It’s Foodie Friday and the topic this week is allergies, specifically food allergies. Milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean account for 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States. Think for a minute about how many people are employed making food in the restaurant business. As with any large population, there is a percentage of those people with food allergies. Now, look at the previous list of the top things that cause those allergies. It’s pretty clear that if you have a food allergy and want to cook professionally that you’re going have to have a plan for dealing with it since the thing that causes it is probably going to be nearby quite a bit.
There is an article on Eater that discusses this topic. Called How Chefs With Food Allergies Make It Work, it’s an interesting look at how gluten intolerance affects a pasta chef and how other chefs deal with an inability to taste – or in some cases even to touch – an ingredient that sets off a bad reaction. I’d go beyond allergies, actually. Say you’re a vegetarian and you’re assigned to the meat station. How do you taste? What about a vegan who is assigned to make a stew or chili, where seasoning is paramount and tasting required? If you can’t touch fish, how can you tell when it’s properly cooked?
There’s a lesson in there for any of us in business. I used to supervise technical people and I’m not a highly technical person myself. I couldn’t see if lines of code were messed up nor could I grasp the intricacies of a network beyond a certain point. I was like a chef with an allergy – I couldn’t personally taste and instead I had to rely on others. What I could do – and what you can do when you find yourself in a similar situation – is to learn to ask the right questions. A chef that can’t taste a dish can ask if there is a balance between salt and acid. He can ask what flavors are dominant and if the ingredient that’s being highlighted is predominant enough. You may not be able to “taste” your accounting but you can ask the right questions about how things are being done. You’re not a lawyer (no allergic jokes please) so you can’t “taste” the various indemnifications and liabilities, but you can ask the lawyer the right questions about specific concerns you might have.
Learning to ask the right questions and learning how to listen carefully to answers is part of being a great businessperson. You may be unable to taste or touch a particular area of the business but you can always use others to fill in your understanding just as a chef with allergies uses others to help them. In fact, that “liability” is actually an asset in a time when more customers suffer from the same issues. As one chef is quoted, “Someone with allergies is going to be a lot more cognizant and proactive in the kitchen space.” I take that to mean someone who has learned to work with others toward a common goal that’s customer-focused. Isn’t that why we’re all in business?