(NEW YORK) — Chef Ming Tsai remembers ordering a sandwich without bread for his then 3-year-old son David because the toddler was allergic to seven of the eight most common food allergens. Tsai approached the restaurant manager, a man in a suit and tie standing off to the side.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘We’d rather not serve him,'” Tsai said, adding that waiters and restaurant managers used to roll their eyes when he mentioned David’s food allergies. “Don’t open a restaurant if you don’t know what’s in your food. This is absurd.”
From that day on, Tsai made it his mission to promote allergy awareness. He developed an allergy safety system in his restaurant, Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass. He became the spokesman for the nonprofit Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, which recently merged with the Food Allergy Initiative to become FARE. And he worked with the Massachusetts state legislature for five years on an allergy safety bill.
FARE honored Tsai with its lifetime achievement award at the Food Allergy Ball Monday night at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.
Tsai cooked some of his signature dishes for the guests, including sake-miso marinated Alaskan butterfish and shitake and goat cheese crostini, but he didn’t use peanuts, tree nuts or shellfish — the most common allergens.
“Ming is an ideal honoree,” FARE chairman Todd Slotkin said, noting Tsai’s awards and presence on the Food Network. “He understands the challenges that food-allergic families face and has been greatly advancing the cause for over 10 years.”
Tsai stepped out from the kitchen in his apron to accept the award, smiling alongside chefs who have received the award in the past, including restaurateur Drew Nieporent, who ribbed him for being a Red Sox fan. After thanking the organization, Tsai thanked a woman in the audience who was honored for her work on EpiPens, or Epinephrine Auto-Injectors, which are used to save someone undergoing a severe allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock.
“An EpiPen saved my son’s life, so thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he told her from the stage. “There is nothing, nothing worse than your child going through anaphylaxis and thinking, ‘Is my son going to die?'”
David went into anaphylactic shock during Tsai’s father-in-law’s 70th birthday, Tsai said. He was in the kitchen preparing roast tenderloin for 80 guests when the babysitter accidentally gave 5-year-old David whole milk instead of rice milk.
David’s breathing became labored, and Tsai’s wife, a nurse, sprang to action and jammed an EpiPen in David’s leg. He was then taken to the emergency room, but he turned out fine.
David is now 13, and Tsai considers him cured of many of his allergies thanks to new techniques to desensitize him, including non-Western medicine.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jamiel Lynch and Debra Goldschmidt, CNN
Josh Friesen, Idaho State Journal
Karen Lehr, KIVI