ACE-Photo-5By Gary Fitzgerald 

One chef drizzled coconut ginger sauce on a plate of rice pudding. Another blended papaya, mango, honeydew and strawberries into an ambrosia salad. A third topped a sugary gelatin with a fresh pineapple slice.

A scene from the reality TV cooking show “Top Chef”?

No, this was the Alamo ACE Challenge, a cooking contest held by Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Associates of South Texas in San Antonio last May. Erika Gonzalez-Reyes, MD, Joseph Diaz, MD, and nurse practitioner Marie Celeste Loera hosted the unique event.

The three chefs were tasked with making a delicious dessert that did not include peanuts, eggs or milk – all common food allergens. The winning dish? Vanilla soy rice pudding with fruit salsa. (The chefs’ recipes are available at Before making one of the dishes, be sure to check the ingredients for any potential food allergens beyond peanuts, eggs or milk.)

The cook-off was part of a community outreach effort to increase awareness of food allergies and anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. The event included training sessions and allergy and asthma screenings.

“We taught the community about the signs of an anaphylactic episode and how to properly use an epinephrine auto-injector,” Gonzalez-Reyes said. “Our culinary contest demonstrated that by being mindful of what you eat, you can prevent anaphylaxis and you don’t have to deprive yourself of delicious food.”

Gonzalez-Reyes and her team members promoted the Alamo ACE Challenge to volunteer groups, local schools, lawmakers, members of the food industry and healthcare professionals. The judges for the cook-off included a San Antonio councilwoman, an Iraq war veteran and a reporter for a local TV station.

“It’s extremely important to raise awareness to as many people as possible, even if they don’t have a food allergy,” Gonzalez-Reyes said. “Physicians are not always going to be available to treat an anaphylaxis episode – especially in public settings – and the onset of symptoms can be deadly in such a short period of time.”

In ACE training sessions, Gonzalez-Reyes is surprised to learn how many people are unable to identify anaphylaxis symptoms.

“It’s eye-opening,” she said. “More alarming is the number of people who do not know that anaphylaxis can be treated with an epinephrine auto-injector. There’s even some hesitation in using the medication at the first sign of symptoms.”

As an ACE Team, Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Associates of South Texas is a valuable community resource.

Advises Gonzalez-Reyes: “Educate yourself about the types of food you eat and be mindful of what you eat by remembering to always look at food labels. Ask how your food was prepared.

“Let people know about your food allergies. Invest in a medic-alert bracelet that identifies your food allergies. Most importantly, always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors in case of an emergency.”

Anyone who experiences anaphylaxis should always seek prompt medical care, Gonzalez-Reyes adds.

ACE1001ACE is a national, award-winning partnership program developed and hosted by Allergy & Asthma Network and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, sponsored by Mylan Specialty, LP.

Reviewed by Tera Crisalida, PA-C