Dining on the Ocean Blue
By Kim Lang
I’m no genius, but I’m thinking that everyone looks forward to their vacations. Me? I have a countdown that boosts my happiness level as the number of days dwindles down.
New experiences, new people, new languages, new places. All these “new”s excite me. You’re probably thinking I left off the most important “new” – FOOD! Ah, Italian pasta….French crepes….Buffalo’s buffalo wings….Southern BBQ. Yum!
Imagine walking into a new restaurant in a new place for an entirely new food experience. You check out the menu and try to decide just what to order. Now, try to imagine that decision being made around your many food allergies. Then, try explaining to your server about those allergies, where at least one of them seems to always be an ingredient in just about every item they offer. Not the kind of allergic reaction that makes your throat tingle or your cheeks turn rosy, but the kind that causes you to go into anaphylactic shock.
Now, try to imagine getting this message through to someone whose first language is not English. Ack!!! It can not only take the wind out of your sails, it can sink your ship! This brings me to tell you about my latest vacation. A Northeast Fall Foliage cruise – with crew members from all over the world with all different cultures and accents.
The thought of being miles from land and having a reaction terrified me. Thankfully, food allergy awareness has come a long way in the past few years. Whereas just as recently as 10 years ago I was met with blank stares and rolling eyes, I am now (sometimes) introduced to chefs who really understand my situation.
Aboard our ship, I first met with the Head Waiter, Savio. He was from India and spoke with a very thick accent, making it hard for me to understand him. He was officially in charge of my food intake for the entire 10 days and, as I learned quickly, he took his job seriously. He then introduced me to Jayson, from The Bahamas, one of the assistant chefs in the main dining room. He explained to me that there is a separate kitchen area where all my food would be prepared and cooked. He also advised me to avoid any food that was brought onto the ship pre-made as he couldn’t guarantee its safety since he didn’t make it. He brought me a few packaged items to read the ingredient list when he wasn’t certain. It was my call to give them the thumbs up or the boot.
It took some time, but I felt relieved to know they were all on my side. Once that was squared away, we had ourselves a little routine. I would get a basket of “safe for me” rolls and breads which were always too much for just me, so I would share them with the table. The next night there would be even more in the basket! The kitchen must’ve thought I was a carb freak!
Then, every night before we left the table, I would go over the menu for the following day. I could usually choose anything on it and they would just prepare it to my needs. Not as easy as it sounds. Dinners were a time to relax– usually lasting 2 hours or more. By the time the coffee was served, I was about ready to waddle out of there! Eating again was the last thing on my mind. So I’d make my choices for the next day with the thought that I never wanted to eat again.
Savio would gently remind me that I would indeed be hungry by then and to choose wisely. So, as anyone would do, I focused on the desserts. Sweets are the only food I really feel cheated on by my allergies. Bakery goods are only eaten in my dreams and cookies from the supermarket taste like the box they’re sold in making them not worth the calories. Thankfully the baking gene has been passed down to me and I use it often. So for me to be offered a safe dessert on vacation was heaven!
Being a chocolate fan, that was my go-to treat. Savio quickly caught on and began bringing me 2 or 3 different chocolate goodies that Jayson would whip up: flourless chocolate cake, chocolate covered strawberries, truffles, ice cream, mousse….. you get the idea. I felt so spoiled that by the last 2 days of the trip I was just ordering dessert! Who could blame me? Let’s just say I was very thankful I held on to my loose fitting jeans. By eliminating the dread I usually feel when faced with a menu, l had the most awesome time and can’t wait for my next cruising adventure. Until then, you’ll find me in the kitchen…. baking brownies.