(asked by Diane from the US)
I have been reading your blog Ask a Frenchman for a couple of months now and you are wonderful and funny to read. This has definitely been educational.

My question is about the post on customer service. I am considering visiting France at some point eventually and I am from the USA. I have a daughter who is deathly allergic to walnuts, and their use seems more common in France. Would there be any way to get the chef to understand no walnut oil, no Worcestershire sauce, no walnuts at all, and realize that I appreciate his deft, ingenious artistry, but I just want my little one to be safe?

Obviously, I wouldn’t order anything where it were part of the main point of the dish like walnut-crusted roast chicken with mesclun greens; that would just be asinine. But say, strawberry lemon cake or something where I had no idea but I would just want to mention it to avoid surprises and a possible visit to the emergency room. Or should I just cook at home to be totally safe, which I would probably love with all of the fresh ingredients available anyway!
Thanks in advance.
Yeah being deathly allergic to a substance and eating out is not easy. I assume it’s true everywhere, but it’s definitely true in France.
On the “good” side, walnuts are not that commonly used in French cuisine, except for South West cuisine. So for the first time of my life I will advise against eating South West cuisine (but remember, if you’re not allergic to walnuts, you must eat South West cuisine as it’s simply the best food in the world). Concerning the products you mention:
Walnut oil is not that common at all (I want to say only in South West Spring and Summer dishes, but I’m no cook so maybe it can be in other dishes… still, it’s pretty rare), most of oil consumed in France is sunflower oil and peanut oil (no, it’s not olive oil, here is another cliché about France). 
Worcestershire sauce, unless you order a Bloody Mary and that it was prepared properly (which is unlikely in most bars of Paris) you shouldn’t worry too much about (unless it’s secretly used in French kitchen unbeknownst to me).
Walnut themselves –except in South West cuisine- usually appear only in desserts, and they’re not extremely common either.
Now, what can you say/ask to the waiter/chef about that?
First, you’re lucky in some sort of twisted way, because when you ask if there are walnuts in the recipe and the waiter doesn’t know or care, it’s most likely that the food is pre-prepared like it is in more and more (touristy, but not only) restaurants, so you shouldn’t eat there at the first place.
Then if you’re in a decent restaurant where the chef cares about the food and that it is actually prepared from different ingredients in the kitchen on the other side of the door, you’ll be facing a problem.
Most of the times, if you explain that it’s a matter of life and death, they’ll be understanding. If there’s no walnut in their cooking, well… good…
If there are walnuts, sure the chef will tell you, but it’s likely that your option will be to go eat elsewhere, because he won’t change the recipe of the dish just for you. If he can do that, I’d actually be suspicious of the quality of the restaurant.
So, yeah, all in all, it is safer to not eat out.
(I have a friend that’s deathly allergic to peanuts, I’ll try to have her comment here to share her experience)
pixel Allergic to Walnuts in France?

8 Responses to “Allergic to Walnuts in France?”

  1. I'm also allergic to tree nuts and I assume that if I order a salad, I can just ask for them to be removed?

  2. No, the right answer is to order the salad that doesn't have nuts in it.

  3. David - thank you for your thoughtful answer; I'm still reading and I almost forgot I asked you something! :)

    "First, you’re lucky in some sort of twisted way, because when you ask if there are walnuts in the recipe and the waiter doesn’t know or care, it’s most likely that the food is pre-prepared like it is in more and more (touristy, but not only) restaurants, so you shouldn’t eat there at the first place."

    Funny, this is exactly why we are scared to go out to eat at some restaurants in the USA, because a lot of the food is prefrozen or whatever and the waiters have no idea. And your alternative is another restaurant that's the same way. If we order her most "kid-friendly" dishes on the menu or order something very simple, it's usually not a problem, though, and then we never order fancy desserts like baked goods, just a scoop of ice cream or fruit or something, and usually she's okay. But due to problems with processed products, I am now a complete and utter freak about making everything fresh and from scratch now. It takes more time, but it tastes better, and I know what's in it. However dangerous you warn me that France is for allergies, this principle of "from scratch" cooking is basic in French cuisine from what I gather, which may make it ironically safer. As you said, my filter can be to ask, and at the same time, I will find out if it's a good restaurant!

    Anyway, thanks again. Take care!

  4. You are very welcome (and sorry it took so long to answer).
    I asked my friend if she could share her experience with her peanut allergy, she said she'll try to stop by here.

  5. Hi Diane,

    I am going to leave a comment here for you about my friend's experience here in Paris (where's she's been living for about 3 years now)…
    Her son is DEATHLY allergic to tree nuts and so when she goes shopping, she ALWAYS has to check everything.. David… what's the word for tree nuts in French, please… fruits de coquie or something like that… Sorry, I forget… and it says in French on the package that it may contain traces of tree nuts or was packaged in a factory that also handles nuts, as well..
    For eating out, I know the go for sushi often and don't worry about that.. but I can ask her… about eating out in Paris, because I know they do.. but she mostly cooks at home…
    The problem is not only if the resto uses nuts IN the dishes, but as you said.. that prepackaged items may contain them or packaged in a place that has them, as well…
    It is VERY deadly.. my friend's son takes his epi pen with him..
    My uncle almost died at a resto from a severe food allergic reaction..

  6. Leesa, I'm not sure what you mean by "tree nut." Don't all nut come from trees? Or is it a special type of nut that happens to be called like that? If yes, I'm afraid my knowledge of English stops at the tree nut.

  7. Thanks for the comment Leesa! Yes, we have to be very careful everywhere and we read labels like crazy. Which we should do anyway!

    David - you asked Leesa, but here is my two cents also, just returning the favor - tree nuts grow in trees:), this is a general name given to nuts like this, examples include: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews. They tell people to avoid all tree nuts if there are problems with one, but coconuts are not usually included in that. Peanuts are legumes (like lentils!), totally different type of plant. They grow in the ground. BUT, many people who have problems with tree nuts also have problems with peanuts. Hope it helps.

  8. Thanks Diane.
    Yes, I figured it out in the meantime (and Leesa e-mailed me).
    So, no we don't have a term for "tree nut" in French, well, I'm sure botanists do, but not in everyday language. (and yeah, it's true that peanut are not nuts actually).

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