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Is the chef in?


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Faced with a choice of two restaurants, one where the owner works reguarly in the kitchen, and one where he/she has handed over control to an exec/head chef, which would you choose?

With two equally good places, the logical answer should be it doesn't matter. However, I must confess to favouring restaurants where I know the owner is generally present. For example, if I'm in London for a special occasion, I will tend to choose somewhere like Le Gavroche. Am I the only one with this, perhaps, slightly irrational attitude?

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Makes no difference to me as long as everything is as I would have experienced with the owner present. One person can not be expected to work 7 days a week, 365 days a year and do every element (cooking or otherwise) of the restaurant by themselves.

As long as they ensure that everything is done to a standard that they the owner is happy with then I judge it on that basis - if not I won't go back and in time I am sure this will tell on the establishments balance sheet which will either make the owner think about the amount of time they have off or who they employ.

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Good timing for this topic (for me) Next year im gettng a 2nd Chef which will allow me to open an extra day/s.He will cover me probably one night a week, and i,m trying to find the best way of informing our regulars of this situation.I haven't missed a service in over 3 years(luckily i had a 2nd chef then,who coped)

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This gets very complex as to whether you believe the people acting on behalf of the named chef can genuinely carry the restaurant. On simple terms of advertising, caling yourself Restaurant "insert celeb chef here" implies that they are at least intrinsically involved in the making and serving of the food. If not why is it not restaurant "unknown head chef who is very competant but you'll never be able to pick him out of a line-up"

I realise that there is an increasing empire of restaurants from big name chefs; Ducasse, Ramsay, Roubechon et al, but I wou;d always prefer to know that someone who is intrinsic in the invention and cooking of the food is actually in the kitchen. Hence why I will dine in Le Champignon, Hibiscus and Sat Baines before going to Ducasse's seemingly, not up to his standard, any day of the week.

Adam

Edited by ajnicholls (log)
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I'm not certain I care if the chef is physically behind the line or even -- by dinner service -- on the premises. But I feel better when the chef is in the kitchen, supervising, almost every day. I occasionally get to one of DC's best restaurants and invariably get one of the tables facing the kitchen. Never actually seen the chef in there. One the other hand, I know he designs the menu, oversees prep and has probably put the fear of God in his team. The food is always excellent. On the other hand, there's another excellent chef in town who's running a variety of restaurants and a couple of outside ventures. The food is reliably good at most of his places, but never great. And I think it's because he's just not there to impart his genius and his perfectionism to his staff every day.

Push comes to shove, I'm going with the place where the guy whose name is on the door is also in the kitchen.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Just to add to what AJ said, some of the best and most creative restaurants (correct me if I am wrong) have the actual chef at the helm, Juniper, Champignon, L'enclume, Anthony's, Sat's, Hibiscus etc etc. Saying that the Fat Duck doesn't but I think with a limited menu it is easy to recreate the same dish over and over with out too much need for the main man. I think having the actual chef there is beneficial when it comes to creation, development and inspiration of menu's and dishes.

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Let's be honest, there's not much skill required for construction. Most central London restaurants are sending out assemblies, designed so the actual last-mile cooking skill required is minimal. A modestly intelligent chimp could be taught to make most of the menu at Maze, for example, irrespective of whether Jason Atherton was in the kitchen that day.

Having a good chef in the kitchen only really matters when quality control would otherwise fail, or when things are going wrong.

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...and another thing, some owners employ Head chefs that are better than they are.Chefs who turn into owners, maybe having multiply sites/outlets become managers involved in the bigger picture than the day to day grind of prepping, cooking, service etc.

So replying to the original question, it all depends on the restaurant.

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The kitchen is one part of what makes a successful venture work - the other three obviously being drinks, service and the overall atmosphere provided by the space as a structure and the general hub bub. It could be argued that having the owner out front is as equally important to provide the difference that a paid employee may not add.....but a good front of house should.

The key, for us at least, is to get people who have real conviction about what they are doing, understanding that they are just as responsible for driving their career, pay packages and in some cases extending this to shares - not only help inspire and motivate but to reward.

And then there is the on going managing of them, from induction through training and beyond, so that when mistakes are made, a broader view is taken rather than just putting out the fire.

As an owner who has spent time in the kitchen (through need rather than choice) and out front, I have no wish to work 14 shifts a week on top of the necessary admin needed, so whoever is in charge, front or back, when I am not here, will be expected to ensure customers have the same experience whether I am here or not. Feedback helps tell you what is going on, as much as a sales graph.

As an afterthought, we had two weekend magazine reviews in the early days - one whilst I was here and one when I was not. Both showed us in good light.

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Let's be honest, there's not much skill required for construction. Most central London restaurants are sending out assemblies, designed so the actual last-mile cooking skill required is minimal. A modestly intelligent chimp could be taught to make most of the menu at Maze, for example, irrespective of whether Jason Atherton was in the kitchen that day.

Having a good chef in the kitchen only really matters when quality control would otherwise fail, or when things are going wrong.

Showed your comments to my kitchen brigade today- they send you their regards............

Personally, we would rather be closed than not there....but our frends do say we have extreme personality problems! :blink:

http://www.allium.uk.net

http://alliumfood.wordpress.com/ the alliumfood blog

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming - Whey hey what a ride!!!, "

Sarah Poli, Firenze, Kibworth Beauchamp

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There's another thing to consider, too. To what level of cooking does the restaurant aspire? Chefs who earn three (Michelin) or 4 (U.S.) stars bring a level of (shall we say) genius to a kitchen that experience and dedication alone can't duplicate. While the "trained monkeys" (personally, I would never use that description for people who play with knives for a living) may be able punch out the presentations during service, finding and training a talented Sous or EC who can capture that genius day-in-day out is a bit of a trick. Unless you're a Ducasse or a Keller who attracts talent that could earn top stars on their own, I doubt you can really keep a restaurant at the top of its game without significant chef presence.

On the other hand, if you're aiming a notch or two below -- let's call it consistent high quality cooking -- compulsive hands-on management is probably not as important, as long as the chef has an eye for talent and someone with an ownership stake in the restaurant keeping an eye on things. Most of the successful owners of multiple places 'round here aim for and generally hit the 2-star level.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Who is doing the prep so that the chimps are ready for service? Silver backed gorillas????

The Simian Kitchen. Primate Dining. That's one hell of a concept. Perhaps we should pitch this idea to London Zoo. It would be half corporate catering, half zeitgeisty update of the chimps' tea party.

Although having said that, I guess that's what's already happening with Hell's Kitchen.

In retrospect, I probably could have phrased my thoughts in a less incendiary way. What I meant to suggest was that the skills of a great chef -- ie. someone who creates and masters the preparation of original dishes -- are not necessarily the same as a great cook -- ie. someone who can deliver said dishes at a consistent level in a high-pressure environment.

The skill needed to cook is, to use outdated terminology, a left-side brain activity. It can be learned by the right kind of person, who would probably also be able to succeed at myriad disciplines from air traffic control to stock trading. Being a chef is more of a right-sided brain activity, involving the kind of lateral thinking and imagination that's tough to teach.

There's nothing whatsoever to stop a great chef being a great cook. But, generally speaking, a kitchen can function without having the skills of a great chef on hand 24-7. What's always, always, always required is a good cook.

/backpedal

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I think there are certainly examples where having the proprietor behind the stoves is a hinderance rather than a help and can actually hold the restaurant back. The person that the proprietor hands over to needs to be on the same wavelength as far as the philosophy of the restaurant goes.

I have heard some less than complimentory things said about le gavroche recently and Michel Roux is there a lot. River Cafe i have had very bad food sent to me right under the watchful eye of rose gray. on the other hand i have only had exceptional food at the anchor and hope when jonathan is cooking, but then his food requires a tremendous amount of judgement and very little formula.

I think basil dog is right it really depends on the restaurant and i really hope you have found the right person for the job as for as your restaurant is concerned because it will really make the difference between a stress free life and a constant headache!

To answer the question, as one of those people behind the stoves with the proprietor's name above the door i have to say that it really doesn't make any difference to me when choosing a restaurant. What makes me feel more comfortable is that the nominated head chef is preparing my food.

Matt Christmas.

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Here is Mr Ramsey's take on the matter in this Saturday FT Magazine;

“I had a letter from a customer, I read it literally about three hours ago. He booked a table for his mother’s 80th birthday for lunch at The Narrow [Ramsay’s gastropub in Limehouse]. Very nice. He said the service was friendly, the atmosphere was nice. But he was bitterly disappointed that I wasn’t in the kitchen.” He pauses ominously. “Are they seriously f**king stupid? Did they think I would be there on a Sunday lunchtime, cooking monkfish and chips for them?”

and that he only cooks 'about two-and-a half days a week, splitting his time between Royal Hospital Road, Claridge’s and Maze'

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I think in that case Ramsay has a point, its fairly obvious he only owns the place and decides its menu. If the food is still coming out good, does it matter? Obviously if it isnt, as seems to be the case with Ducasse, then it does matter.

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Here is Mr Ramsey's take on the matter in this Saturday FT Magazine;

“I had a letter from a customer, I read it literally about three hours ago. He booked a table for his mother’s 80th birthday for lunch at The Narrow [Ramsay’s gastropub in Limehouse]. Very nice. He said the service was friendly, the atmosphere was nice. But he was bitterly disappointed that I wasn’t in the kitchen.” He pauses ominously. “Are they seriously f**king stupid? Did they think I would be there on a Sunday lunchtime, cooking monkfish and chips for them?”

and that he only cooks 'about two-and-a half days a week, splitting his time between Royal Hospital Road, Claridge’s and Maze'

Ramsay's working very hard at the moment to reinforce the story that he's not going to be cooking at his pubs (PR's are also pedalling fast to make sure they're not referred to as 'Gastro' pubs). He could equally have told the same amusing anecdote about any of his international stable of first class restaurants - frankly, it's as likely that he'll turn up at any of them as the boozers but that doesn't fit the story so well.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Here is Mr Ramsey's take on the matter in this Saturday FT Magazine;

“I had a letter from a customer, I read it literally about three hours ago. He booked a table for his mother’s 80th birthday for lunch at The Narrow [Ramsay’s gastropub in Limehouse]. Very nice. He said the service was friendly, the atmosphere was nice. But he was bitterly disappointed that I wasn’t in the kitchen.” He pauses ominously. “Are they seriously f**king stupid? Did they think I would be there on a Sunday lunchtime, cooking monkfish and chips for them?”

and that he only cooks 'about two-and-a half days a week, splitting his time between Royal Hospital Road, Claridge’s and Maze'

Ramsay's working very hard at the moment to reinforce the story that he's not going to be cooking at his pubs (PR's are also pedalling fast to make sure they're not referred to as 'Gastro' pubs). He could equally have told the same amusing anecdote about any of his international stable of first class restaurants - frankly, it's as likely that he'll turn up at any of them as the boozers but that doesn't fit the story so well.

I'm surprised he was even supposed to be cooking at Maze - isn't Jason Atherton literally the head chef there, whereas RHR and Claridge's both have Executive Chefs to hold the fort when Ramsay isn't around?

All very confusing isn't it.

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I'm surprised he was even supposed to be cooking at Maze - isn't Jason Atherton literally the head chef there, whereas RHR and Claridge's both have Executive Chefs to hold the fort when Ramsay isn't around?

All very confusing isn't it.

I think RHR has a chef-patron (GR), an executive chef (Mark Askew) and a head chef (that delightful ulster lass who was splashed all over the OFM this month).

Having said that the standards remained consistently high on my last visit - a reminder I think that process is important an ingredient to success as personality in the kitchen. Remember Escoffier* was famed not only for his peaches and ice cream, but also for the fact he was the person who formalised the brigade structure which is still used in most large kitchens today.

J

* I think it was Escoffier. It was either him or Careme but I think it was 'im.

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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The issue only becomes an issue for people insufficiently informed, such that they a) believe said proprietor is always behind the stove b) that it makes a difference.

further to point b) if it does make a difference there is something inately wrong with the restaurant setup such that it should be avoided irrespective.

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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wasn't it ducasse who famously was asked "who cooks when you're not in the kitchen?", "same person who cooks when I am".

i think it was bocuse who first said this but it has been accredited to many others since.

Ramsay's take on it is 'do you think giorgio armani personally made your suit'

you don't win friends with salad

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Back to the original question: I don't really favour one or the other; I mean how will you know one way or another until you show up? But the better experiences I've had this year (The Elephant, Juniper, Manresa, reMAKE) - the chef has turned out to have been "in" and hands on.

Edited by dharold (log)

Read about what I've been eating at http://theeatingwell.blogspot.com/

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