Chef Joel Schaefer
Food Allergy Action Hero
Our featured Food Allergy Action Hero is Chef Joel Schaefer. It was a pleasure speaking with Chef Joel about his new endeavors and past experience working with people with food allergies at Disney World. Here is what Chef Joel had to say:
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Allergy Free Table learned of your work with food allergies, your website and book through colleagues in the food allergy management industry. Tell us about your background.
JOEL SCHAEFER: I have been in the food service industry for 30 years. My experience encompasses cafés to restaurants to large companies. I am a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and Valencia Community College, and am a Certified Chef de Cuisine, and a Certified Hospitality Trainer.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: We understand you worked as a chef at Disney World which has a good reputation for being able to safely feed people with food allergies. What was your experience working there?
JOEL SCHAEFER: I was working at Disney World as a chef for 4 years and had served many guests with food allergies and special diets. Because of my high sensitivity to milk I understood how important it was to be cautious when preparing food. Disney World was serving so many people with food allergies they created a Special Dietary Needs Manager position that I had the opportunity to get. This allowed me to develop a program to serve those with special dietary needs. The program that was created provided a consistency for everyone to follow, including the proper communication, serving, preparation and cooking procedures. To make the program better we asked our guests what foods they ate, what brands were better, and used their knowledge of products to provide them with the best ones possible. I tested each product myself, and then implemented the standards. We decided to incorporate the products that were free from as many food allergens as possible.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Did your book, Serving People with Food Allergies: Kitchen Management and Menu Creation, evolve from this?
JOEL SCHAEFER: Yes, I was presenting at the Food Safety and Security Summit conference in Washington D.C. in 2008 and a publisher saw my presentation. He approached me and asked me if I was interested in writing a book on it (kitchen management and food allergies) so I said ‘sure, why not?’ I felt I needed to share my knowledge. This is the first book of its kind written by a chef for chefs.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: What created your desire to help patrons with food allergies?
JOEL SCHAEFER: Besides my own sensitivity to dairy I have a brother with food allergies and my Dad is a diabetic. I used to get migraines from dairy and would go into the restaurant freezer to ease the pain. I was already a chef at Disney and saw the increase of people with food allergies and when the dietary position opened at Disney, I had to take it because I knew I could make a difference
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: What do you feel is important advice for patrons with food allergies who want to dine out?
JOEL SCHAEFER: They have to speak up and be direct. They cannot say ‘well this bothers me a little bit’, instead say you have a food allergy. When you inform them of your food allergies and you feel uncomfortable just leave. Patrons should preplan and call ahead but if you are out and about and need to eat what can they do? Tell your friends you are with that you have a food allergy and don’t know if you can eat at a certain place. People want to fit in and at Disney we wanted everyone to feel included. We wanted to treat everyone the same but we decided to treat them special since they could not be treated the same.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: You have quite a passion for nutrition as well. What are you currently working on?
JOEL SCHAEFER: Currently I am working with a local manufacturer called Prepchefs.com. We are creating a line of well balanced meals, for instance, lean proteins, whole grains, and seasonal vegetables that are prepared simply but with great flavors that are basically delicious dinners delivered. That is our tag line. Some of the foods will fit sensitivities, (ingredients information is available online). I am also promoting my book and trying to get them in culinary schools. That is my goal. My belief is to reach the students prior to entering the work place. If we influence them they will influence the industry.
If you would like more information about Chef Joel and the great work he is doing to help people with dietary restrictions go to www.AllergyChefs.com. This website offers delicious recipes, food allergy information, and training courses for food service professionals. Joel's book is also available for purchase at Serving People with Food Allergies: Kitchen Management and Menu Creation.