Several weekends ago the boys and I drove out to Pennsylvania to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday. My mother-in-law had planned a celebration dinner at a local restaurant for friends and family. Since I have a lot of SERIOUS food allergies, she had to really work/plan. (And I LOVE her for it!) Not only did she make sure there was something for me to eat (and not just my usual salad), she wanted a birthday cake that I would be able to eat as well. (Birthday cakes are a bit tricky since most people don't make them without eggs.) As the date got closer, she pre-ordered my meal so that I would be safe and when told that the birthday cake would not work but a giant birthday brownie would, she agreed to it.
Dinner reservation was for 6, but we (the in-laws, the boys and me) arrived early and went inside As it was the weekend before Halloween, we were greeted by what I assumed was the hostess in Day of the Dead make up. We waited in the cramped entranceway while she got menus. I could see the bar area and it was obvious the place was expecting a big Halloween party turn out.
When we were finally escorted to a side dining room (there were dining rooms on each side of the bar area), I could hear my father-in-law speaking to her about the cake/brownie and making a point that there was someone with serious food allergies. I heard her say that SHE made the brownie from scratch. Although I as a little surprised that the baker my mother-in-law had been told about was also the hostess, I was happy that she was present so if I had questions I could ask. I decided to interject myself in to the conversation, letting her know that I was the one who had the allergy and I was so glad that she had made it from scratch. I mentioned that in the past, I had a problem when I had been made "egg free" pancakes, which had egg in the mix. (The cook added NO egg, but no one had looked to make sure the ingredients in the MIX were egg free. It wasn't; and I ended up in big trouble. However, to look on the bright side it was a learning experience for ME and for the kitchen/wait staff at the venue and [hopefully] now we are ALL better trained and aware. I have also learned the hard way that just because something DIDN'T have egg in it in the past, DOES NOT mean I should forgo reading the ingredients EACH and EVERY time. Just as things change in life, so they do in ingredient formulations. ALWAYS READ THE INGREDIENTS!) At this point she said she simply added applesauce to the Duncan Hines mix.
RED ALERT! When did "from scratch" mean coming from a boxed mix? When I make my chocolate cinnamon sugar cookies at Christmas, there are no mixes involved; I make them FROM SCRATCH. On the other hand, I have also made chocolate chip cookies from Cherrybrook Kitchen's mix (because their products are allergy friendly) and I don't consider adding a few ingredients to a boxed mix from scratch.
Now I'm a little antsy (and the fact that her face is painted like a skull doesn't make me feel any better). So I clarify that she used a box mix and what was IN the box; explaining that some mixes may already have egg in it. She says they no longer have the box. My father-in-law (bless him) says they must have other boxes in the kitchen and asks her to go check. (Props to the birthday boy!)
When I tell hubby about all this, he is ready to...well to keep it clean, he's not very happy. But we let it go while everyone decides who's sitting where. And before the rest of the guests show up, the "lady of death" comes back, NOT with a box, but with her phone which lists the ingredients in GHIRARDELLI brand brownie mix.
RED ALERT! Previously she had said Duncan Hines, now she is showing me an ingredient list for Ghirardelli. When I question this, she says she misspoke. None of this is making me feel comfortable or safe. But the ingredient list she has provided does not include egg. (NOTE: In writing this I researched just about every brownie mix out there. None included egg in their ingredients, but Ghirardelli DOES say on SOME, but not ALL, of their mixes: May contain eggs and tree nuts. How can I be sure WHICH brownie mix the lady of death used?)
I decide to table the decision of eating desert or not until later. Although I am disappointed that I had to even consider this as I know my mother-in-law had worked and planned to make this all perfect.
The rest of the guests arrive, everyone sits down and eventually orders. So that this post doesn't drag on (too late?), I won't go into meal details. Like how the waitress disappeared for long periods of time (I realize that it was an extremely busy night), how guests had to keep asking for items (I know getting dipping oil might a pain and adding items as the night went on gets complicated, but...), how refills were never offered OR how two of us didn't get our food for a good 15 minutes or more AFTER everyone else did. (I know cooking a steak extremely well done take a while, but since it was pre-ordered, shouldn't it have been timed better? And while I'm not one to complain about "presentation", plopping a plain baked potato on one plate and a pile of asparagus on another and plopping it down in front of me BEFORE finally bringing out the steak was a not very pretty) I WILL say that no matter how busy the restaurant was, the chef or head cook SHOULD have come out as requested, especially since there was a guest with severe food allergies.
Skipping ahead 3+ hours later and the "cake" finally comes out. Everyone sings happy birthday and I notice that the brownie is round (like a cake) and has been halved and vanilla ice cream is in between the two layers. You know where this is going, don't you?
There was NO ingredient list on the ice cream, which is bought in bulk from a local ice cream place. Some ice creams have eggs (like Ben & Jerry), some do not. Was I going to risk it? After two glasses of sangria (which was just ok...this is what happens when you have neighbors who make KILLER sangria), I don't think so. So while everyone else had the brownie (made with applesauce and NOT egg) with a layer of ice cream, I just had a cappuccino (actually it should be crappuccino because it was so watery I think they just breathed the word coffee over it and called it a day.)
Overall it was a very disappointing evening and I was especially upset as my mother-in-law put a great deal of time and effort into trying to make it a night where I could relax and enjoy a meal and dessert. I am angry on her behalf. What was the point of all the leg work she did if in the end the restaurant proved to be unable to hold up their end of the bargain?
This is why I am hesitant to go out to eat. This is why I advocate for education for restaurants. (https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/community-resources/restaurant-workers). And this kind of service gives all restaurants (for me) a bad name. When I, or anyone else, with food allergies dine out, it is a serious (and often scary) undertaking. Restaurants and staff need to be prepared and aware. Patrons with allergies are literally putting their lives into the hands of the chef, kitchen staff, wait staff, etc. All need to be aware of that and give customers the kind of care that keeps them safe and comfortable.
(NOTE: I purposely did not include the name of the restaurant in this blog post out of respect for my in-laws. I have also contacted the local ice cream vendor to find out what ingredients are in their ice cream. I have yet to hear back.)