Keen readers and allergy sufferers alike will have noticed changes made at the end of last year to how restaurants present information about allergens in their food, and at Wahaca we’ve been working hard, adapting the way we do things to make sure that we’re following those rules and keeping you all up to speed with the latest and greatest when it comes to the top 14 allergens that crop up in restaurant kitchens.
Here Tommi shares her thoughts on the recent changes to the EU legislation, how Wahaca is making sure we adhere to it, and some of the unseen knock-on effects it has been having for other chefs in the industry.
This week a news article shared some of my thoughts, along with those of other chefs in the industry on the latest changes to the allergen legislation and it is important for me to answer directly some of the legitimate concern raised over comments made in the article, as I fear that my views haven’t been represented fully.
Over and above everything, we created Wahaca to be fun and open for everybody to enjoy. Everybody should feel safe and welcome to come in and enjoy freshly prepared food and relax and have a great time in our restaurants – full stop.
For that reason we’ve always had a robust and conscientious approach to allergies and intolerances, developed with our customer in mind. As well as consulting with allergy suffering customers, food-science experts and writers, our chefs have put in a great deal of effort into our comprehensive allergen charts. We have had gluten free menus in our restaurants ever since customers started asking for them, which we’ve regularly reviewed to keep as informative as possible. Initially these menus were two tier, so that those with gluten intolerances could make an informed decision, based on their own personal intolerance, on whether to eat something that contained no wheat, but had been in a fryer with gluten containing foods for example – or whether to opt from a more limited completely gluten-free list. Unfortunately, the new system does not allow for this, which we have found has been putting off some people who have previously been able to eat and enjoy Wahaca’s food with no ill consequences – A shame for them, and part of my concerns that this new approach isn’t perfect for everyone.
Of course Wahaca does adhere to all new legislation and we don’t consider the effort to fully communicate the allergens in our food to be a burden but an important part of the service we give every day and one that we’ll continue to evolve to make sure it’s the best and most helpful it can be.
My comments regarding the new legislation came from a place of concern for smaller operations, without the infrastructure that Wahaca has, as well as feedback from our waiters on how these new spreadsheets have limited the informed choices for customers with less serious intolerances, leading to a concern as to whether this is the best way that restaurants can serve their customers. Spreadsheet bureaucracy rather than direct communication with the chef, for example, can seem heavy-handed in cases, and in my opinion not the best way to personally address diners with different levels of allergy. This is not to take away from the seriousness of knowing what is in your food and being able to communicate it, which should always be the base that we start from.
We listen every day to our customers and constantly evolve our menu. As an example, having spoken with blogger @GlutenFree4Kids, whose daughter wasn’t able to eat our corn tortilla chips due to the cross contamination in our fryers, we are introducing a separate range of entirely gluten free corn chips to all sites which are available to order on request. If you have any questions or concerns regarding our allergen menu, then please do get in touch.
I hope this better answers some of the questions raised, and reaffirms Wahaca’s and my commitment into on-going research into best ways to accommodate allergies and provide the best possible hospitality. The staff in all our restaurants are brilliantly well informed and continue to be trained regularly so that they can be on hand to answer any specific questions and guidance on our charts.