10 Metro Phoenix Chefs on Whether Special Requests Have Gotten Out of Control

Vegan branzino? Sorry, no can do.
Vegan branzino? Sorry, no can do.

Between the ever-growing number of fad diets and increased knowledge about food sensitivities, it's hard out there to be a chef.

Diners are going gluten-free, meat-free, oil-free, and more, and as a result, metro Phoenix chefs have seen some pretty interesting special requests. These small but significant changes to a dish can wreak havoc in a busy professional kitchen — and so we asked: Have special requests gotten out of control?

Gio Osso of Virtu
Gio Osso of Virtu
Heather Gill Photography

Gio Osso, Chef of Virtu 

I think it has gotten a bit out of control, honestly. I have had many just off­-the­-wall requests. [For] example, we had a request for a "vegan branzino." We should all know, eating fish is not being vegan. I think adhering to what you call yourself is the most important!

Chrysta Robertson of Rancho Pinot
Chrysta Robertson of Rancho Pinot
Evie Carpenter

Chrysa Robertson, Chef and Owner of Rancho Pinot 

Absolutely. It's to the point where people are claiming to have celiac disease when they actually do not. How do we know? We see those big fat liars sneaking a bite of their partner's dessert (made with flour). Please. Don't get me started. I am pre-gluten! And those allergy fakers . . .  They do a real disservice to those who actually have allergies. We take it pretty seriously when a guest says they have an allergy. We are super-careful. But seriously, "I'm allergic to celery root, but celery is okay." "I'm allergic to raw onion, but cooked onion is okay." "I'm very allergic to garlic." "I'm sorry, you won't be able to have that dish because it's made with stock and there is garlic in our stock. "Well, that's okay. A little won't hurt me." C'mon. These aren't allergies. These are preferences. Just stop it. 

Cullen Campbell of Crudo/OkraEXPAND
Cullen Campbell of Crudo/Okra
Courtesy of Crudo/Okra

Cullen Campbell, Chef and Co-Owner of Okra/Crudo 

I would say it’s getting a little out of control. I understand some people really do have allergies, but I also think some people just don’t like something and so they say that they are allergic to make sure they don’t get it.

Nelly Kohsok of Pita Jungle
Nelly Kohsok of Pita Jungle
Courtesy of Pita Jungle

Nelly Kohsok, Co-Founder and Owner of Pita Jungle

I don’t think special requests have gotten out of control. For us, and for so many restaurants now, we are specialized in trying to take all necessary measures to offer something for everyone — many different diets. We feel that we have to respect each person’s personal dietary choices and restrictions and be extremely sensitive to their allergies. 

Brian Archibald of The Boulders Resort & SpaEXPAND
Brian Archibald of The Boulders Resort & Spa

Brian Archibald, Executive Chef of The Boulders Resort & Spa

It has become increasingly difficult. But our job is to serve! The only difficult part is a guest changing a chef's dish that has been thought out to marry certain ingredients and flavor profiles together.

Silvana Esparza of Barrio UrbanoEXPAND
Silvana Esparza of Barrio Urbano
Jill Richards Photography

Silvana Esparza, Chef of Barrio Urbano 

Again, it’s not like people are waking up one day and saying, “I think I am going to stop eating gluten.” Ask someone with a gluten allergy and they will tell you how sick they get when they are cross-contaminated with gluten. I am in the hospitality business and that means I have to be hospitable even if it means [honoring a] special request. 

Brady Cohen of the Salty SowEXPAND
Brady Cohen of the Salty Sow
Courtesy of the Salty Sow

Brady Cohen, Chef of the Salty Sow 

I take allergies and diets very seriously. Gluten is definitely not good for us in excess. But when I see people order three Diet Cokes with their gluten-free meal, it make me wonder.

Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals
Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals
Courtesy of Tracy Dempsey Originals

Tracy Dempsey, Owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals

Not really. I think that as professionals in the hospitality industry, it is on us to educate ourselves in the latest trends and to provide for our guests as best as we can given their acknowledgement that we are a business. 

Christopher Gross of Christopher’s and Crush LoungeEXPAND
Christopher Gross of Christopher’s and Crush Lounge

Christopher Gross, Chef of Christopher’s and Crush Lounge

Yes, they have gotten very out of hand. And it’s not only gluten-­free. It’s no butter, no oil, a vegetarian who will eat fish, no dairy. We love to please, and we are definitely understanding of people who have the misfortune of having celiac disease, but sometimes it gets to be too much.

Sadhana Raj of 24 Carrots Natural Café & Urban JuiceryEXPAND
Sadhana Raj of 24 Carrots Natural Café & Urban Juicery
Courtesy of 24 Carrots Natural Café & Urban Juicery

Sadhana Raj, Owner of 24 Carrots Natural Café & Urban Juicery

We cater to a lot of food allergens/restrictions and quite happily to the best of our ability. A large portion of our guests who request these do so because their health would be compromised if they didn't. I'm grateful they trust us serve them a safe meal. We are happy to accommodate where we can, and our guests are pretty understanding when we can not. As a vegan myself who is lactose intolerant, I can appreciate a restaurant being willing to work with my dietary needs and try to choose dishes that would require minimal substitution/elimination.  


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