This is part 1 of a 4-part recipe series featuring Chef Scott Roberts. I invited Scott into my kitchen to share some delicious recipes, and to answer some of my burning questions about how food allergies are handled in high end restaurants. Each article will have photos of his cooking process, tips and information on his experience accommodating dietary restrictions, and a unique recipe that you can recreate at home.
"The first two dishes were about where I was last, at Smoking Goat. The final two were about what I want to do in the future; take awesome Canadian ingredients and a wood fire, and incorporate influences from where I worked and have traveled."
Scott was most recently Head Chef at Smoking Goat (London, England), has worked at Simon Rogan's Fera at Claridge's (London), Langdon Hall (Cambridge), stages at the three Michelin starred Saison and L2O, and did pastry at Aria in Sydney. His perspective on how allergies are handled in the kitchens of fine dining restaurants is unique because his experience is not limited to Canada. As mentioned in previous articles, travel can be a little frightening when you have anaphylaxis because you really don't know what to expect or how seriously people take allergies in other countries. Scott is able to offer insight on perspectives from Ontario, San Francisco, London, and Sydney, so this is a rare treat.
It's common to assume that a high end restaurant will be better able to work with your allergies or other dietary restrictions because the price tag is higher and the experience is more involved than a quick bite at a casual restaurant. As a diner you expect that the staff is more knowledgeable and attentive, the chefs more passionate and careful, and the general experience tailored to your needs.
Scott pointed out that while this is true, it's always best to make note of your allergies when making a reservation. If you're sitting down for a multi-course tasting menu there won't be much the kitchen can do for you if you haven't told them about your allergies ahead of time. He recalled times when diners would come in to the various restaurants he worked in and tell the server they had an allergy to seafood, for example, which was used in a number of the dishes planned for their meal. Then they're left with the option of skipping certain courses which could tarnish their perception of value for the meal.
If you plan to try a tasting menu then you ideally want to taste the whole thing. Remember that meals are planned ahead and menu's can change, so inform the host of your allergies when you make a reservation. There may be times when your allergies can't accommodated, but at least you'll know not to book a reservation there instead of taking a risk. Scott recalled a restaurant he worked in where nearly every dish contained soy sauce, so altering the dishes to suit a gluten intolerance was unfortunately just not possible.
And with that, let's move on to the first recipe.
Scott chose to do a dish with Thai influence because it's so common for people to avoid that cuisine because it's notorious for using nuts, peanuts, and other allergens. These are the best scallops I've ever eaten and I'm not even slightly exaggerating. The smokey flavor of the scallop and the sweet, mildly hot flavor of the sauce go perfectly together. Texture-wise it was very tender, both the mango and the scallop, and the sauce was a little crunchy from the pepper but simultaneously smooth and meaty from the anchovies.
Nova Scotia Scallops, Red Nam Yum, Mango, Coriander
This recipe is free from dairy, nuts, peanuts and legumes, egg, mustard, and oats
about 3 red chili's
1/2 a garlic clove
2 or 3 coriander roots
juice of 2 limes
several anchovies (cured, not fresh)
2 tsp maple sugar
4 large scallops
several leaves of coriander
1 ripe mango
The Nam Yum: Remove the seeds and veins from the chili peppers and toss 'em aside. Roughly dice the flesh of the peppers. Use a mortar and pestle to grind up the peppers, maple sugar, soy sauce, lime, and anchovies until it forms a chunky sauce. Scott's recommended method is to add the salt first, then garlic, coriander, chili, anchovy, and then sugar. Next add the lime juice so it doesn't get too wet.
"Good palm sugar has a fudge-like consistency, and is produced in a very similar way to maple syrup. Most commercially available palm sugar has been cut with granulated sugar to reduce cost. I found some great tasting maple sugar with a smoky flavour and thought it would make a nice substitute for hard-to-find high quality palm sugar."
The scallops: heat up your charcoal grill and once it's nice and hot, place the scallops on and let them sear for about 3 minutes on one side, then 1 minute on the other until lightly charred but cooked through.
The garnish: Pick some nice-looking leaves off your bunch of coriander and slice up some segments of mango.
Assembly: Spoon some Nam Yum over each scallop, then top with a piece of mango and a leaf of coriander. You can serve them individually so that each person has one, nicely presented scallop, or you can serve them on a plate for sharing. Both ways are pictured below.