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The Apostate

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  1. The Apostate

    The customer is NOT always right

    ??? Ooookay... I admit my first thought was 'WHAT?! Don't they have special clubs for that? I don't mean dinner, clubs, either...' I'm not seeing this statement in its original context, and have no way of knowing precisely how the word 'submission' was intended, but although I'm perfectly willing to do my homework on the restaurant beforehand, repect the efforts of the kitchen and dining-room staff, and be politepolitepolite if it kills me, submission seems out of place. If you aren't actively engaged in the dining experience, but instead submit to it, I think you lose out on part of what the chef has done, you miss the elements of dialogue, of exploration. Even if you go to a restaurant that offers a single, set menu on any given night, the decision to eat there is an active one. My mind boggles a bit at the idea that I might have to consider and consent to a tacit power dynamic between diner and food/chef, which, to be honest, goes a bit beyond my idea of 'dining experience', but I imagine everyone feels differently about this, and I suppose that's entering a whole philosophical area related to how one approaches food, which might be considered a bit off-topic. I get the submission thing. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re not engaged and it doesn’t mean there’s no room for dialogue. But I love the act of totally relinquishing control; there’s something exciting and sensual about having someone not only cook for you, but decide what you want, what you’d enjoy. Which is why I always go for the chef’s tasting if offered. Or even if it’s not on the menu, I sometimes ask if it’s possible to just have the chef “take care of me”. But the act of submission involves trust. Aside from specific allergies and severe dislikes, the people who go overboard with special requests just don’t trust others preparing their food for them. And I say “their loss.” This is not intended to sound rude, but what I don't get is the use of "actively engaged' in describing the dining experience. When you go the theater, do you go backstage when you enter, demand to see the director and then describe for him the plot line you're in the mood to see that night? If you golf, would you tell your club pro that while, yes, you do want to lower your score, you think you should still keep that hitch in your back swing, and since you really like hitting off your back foot, he should work around that too? Do you tell your mechanic how to rebuild your carburetor, your doctor how to perform surgery, or would you approach Mike Ditka in the middle of a game to tell you think it's time to run a draw play? In my experience, it's not an issue of trust, it's a matter of control. For some people (certainly not all, as those with actual medical restrictions) the dining experience is simply one more extension of their need for control. For me, I go, I dine on what's offered. If it's good I go back. If it's not I don't.
  2. The Apostate

    The customer is NOT always right

    I'll admit to mixed feelings about this. While we all recognize that we're in the hospitality business, I always think back to one of the first ( certainly not the last ) chewing outs I received from my first chef. I received it when I left my station to get something for a special request that a waitress made to me directly without going through chef first. After service, chef pulled me aside and had a little talk with me. He explained that in this industry, we are here to provide the best experience for all our customers, not necessarily for each individual customer. By which he meant that our goal was to do the best for the most and when the demands of single individual was going to compromise the experience for the rest of the guests, then it was better to risk losing one customer, or even the whole table, than pissing off an entire dining room. As in Hathors example, when the chef had to leave the kitchen and go to the table to explain things, who was running the kitchen and did that compromise its performance? And how was that fair to the rest of the guests in the restaurant who weren't being so demanding? I suppose that the answer here as with so many things is in taking responsibility for yourself. If you really want to be a diva, or if you simply have dietary restrictions, or simply have strong food preferences, then make some phone calls and make sure that the place your going is willing to indulge them, but don't assume automatically that what seems reasonable to you, will automatically seem as reasonable to someone else.
  3. -The annoyance doesn't arise from the deception, but from the disruption it causes to the cooking process, the all too common use of deception to justify a food preference just adds fuel to the fire. I'm sorry to hear of your wifes allergy, and obviously I'm not referring to her specifically but to allergy sufferers generically when I say that in my experience many of those with special needs either fail to understand the stress they can place on the kitchen staff or simply don't care, hence our frustration. In these times kitchen staffs (like most businesses) have been cut to the bare bones, and unless you're Le Bernadin or the French Laundry you don't have a guy out back sitting on a milk crate smoking cigarettes just waiting for someone with special needs to show up. What really happens is that the overstressed, overworked, barely managing to keep pace guy who gets your order, suddenly has to stop everything he's doing and basically make something from scratch because all his mise has mushrooms, gluten, or whatever the affliction of the moment is in it, and while he's doing that all the other orders are piling up because all the other tables need stuff from his station, so the chef is screaming, the orders keep coming, the servers keep glaring, and every other table in the restaurant seethes at how long their food is taking. While those with legitimate afflictions certainly have my sympathy, I would truly prefer to make do without their business.
  4. The Apostate

    Top Chef Season 5

    Maybe it's just me, but this blog by Hosea doesn't seem to be the thoughts of someone who won anything (bold mine): http://www.bravotv.com/top-chef/blogs/burn.../hosea-responds Burning Questions Top Chef First things first: None of us signed any contracts forbidding contact with the other cheftestants. We did not break any rules. Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to offer my apologies to anyone who was offended or upset by my actions. It is impossible to explain what life is like under these circumstances to anyone who has not experienced it. It may have been the pressure, the stress, or just the surreal-ness of living in a bubble for six weeks, but sometimes you don't act like yourself. I am an honest, caring, and good person. My dearest friends and family know me for who I am. The public knows me as someone who cheats on his girlfriend. I'll have to live with that. I just hope that anyone out there who is easy to point the finger looks deeply inside themselves and can honestly say they haven't ever wronged someone. Or done something that they're ashamed of. Cast the first stone. Do I regret it? You bet. Did it throw off my game? Of course. Have I thought about it every day since? Yes. What can I do? Nothing. When I returned home, I told my girlfriend - one of the sweetest women on earth - what happened. She was willing to forgive me. Our relationship was never the same. We are no longer together. So I have to live with my mistakes and try and grow as a person from it. I am still very happy that I participated in Top Chef. It was an amazing experience that taught me a lot. I hope that it is my food and not my actions that are remembered once the show is over. I came to New York to cook. I made some great dishes and made some wonderful friends. At the end of the day, it is still all about the food. Again, and it may be only me, but the tone of this seems more like someone who finished out of the top three and has only the 'experience' to show for it. Or am I reading too much between the lines?
  5. I get the "MR, but no pink" thing almost every night too, but as bad as my customers can get my wife's' customers can almost always top them. While I run a restaurant kitchen, she's a Deli Manager for a large grocery chain and she recently had to deal with an unhappy customer who decided to get even by coming back to her store repeatedly and being a difficult as possible. She (the customer) would order pounds of the most expensive meat in the display case (prosciutto, speck, whatever was most expensive) sliced very thin and then make sure to reject the first order as being too thick or too fatty or some other equally transparent excuse (Company policy dictates NO arguing with customers about that kind of thing), then after my wife had sliced another two or three pounds of $18.00 per pound meat she would walk away and abandon it a few aisles over and then leave the store. After pulling this stunt several times, they finally caught her on camera and the Store Manager asked her to find someplace else to shop or they would call the cops. Customers like that make mine look like amateurs by comparison.
  6. The Apostate

    The Responsibility of a Chef

    Why not take this argument to the logical conclusion and say that as a human being, your only responsibility is to your own needs and desires-- and all else is sheer vanity. This is of course an obvious non sequitor. Ones responsibilities as a chef ( a professional title, nothing more) are by definition limited to the professional arena, while ones responsibilities as a human being are far more wide ranging. It could be so, but then I'm grateful to all the obscenely vain charlatans who stroked their egos by making the world a better place ... like Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Lincoln, M.L. King Jr., the Dalai Lama .... Again, another obvious non sequitor as all the above, with the exception of Lincoln, were religious leaders whose job were by definition to improve the human condition. The same argument could be applied to Lincoln as well, in his role as President. Looking at mere chefs, we risk being blinded by the vanity of someone like Alice Waters, who works as hard to improve the food people eat in inner cities as she ever did at her restaurants. But is her charity work, as admirable as it may be, a direct responsibility of her job as a chef, or simply the altruistic leanings of a socially conscious individual? To me the answer is rather obviously the latter. ←
  7. The Apostate

    The Responsibility of a Chef

    Is it "sheer vanity" to provide good food on the plate for the customer? I don't think that a profitable restaurant necessarily serves "good" food as I know quite a few that do not, yet appear quite profitable. ← Yes, absolutely. Profit is the flagpole upon which you can choose to fly whatever banner makes you feel better about yourself, but make no mistake, without that flagpole you have nothing at all. Consider a local (to me) example: Le Francais in Wheeling Illinois, an award winning french restaurant, with the brilliant chef Roland Liccioni at the helm, creating not just "good" food, but some of the best in Chicago. It's current status? Shuttered. Why? Not profitable enough. Profitability is the one and only responsibility that matters because without it none of the others are possible. Just ask Chef Liccioni, I'm sure he'll confirm it for you.
  8. The Apostate

    The Responsibility of a Chef

    Feh. Call me a cynic (I prefer pragmatic) but after 30 years in "The Life", I can say without qualification that the only responsibility of a chef is to provide a profit to his masters. All else is sheer vanity.
  9. Maybe my new favorite episode.
  10. The Apostate

    Irritating Guest Habits

    okokok, so here's mine... First off, the Mrs and I rarely dine out as she feels that I, as a 30 year vet in 'the life', tend to be a little too critical of other peoples places. Also, as a I am old school enough where I don't leave the BOH when I'm working I generally have little sympathy for the waitrons and their difficulties. With that disclaimer out of the way, the wife and I have just returned from a weekend visiting relatives in central Wisconsin. On the return trip we stopped for lunch at one of the chain joints on the periphery of the Wisconsin Dells. We were seated in a booth next to a table of eight that were either all going deaf or simply felt that their conversation was so intriguing that no one else in the restaurant would want to miss a word of it, since it was all spoken at maximum volume. The main topic of their (bellowed) conversation was a brief history on how often they managed to affect free meals by bitching about every little thing. So no surprise when they demanded to see the manager after waiting a good five minutes for their meal to arrive. The manager (a harried looking kid barely out of High School from the looks of him) immediately assured them that their meal would arrive promptly, before checking on it (his first mistake, since one of the kids had demanded an order of ribs, a dinner only option, even though it was only 11:30 in the morning). After waiting another ten minutes (during which they trumpeted the the rest of the dining room with stories of not paying for any meals or drinks during their current stay in the Dells) they of course demanded to see the manager again, this time, having been made aware of the issue of having to make ribs for one of them, he tried to explain the situation and asked them for their patience (second mistake) which they immediately used as an excuse to make a scene and began demanding compensation for their 'unreasonable' wait. As soon as the food arrived, the father jumped out of his chair, literally screaming that the food was "ice cold" before he had even touched it and despite the fact that two servers and the manager himself had expedited their order and brought it to their table. We left at this point, appalled by the behavior of my fellow vacationers and with, perhaps, just a little more sympathy for travails of the wait staff at my own place.
  11. The Apostate

    Tortilla Soup

    I don't know about the flavor as I've never had that particular soup, but I have made hundreds of gallons of Tortilla Soup over the years and have found that the color of the finished product is determined primarily by the brand of chili powder used. My parsimonious masters will buy whatever product is on sale (usually Sysco or Alliant) and depending on the source, the colors can range from orange to brown to bright red. Hope that helps.
  12. The Apostate

    Is this restaurant a good investment?

    The real question is how much experience does he have in F&B? Yeah, proper management may double the business, but (and no offense towards your friend intended) if you don't know exactly what you're getting into, it's a truly wonderful way to go broke with breathtaking suddenness. Don't invest anything unless your prepared (both financially and emotionally) for a 100% loss. Not to rain on his parade but I have several friends who with an absolute, unfaltering, confidence in their abilities, still managed to lose nearly everything they had with the same idea your friend is currently having. Best wishes if he does decide to go forward with this, and keep us posted.
  13. The Apostate

    Hysterical bad customers

    I guess the following story illustrates why it's sometimes better to work in a non-corporate restaurant. When I was first starting out in this thing we do back in the late 70's, the restaurant I was working at booked a sports banquet for the local high school basketball team. We new it was trouble almost from the moment they walked in. They were loud, obnoxious, and rude, knocking over glasses, throwing food, making inappropriate comments to the servers, even grabbing their asses as they walked past. The Coaches apparently felt that 'boys will be boys', and did nothing to try and gain control. When dessert were finally served, it was a simple ice cream sundae which the boys apparently felt was better served as a missile than a food. We sent down Randy the busboy to start cleaning up the mess. As Randy bent over to pick up some of the sundae cups, one of the team comedians leaned back in his chair and held a sundae upside down over an unsuspecting Randy's head until it slowly oozed out and plopped on the the back of Randy's' neck, much to the delight of his table mates. It should be noted at this point that Randy was also a high school jock. He was a wrestler and had a notoriously short temper. Without even getting up from his knees, he swung from the hips and nailed the budding young comedian right in his lopsided smile, knocking him completely out of his chair. His teammates rushed to his defense which only lead to a couple of bruised and bleeding basketball players and a red faced Randy asking 'who's next?'. The manger rushed down at this point, and being confronted by the loud and belligerent coaches he assured them that he would take care of the matter. He pulled Randy over and told him (in front of the coaches) that that kind of behavior was unacceptable, the customer was always right, etc. and so he was being fired. Randy angrily tried to point out that the basketball kids had started it, but the manager would have none of it, and told him to wait by the time clock so he could "take care of the paperwork". So Randy waited, fuming and telling everyone who would listen how unfair it all was until the manager arrived, finally having soothed the ruffled coaches. When the Manager approached, Randy was ready to tell him exactly what the thought but he never got the chance as the manager burst out laughing, patted him on the back, and told him to relax, he wasn't really fired and just try to control your temper a little better next time. The manger then slipped Randy an extra $20 and told him to go home. To this day that was one of the coolest things I've ever seen a manager do.
  14. Wow, It's unbelievable how phobic some people are about microbes, really now , do you people live in plastic bubbles? First off, the only surprise about a busboy using windex is that he's using anything at all. Most managers would yank the stuff out of his hand and chew him out about the expense, every restaurant I've ever worked in uses soda water for wiping down their tables. Remember people, they're just cleaning the table of debris not sanitizing ! Secondly, no Health Inspector would have dinged them anything if he had seen it (although he may have suggested replacing the towel) because no infraction took place, and yes I do have a current Health Department Certification (state of Illinois) so I do know what I'm talking about. Clean and Sanitary are two very different things and restaurants are required (quite reasonably) to sanitize only food contact surfaces, which would not include your table top, unless of course you were considering dining sans plates. And lastly, keep in mind this fact before you start laying awake at night with thoughts of little Disneyesque cartoon germs dancing through your head, the world is a very germy place, in fact, they're everywhere. You're body is crawling with them as you read this. You're computer keyboard is covered by a film of them as you type your response, and every time you breathe, you're drawing millions of them into your body. Shake hands with someone? Germs! Talk to someone? Germ Exchange! Had the busboy taken your table and boiled it in raw bleach before seating you, it would still have been re-contaminated in mere moments by airborne bacteria, yeasts, and other little nasties that live in the carpets, the walls, even the clothes you wear. Still think you should complain? Go right ahead. The Manager will probably pat your hand and express his concern with his most ingratiating manner and his smarmiest smile, and all the while he'll be thinking to himself "Oh Lord, why do I get all the knuckleheads?"
  15. When shit like this happens where I work I start fantasizing about working in a place that would throw someone out if they behaved like that. A special request is fine. If I've got the materials and the means to make it for them, fine. When the start making demands is when I wish I could draw the line with some people. Although, I do find it kind of strange when someone comes into my restaurant knowing what to expect and wants something that flat out not on the menu. I accept that I'm a servant but if they wanted a pesto pasta with lobster then why the hell didn't they go to an Italian restaurant? Polynesian's aren't exactly known for their pesto. ← I agree, even though I know it's petty of me, but I do try to accommodate reasonable requests where possible, but when they start turning into demands... well that's when my hackles rise. There are way too many people out there with the impression that we've got Wolfgang Puck sitting on a milk crate out back just waiting for them to show up.
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