when bringing food to restaurants. In some cases, restaurants will not even allow you to bring your own food. I found this to be the case in Europe. I remember going on a guided tour of Budapest with my parents. I knew I had to bring my own food because explaining my allergy would be too difficult given the language barrier. When my parents and I arrived at the restaurant, we were immediately told that I was not allowed to bring “outside food” into the restaurant (which left me feeling awkward and embarrassed). I think my key learning from that experience was flexibility. Although these situations can be difficult, you have to find ways to make it work in a given situation. You can try going to another restaurant, or find a public space where you can feel comfortable eating your own meal.

Although I’ve had some negative experiences, I’ve also had many positive experiences at restaurants. Most restaurants in the United States and Canada understand the implications of food allergies. If they cannot provide a solution, most will try to accommodate you in the best way possible. That being said, more expensive or “prestigious” restaurants may have the “no outside food” policy in place. However, you should typically have no trouble at family restaurants or more casual buffets. In any case, it would be wise to call in advance to make sure that the restaurant that you choose allows outside food.

Further, you need to treat each restaurant excursion on a case-by-case basis. If you have to bring your own food because there is no other alternative, then bring it. Remember, your health and well-being are your first priorities! Never put yourself in a dangerous situation for the sake of convenience.

Saverio M.