Chef Yzzel on How Allergies are Handled at the Ritz-Carlton Banquet Hall
Weddings, Christmas parties, and other large formal functions can be quite stressful for those who have severe allergies or other dietary restrictions. There are so many people, probably most of them strangers, which heightens the anxiety about having a reaction. I'm at the phase in my life where a lot of people are getting married and Bran and I have been to about 10 weddings in the last 2 years. And I'll admit that without fail I always worry about whether I'll have a reaction and "ruin" the wedding. A dramatic scene plays on loop in my head. In addition to writing my allergies down on the RSVP card I call the venue to further explain and confirm that they are comfortable accommodating me. But despite that I'll always be walking on egg shells as soon as dinner is served. So I decided I needed a professional to weigh in on this.
Meet Yzzel. Yzzel is Junior Chef at the Ritz-Carlton Banquet Hall in Toronto and has a lot of experience dealing with allergy accommodations, especially guests with celiac disease, dairy, and nut allergies. One of her strategies for dealing with these restrictions is to avoid the allergen and it's substitutes altogether. For example, using lamb's lettuce as the base for a wrap instead of gluten-free bread. This makes the guest feel more comfortable because they won't be second guessing, and it's a very simple substitution that doesn't compromise the flavor or presentation of the dish. They also look incredibly cute.
Of course I had to ask whether or not there is training for chefs and kitchen staff regarding allergens and how to avoid cross-contamination. She explained that while there is no formal training they are expected to know the logic behind how to handle allergies. If a guest has a dairy allergy they should know not to use milk, butter, cream, etc. and are expected to wash all utensils, pans, and hardware used to cook that meal before proceeding. Allergies should ideally be communicated ahead of time so that food can be cooked separately. If they don't know how to do this the executive chef will step in give them guidance. Sometimes they'll ask the guest if there's a protein they prefer, and will then build a dish around that. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that due to the number of dairy and nut allergies, their pesto is often made without pine nuts.
As a special treat she whipped up a platter of lamb's lettuce wraps with mango salad, shrimp, and salmon for Maddie and myself to try. And you can get the full recipe here so you can recreate them at home!
Lamb's Lettuce Wrap with Mango Salad, Shrimp, and Salmon
This recipe is free from peanuts, nuts, dairy, egg, soy, mustard, oats, wheat
1 head of lamb's lettuce (also called Boston, or butter lettuce)
1 large, ripe mango
2 bell peppers
a handful of cilantro
3/4 lb. salmon
the zest of 1 lime
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp honey
the juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
Slice the mango, bell peppers, and carrots into thin strips and set aside.
Finely chop the cilantro which will be added to the dressing
Whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, lime, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for now. If you add it to the veggies too early they'll become soggy and lose their crunch.
You can make this recipe with salmon or shrimp, but we did it with both.
For salmon, remove the skin using a sharp knife. Make an incision right where the skin and flesh meet, then get a good hold with your hand, and use the other hand to run the knife along the length of the fish to separate the skin. Run your hand along the top of the fish to check for small bones which should be removed. Cut the fish into 6 equal portions, then lay them out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the tops with olive oil and sprinkle with the lime zest, salt and pepper. Bake in a pre-heated 375F oven for about 15 minutes, until just cooked through. Make sure not to over cook or the fish will become dry!
For shrimp, we used about 20 that were small (not "salad shrimp" small), peeled, and de-veined. Small shrimp are ideal for a hand-held, bite-sized wrap. No one wants to be awkwardly struggling to chomp through a massive bite of shrimp. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick pan, add the shrimp, lime zest, salt and pepper, and fry until pink on both sides, about 5 - 7 minutes.
Once the protein is cooked you can dress the salad, making sure to toss so all the veggies are well-coated. To assemble the wraps take a leaf of lettuce and load it up with a scoop of salad, then top with either a portion of salmon or a few shrimp. Serve immediately!
Makes about 12 - 15 wraps
This recipe is ideal for parties or large functions where you have many mouths to feed. It can also be done with chicken if there is a fish or shellfish allergy.