I spent the first eight years of my working life as a professional chef cooking all over the world, and it's far less glamorous than you would imagine.
Most of your time is spent cleaning out deep fat fryers and nursing cuts, dead on your feet from a 16-hour shift. It's nothing like the perfect perception we have of professional cooking from the likes of Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson – chefs can be irritable and grumpy for a myriad of different reasons, but mainly because their job is incredibly tough. The pressure of having to feed 100 people in two hours with perfect food and presentation is a source of constant stress, and one that tests every ounce of your patience.
But of all these things to worry about, the one that used to bug me the most was people with 'allergies'.
Now, I'm not talking about people with genuine allergies to the likes of shellfish, nuts or coeliacs; when it comes to things like these, you can't be careful enough. What I'm actually talking about is people who claimed to have severe allergies simply because they didn't like a certain ingredient.
It happens all the time – you might not believe it, but it does – and in the 10 years since I have actually cooked professionally it seems to have increased massively.
Nowadays it seems that ever second person has a gluten 'intolerance' or is 'allergic' to dairy. I've heard people in restaurants saying they are allergic to parsley, garlic and even chicken. While the odd person certainly could have an obscure allergy, the sheer number of people making these claims conjure up the sounds of a bandwagon in my ears – disliking taste of something, or avoiding wheat because you think it's fattening doesn't make you allergic to something.
I can't imagine how chefs deal with it these days. I'd honestly lose the fucking rag and go out and confront customers if I had to deal with those constant demands on a daily basis. Cooking for a table of 10 these days must be a near impossible challenge requiring the memory of a nuclear scientist before you even bring allergies – fake or real – into the equation.
But while it must be a nightmare for chefs, it's actually the people with real allergies I feel the most sorry for.
After all, some of these reactions can be so averse that they can require hospitalisation – or cause death – if the wrong food passes the wrong lips. And then along come a new wave of hipsters asking if the menu is gluten free, paleo, without nuts or vegan? As you can tell, this isn't something chefs take to very kindly – and the worry is that these ridiculous demands will trivialise the far more serious issues at hand here, to the point where they're not taken fully seriously.
I think the best first-hand experience I have of this was on a night out with a big gang about a year ago. One of the girls in the group made such a fuss in the restaurant about being allergic to cheese I thought she'd never shut her up. Apparently even a tiny fleck of it in her food could make her "break out in a rash and throw up for days".
Fair enough, I thought.
We finished the meal anyhow, and washed it down with lots of wine before moving onto a bar and then a nightclub. It was only at 4am on Dame Street when I saw the same girl ordering a huge slice of cheesy pizza that it all came flooding back to me. 'Food douchebaggery' at its absolute finest.
Shut up, and eat up.