Can You Become a Chef with Food Allergies?
One of the things people rarely discuss when talking about going to culinary school or becoming a chef is what happens when you are physically unable to work with certain ingredients. Food allergies – especially those that relate to seafood, nuts, and seeds—can be particularly debilitating, since even skin contact with these ingredients can endanger the lives of some individuals.
This can make it almost impossible to attend culinary school (where these ingredients are part of the curriculum) or to work in a restaurant that has any of these items floating around the kitchen.
Living with Food Allergies
Thousands of people live with food allergies, which range from mild irritation to lactose products to real life-or-death situations related to gluten or shellfish (just to name a few). For many of these people, it can be difficult to dine away from home, since it’s impossible to know exactly what goes on in a restaurant kitchen.
For cooks, this presents an even bigger problem—and for the exact opposite reason. Because you do know what goes on in the kitchen, you know that there are hundreds of ingredients that go into the preparation of a great menu, and your inability to work with just one of these ingredients could make it impossible for you to consider employment at certain restaurants.
Food Allergies at the Culinary School Level
If you’re looking for a culinary school that can accommodate your food allergies, it’s best to talk with an entrance counselor and your instructors before signing on for the course. In many cases, they’ll be able to accommodate your specific needs, perhaps exchanging a seafood preparation course for another protein class or offering you a separate workstation for when there are nut products being put to use.
If you’re able to work with ingredients but not sample them, you can usually be paired with a trusted partner who can let you know how well your dish turned out. When it comes to culinary school, there is rarely a shortage of people around to eat your practice food!
Food Allergies at the Professional Level
Even if you do make it through culinary school with your allergies, you might find that the working world isn’t quite as accommodating. If your allergy is life-threatening, it can actually be a liability to have you on staff—and although it is illegal to refuse to hire someone based on their disabilities, you might find it difficult to land some of the jobs you want.
At the same time, you have unique insight into serving other people with allergies, and that can make you a great asset. If you plan your career right (or if you plan to open your own restaurant), you can create a specialty niche that caters to a population facing the same obstacles you are.
If a culinary school or job isn’t able to accommodate your allergies, you can look to culinary alternatives that have less to do with food preparation and more to do with the business of running a restaurant or working in the culinary industry. People with allergies are especially suited for jobs in nutrition, hospitality management, or specialty restaurants like vegan cooking, raw foods, or food and wine pairings.