When people have a crowd around the dinner table for maybe the only time in the year around Christmas it can be stressful enough for the hosts to deal with a big table of maybe a dozen guests but now the additional requirement to factor in any special dietary guests or plain old fussy eaters is something that was not so common in the past. Previously you rocked up and were happy to abstain from the sprouts or whatever did not take your fancy and were gracious for the hospitality and certainly not making a song or dance of your food foibles or intolerances.
It is not like this now, the picky diners must be minded too as the percentage of guests who will want specific catering needs or desires accommodated has risen to higher levels. I used to be catering for weddings and an average of ten percent of guests would be on a special list to be cooked for separately. The record was twenty per cent which was twenty five requests for a party of around one hundred and twenty ranging from the standard coeliac or allergen guests and child menu choices to the ridiculous adult ones who for example only ate five foods and were sitting at the top table, so chicken curry and chips it was for them while everyone else had the beef wellington.
I went as far as to discreetly enquire what the other four foods this seemingly otherwise perfectly normal thirty year old lived on and it was a children’s breakfast cereal, beans on toast, jam sandwiches and jelly and ice cream. That was it, the entire repertoire. This is all well and good for the professional kitchen to cope with but for an average domestic one it really does mean a whole lot of other preparation. In fairness it is not all one sided, I have had vegan guests only too happy to bring their own meal ready to be reheated even if oysters and rare steaks were being passionately consumed either side of them.
There are legal issues too on the professional front as high risk allergen customers now must have their meals prepared in separate areas of the kitchen with specific chopping boards and knives used so as not to cross contaminate with say nuts or gluten. Even different deep fat fryers must be used as the oil will contain remnants liable to cause an allergic reaction like a breadcrumb or batter made with standard flour. It also has to be remembered the burden the more serious special diet customers must carry. One wrong move and they could be toast as they must always be on food alert something the rest of us luckier consumers never have to worry about.
Being a fussy eater is another thing altogether though. There may be childhood experiences that put some off a certain food or traumatic instances that are related. Another aspect might be the foods they were simply brought up on; parents who are plain eaters are not going to have children not being influenced by their own eating habits.
I was lucky to be catered for quite well as a child but having one or two quirky habits myself. There was a period when I had only cold sausage and ketchup sandwiches in my primary school lunchbox and when even younger was often found seated amongst the red ripe stalks munching on the raw rhubarb in the garden. I could not tolerate either of those one time culinary delights now.
So the future will all be about personalization and making sure the individual preferences are met on every occasion Technology will play its part, recipes are going to have to be designed to accommodate many different intolerances. Most soups and sauces are gluten free now and menus are having both vegetarian and vegan options, the days of a combo offering are over, they need to be differed now. My own red lines would be some offal parts of an animal that just do not float my boat. Insects and fish heads do not do it for me either and I have never succumbed to the school of philosophy of trying everything once. So we are all fusspots in the jungle of life.