The follow up: 100 top chefs write to The Daily Telegraph about allergens.

Last week I wrote about the “100 top chefs“, who signed an open letter to The Daily Telegraph complaining about the enforced additional bureaucracy which their kitchens face from the EU. As I mentioned in my reply to a comment on that post, I would also be doing a follow up post as it was a developing story, & had it not been for the Clarkson fracas I’m sure that it would have gotten more attention. So here it is, & how the story has developed.

Who was behind it?

The main point, which I really should have included in the initial post, was that the letter was orchestrated by an anti EU lobby group, called Business for Britain. So the tone of the letter was hardly going to be embracing of the new regulations, which are Europe wide.

In their ‘About’ section on the Business for Britain website it says:

What unites supporters of Business for Britain is an agreement that the status quo in our relationship is not working and that the Government is right to seek a new deal for the EU and the UK’s terms of membership.

But earlier on, on the same page say:

We are campaigning on behalf of business for a renegotiated deal with the EU reinforced by an In/Out referendum.

So, in a sense it comes across like they don’t really know what they want; In/Out, or stay in and renegotiate? Effectively you can’t have it both ways.

For those interested, has obtained a copy of the letter sent to the Minister in Government:


Click to download PDF

The Cost to the Hospitality industry.

The scaremonger figure of £200million was banded around by Business for Britain as a cost to the Hospitality industry, but really, is there much truth in that figure? That is the figure that the British Hospitality Association (BHA) arrived at, as a cost to the sector, listing the following as costs:

  • Implement new sourcing,
  • Management processes,
  • Adapt menus, and websites,
  • Regularly brief and train staff.

The reality, should the BHA actually care to read the FIC (allergen) regulations, is that new sourcing & changing menus/websites isn’t required at all. And as we all know, rarely does anybody in Hospitality work 40hours, so the additional workload will just be added to a probably already over worked chef. Maybe the BHA should consider addressing issues like pay & hours; I’ve been waiting over 3months now for a position from them on the ‘Living wage’, & still nothing.

The British Hospitality Association

The BHA hold such disdain for, that, when they were asked by Daniel Wilson (MD of PSL):

@BHAtweets it would be good to hear your response to the letter on allergens in yesterday’s telegraph. @ChefHermes@whatsinmydish

It took them over 24hours to reply (48hours after the letter had originally been published) & then only to the original tweeter. Again, their reply shows how the BHA is only in it for business owners, not the millions who their lobbying affects & the thousands who regularly read this site. This was their reply:


Not sure who these great chefs are the BHA is talking about.

I would actually go as so far as to say, the BHA isn’t fit for purpose. This legislation was in the pipeline for at least two years prior to it becoming enforceable on December 13th 2014. So where were the BHA in that time? Nowhere that I saw.

Support from an unusual place.

In an article in the Daily Mail, Celebrity Chef Aldo Zilli turned the tables on Prue Leith, who has been the far most vocal about this, with Zilli saying:

I really can’t see how it will kill innovation, how can that happen?

We change our menus every season. You can still create what you wish and be a chef as long as you tell customers what ingredients you are using.

There is laziness in this industry and it is about time we stopped that. We as chefs have to become more responsible for what we are feeding our customers.

And there it is in a nut shell. A Celebrity Chef bring common sense to the whole argument. Even Thomasina Miers was forced into a u-turn, posting a statement on her company’s website. Many of the ‘Allergen Mummies’ had mocked Miers for her allergen just vanishing after 6years, could it have possibly been a classic case of self diagnosis?

Miers posted:

Of course Wahaca does adhere to all new legislation and we don’t consider the effort to fully communicate the allergens in our food to be a burden but an important part of the service we give every day and one that we’ll continue to evolve to make sure it’s the best and most helpful it can be.

The goes on further to point out her ignorance of how to implement the FIC regulations by saying:

Spreadsheet bureaucracy rather than direct communication with the chef, for example, can seem heavy-handed in cases, and in my opinion not the best way to personally address diners with different levels of allergy.

Meanwhile Prue Leith appeared on BBC radio to try & bolster the campaign, but again ultimately failed. Her attitude of ‘if aint broke, why fix it?’ had echoes of somebody who clearly isn’t in touch with day to day operations & customers, justifying her stance by comparing the FIC regs to comparative legislation in North America & elsewhere.

Shoddy journalism from the Guardian & The Daily Telegraph

Late to the party, the Guardian gave Liz Smith the opportunity to speak on behalf of coeliacs. Smith who runs a proof reading, editing & freelance writing service, headed her piece with:

Why are top chefs cooking up such a fuss on allergy labelling?

and this picture:

Michel Roux Jnr

Wrong Roux !! Photograph: Antonio Olmos from the Guardian website.

Now as the Roux family are a culinary dynasty, with at least four of them being chefs, you could possibly understand how Smith may have mistook one for another. But no, she then reinforces that she’s clueless with:

I’m still disappointed in the likes of Michel Roux Jr and Prue Leith, who should be leading the way in making it easier for everyone to enjoy good food.

FYI Liz, it was Michel Roux Jnr’s father, Albert Roux who signed it 😉

Smith then drones on in a ‘woe is me’ style for 596words about how hard it is for somebody with her condition. Whilst we all pity those with dietary requirements, it is a fact of life, adapt to your situation & get on with it, I have to.

Again, Smith is clearly part of this pact that is under the illusion that menus have to be labelled in some sort of way. They don’t, & quite frankly I really struggle with somebody who written a piece like this for a national paper, & can’t even bothered to do any research for it. She bangs the drum of this letter being ‘100 Top chefs‘, yet as I demonstrated earlier it is anything but.

The Food Standards Authority also replied to the ‘100 Top chefs’ letter, again highlighting how shoddy the journalism had been around the whole subject:

FSA letter

FSA letter in the Daily Telegraph.

The conclusion

The reality is this, the FIC allergen regulations are an addition to a chef’s/management’s workload, something that 99% of people in the industry won’t get paid extra for. But, if it means that staff are better educated & trained, and customer’s welfare is insured, then the likelihood of more victims like Shahida Shahid, who died from eating a contaminated burger, has to be a good thing.

Prue Leith’s view is blinkered at best, naive at worst; and unfortunately we live in a world far removed from when she last stood at a stove. Customer safety & well being has to be a priority, & if Ms Leith thinks that a £5,000 fine is the biggest of her worries, then she should think again.

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