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June 20, 2013: First, Do No Harm

June 20, 2013
Photo by Teja via IPhone

Photo by Teja via IPhone

People tend to associate the phrase “First, Do No Harm'” (Latin: Primum non nocere”) with the code of ethics that the medical practitioners should adhere to. I would say that it should well apply to not only all professional fields, but also, as general ethics, trumps “the golden rule” as a good maxim in order to better treat our fellow-men. After all, if you are human you will, sooner or later through action or inaction, harm at least one other of your fellow humans. All one can do is use “First, Do No Harm” as a way to be aware of your capacity to hurt someone else.

A a chef, “First, Do No Harm” is absolutely necessary rule to make sure your patrons are safe on all accounts. These days, there are a plethora of food allergies and sensitivities that could harm a guest. Most common allergies are to milk and eggs, fish and shellfish, nuts from both trees and ground, wheat, soybean, but there are many others besides the major allergies. In addition, people can be sensitive to food. While not giving them an allergic reaction, certain foods may unsettle their stomach. There are also foods that people choose not to eat or simply don’t like.

For chefs, all these food sensitivities may be a challenge to delight guests while most importantly, keeping them safe. Before I cook for people who I have not met I do an advance poll (usually through the hosts) to find if anyone has food sensitivities and even general likes and dislikes. I always inform the hosts what I plan to make and make sure they clear it with the guests (I find this also increases anticipation for the meal.)

Last weekend I had a chance to make dinner for Teja, Barb, Katie and Teja’s mom, Marlis. I have been working on Indian food lately, so I thought I would make Aaloo Mattar (potatoes, peas and beans in a korma sauce, over basamati rice) Chicken Tandoori, and grilled veggies. Teja OK’d the meal, but later contacted me to say that his mom has lately become very sensitive to spices. I did a rethink of the meal and found I could exclude spices from her portions.

Cooking for Teja’s family includes the double-joy of having 10-year-old Katie as a helper. Not only is Katie quite adept in the kitchen, but she is wonderful company and her cheerful and industrious demeanor makes cooking twice as fun. She is also a good guardian. I almost (by habit) added spices to the rice that was going to Marlis, and Katie stopped me in time! While preparing the meal, Katie thought the meal might be too spicy for her, as well, so I gave her a small potion of the sauces I was going to include and she agreed that they did not taste too spicy….and this is where I dropped the ball.

What I should have done is discuss Katie’s tolerances to spices with the parents. It turns out Katie also has an increasing sensitivity to the more strong spices. My poor little helper could not finish the meal and went to bed a little worse for the wear, thanks to my error.

So…chefs take to heart my lesson and my adaptation of the popular medical maxim “First, Do No Harm” to the cooking world and make your guests happier, clamoring for more…but mostly, to keep them safe!

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One comment

  1. Nice article – and I like your sensitivity concerning food sensitivities (:-)
    Marlis



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