Let's all be clear about allergens...
DAVID Reading is unhappy about the placing of disclaimers on menus in restaurants (Caterer, 5 February, page 26). Obviously, nobody likes disclaimers, but sometimes they are a necessary evil.
However, had he read my letter properly (Caterer, 15 January, page 24), he would have realised why I agree with their use in restaurants.
In an ideal world, disclaimers on menus would not be necessary. Caterers would be able to guarantee the exact ingredients of every menu, and back this up with a well-informed staff and a brigade working in a state-of-the-art kitchen.
Unfortunately, the reality is that caterers cannot guarantee the exact ingredients of every menu. Many restaurants today use bought-in, pre-prepared foods, which may not always carry full ingredients lists.
Manufacturers are not required to label the ingredients of a food component if it makes up less than 25% of the food, so potent allergens such as sesame seeds and nuts may be present without any clear declaration.
Catering for allergic individuals requires intelligence and attention to detail. Formal training of staff is not a prerequisite for entry into the catering sector. Some employees do not have English as their first language, so words like "anaphylaxis" and "cross-contamination" require explanation.
Ironically, David Reading makes no mention of the disclaimers that have sprung up in supermarkets, which is a problem that needs to be addressed. Disclaimers may be necessary in a few cases, but this defensive labelling is now being taken to extremes. It is a clever way of avoiding better processing controls.
Many foods which allergic people had previously eaten safely are labelled as "unsuitable for allergy sufferers". Bread provides a typical example: "May contain sesame seeds." Most sesame-allergic individuals now make their own bread.
For thousands of people, this defensive labelling presents a significant problem by drastically reducing food choices. I applaud any initiative which raises awareness, but "allergy aware" stickers bother me. They could be misleading.
MAGGIE SPIRITO PERKINS
... offering advice is a risky business
DAVID Reading's assertion that allergy sufferers can expect a little help choosing a menu item to suit their needs is perhaps a little naive in relation to our industry in the widest sense.
The minute that anyone offers that "little bit of help", he or she will have been deemed to have acted as an expert and, in today's world, that leaves the "helper" wide open to litigation when something goes wrong.
My advice to any caterer or restaurateur who wishes to offer such advice to allergy sufferers is to take out professional indemnity insurance specifically to suit the purpose.
This is not being unkind to genuine sufferers, it is sound business sense, and if the quoted premium turns out be astronomical, you can be quite sure that the risk is as great as I believe it to be.
Chris Bone Associates,
Sutton St James,
Yes, that is what you'll have to pay
I'M WRITING in reply to Christine Bradley's letter regarding wages on New Year's Eve 1999 (Caterer, 29 January, page 27).
As a sous chef currently working in the luxury country house sector of the market, I would expect to earn the reported "£1,000-plus" for millennium eve. This expectation comes in the form of basic economics, ie, supply and demand.
If the aforementioned wages are not forthcoming in this country, this will leave me with two options - either go abroad, or have the first New Year off in 14 years.
Maybe the likes of Reed Catering Personnel should remember who the valuable commodity is, and work for their interests.
See them as people then as a market
I HAVE read of a campaign by the London Tourist Board (LTB) to market London as a gay capital (Caterer, 22 January, page 12). This concerns me on two counts.
I recall an article last summer which left me with a very clear impression that hotels in general do not encourage gay bookings, and that some actively discourage them. Surely it is hypocrisy to target a sector unlikely to receive a warm welcome from its hosts, and so should not the industry first put its own house in order as regards its attitude to particular minority groups?
I fully appreciate the need to target specific sectors of the worldwide market, and to do so in terms of occupation, area, income, etc, makes good economic sense, but I think that the LTB is venturing into dangerous territory in initiating a campaign targeted at any minority group.
After all, minority groups are born out of society's lack of tolerance, acceptance and understanding. If guests are made to feel welcome, they will return; if not, the campaign will have achieved nothing and, indeed, may do more harm than good.
So, my question to the LTB is: "Why?"
Beyond Bordeaux and keep going
I AGREE entirely with the advice, implicit in the title "Beyond Bordeaux", of Michael Edwards' article (Caterer, 1 January, page 42) but would chide him on restricting his advice to old and well-known Beaujolais and Burgundy wines.
Around the corner of the Massif Central in France lies the biggest area of vineyard in the world, 2.5 million acres of Languedoc-Roussillon, stretching from the Rhône to the Spanish border, varying from the relatively cool, rolling foothills of the mountains in the north and west to the blazing heat of the plain.
Thirty years ago, this region produced virtually nothing but ghastly plonk, entirely due to bad wine-making.
With so much wine being made and so many people involved, much rubbish is still there. But a generation of brilliant and dedicated people, largely small producers, have seized on the potential of their terroir to produce ever-better wines, particularly in the cooler foothills.
Go beyond Bordeaux, certainly, but do not miss out on the gems to be found in our area. And, if quantity and price are the main criteria, there are some cave co-operatives producing drinkable wines at Ffr11 (£1) per bottle (others, undrinkable, at less!).
Languedoc Wine Club,
Hylands highlights lack of foresight
THE article on the Hylands Hotel (Caterer, 22 January, page 58) highlights the cause of many failures in this industry: good intentions badly thought out.
It seems to me that changes at the Hylands were not worked through correctly, and obviously did not represent the requirements of customers. If you require change, talk it through with a variety of persons and try subtle change first to test local reaction.
Most importantly, look at the price - no matter what you offer, your customers have a set idea of cost and will not readily pay more, regardless of the changes, as they still relate the restaurant to the rest of the hotel.
Managers should not get carried away with grandiose ideas, but focus on their local support.
Ardsley House Hotel,
Your calls are being answered
I READ with interest Richard Partington's call for the industry to recognise professionalism in food and beverage service (Caterer, 15 January, page 24). In fact, his proposals for a "national standard award" for front of house restaurant staff, backed by academy membership, are already being addressed through the Academy of Food and Wine Service.
Ongoing opportunities to enhance skills and product knowledge are vital, and we are addressing this by encouraging employers' participation in regional chapters, enabling staff to attend local events and tastings.
Our future plans include development of advanced national qualifications for those who aspire to supervisory positions in restaurant service, a new Restaurant Apprenticeship, and opening access to jobs and training through the Government's New Deal.
Professionalism and training begin with employers' commitment and encouragement. The hospitality industry can begin to redress the recruitment and skills shortfall of which we are warned by raising public awareness of restaurant service as a profession equal to that of other craft skills - with the career opportunities, recognition and rewards to match.
I would welcome the support of Richard Partington and like-minded colleagues in meeting these challenges.
Academy of Food and Wine Service,