By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
We have had two reports from our friends at the Arizona Food Allergy Alliance about lack of cooperation from companies over their ingredients. One refuses to give out a full list of spices in its flagship product unless a doctor calls to inquire about a specific allergen. Let’s call that “confirm or deny.” The other is a supplement company that will not identify the medium in which its products are cultured. Given the amount of press that food allergies now receive, and the billions of dollars being spent to cater to their needs by the food industry, you’d think that “big food” and “little alternative medicine” would be more cooperative. These are not launch codes for the nation’s nuclear arsenal people are asking for.
Hearing this information reminded me of a patient who suffered from anaphylaxis years ago when eating at New York’s legendary La Côte Basque, which was open from the early 1950s and closed in 2004. As described on Wikipedia: It was “known as much for its elegantly arrayed tables, set against a backdrop of handsome French seaside murals, as for its food. Mr. Rachou said he spent more than $2,200 a week on flowers and more than $3,000 on linen. The fabulous floral designs were created by the team of Charlene Rooney (daughter-in-law to actor Mickey Rooney) and Suzanne Preisler, the wife and occasional writing partner of multi-bestselling author Jerome Preisler. Suzanne’s experiences as the longest-tenured florist at La Côte Basque are reflected in her recent collaborative Grime Solvers’ mystery series. At the time of its closing, a prix-fixe dinner at La Côte Basque was $70 per person, and an average à la carte meal was about $100, not including wine.
Truman Capote’s unfinished novel Answered Prayers had as its setting a “catty and thinly veiled” version of the La Côte Basque; the chapter “La Côte Basque 1965” was excerpted in Esquire magazine in 1979.
Never one to pass up the chance to play Sherlock Holmes in the haunts of the very rich, I arranged to visit the kitchen, whereupon I was presented with conditions that would have done the CIA proud. I had a list of the dishes my patient ate that night, and each recipe was put in front of me one at a time. However, rather than being allowed to peruse them as you would a cookbook, the chef would only let me see one ingredient at a time, using index cards to obscure the ones below and above. And just to make life complicated, they were all in French. I can get by in spoken French, and I can read a menu, but menu French and recipe French are different.
I was able to eliminate many known allergens because they were not indicated by the patient’s history. Finally, one item popped out: panais. I didn’t know what it was, but it seemed worth investigating. Parsnips. We tested, and sure enough, the patient was positive to parsnips (say that five times fast).
A letter from the lawyer brought a prompt out-of-court settlement. A seven-course, parsnip-free dinner for the patient and her husband. With a side of epinephrine, just in case.
Menu from toryburch.com