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Chris Ward

What the kitchen thinks about you.

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Cooks are, by and large, not People Persons. Waiters, sure, they like people well enough to be able to look them in the eye, smile and not laugh when you ask stupid questions.

Cooks, mostly, can't do that. They want to shoulder-barge you out of the way so they can get to peeling the potatoes or gutting the fish or dressing their plate. What they want is to make you some nice food, for you to enjoy it, and then for you to go home.

What they don’t want is for you to tell them how they should have written the menu. That you’d like the beef but with the sauce from the lamb. And the vegetables you think should be served with the fish. And on the side, please. Put the sauce on the side. In a pretty little pot. So I can dip my fries in it. Because now that you think about it you’d prefer fries to mashed potato. Even though there are no fries anywhere on the menu.

Can you not read? Was it not clear on the menu? You won’t like the rosemary jus with the beef, and the steamed spinach isn’t suitable for the beef or the lamb. And we don't have a deep-fat frier.

And then you ordered your beef rare but send it back because it’s not cooked enough. 

Cooks want you to arrive at the beginning of service. Come at 7, if that’s when the restaurant opens. 8 at the latest. 9 if you must, but order quickly. If it says that last orders are at 9:30 pm, don’t turn up at 9.29 and expect the kitchen to love you for your custom. Expect them to grunt and moan and whinge about your lack of consideration.

And if you do turn up one minute before the end of service, don't hum and haw over your order and not be able to decide. And don't, whatever you do, order the tasting menu if you arrive so late.

Of course, most people won't know about any of this wailing and gnashing of teeth that goes on in the kitchen; that's why restaurants employ waiters. But certainly in restaurants where staff work limited hours for very low wages - see my earlier article on this topic - if you stop the kitchen getting out by, say, 10pm when their wages finish, they won't be happy with you.

What you won't get is the mythical spitting-in-your-food treatment; I have never, ever witnessed this in all my years cooking. And you won't get lower quality food than someone who treated the kitchen with respect - cooks live to serve good food, period.

But there will be a few people more in the world who don't like you very much.

The example I always quote is from Christmas, 2009. The restaurant where I was working was closing on Christmas Eve after the lunch service for three days. Chef had already left to go on his Christmas vacation, so there was just me and the dishwasher to do the lunch service. Which, as we'd told the owner repeatedly, would not be worth doing; most French people do NOT go out to eat lunch on Christmas Eve.

So we hadn't stocked the kitchen with anything fresh, the 'Menu du jour' was what was left in the fridges together with anything interesting we could find in the freezers. The salad of the day was bamboo shoots from a can, mostly. We did three covers, clients leaving the hotel (which was also closing for three days) as soon as we opened at midday.

Then we did nothing; we cleaned the kitchen, changed the oil in the fryer, cleaned again and stood around, the two of us moaning about how stupid it was to open on Christmas Eve.

Until 1.27pm, when I saw two cars pull into the car park behind the hotel and eight - eight! - people get out and walk towards the restaurant. I called the Maitre d'hotel and warned him that we didn't have any food, certainly not enough for eight people and, anyway, it was closing time.

Unfortunately the restaurant owner caught the arrivals at the door, welcomed them and seated them and gave them the à la carte menu, from which they ordered liberally. Foie gras, pigeon, bull steaks, fish. Starters, puddings, wines, everything. I listened to the order in dismay as the owner read it out and told him, flat out, that we didn't have two thirds of the dishes he'd allowed the clients to order and that, in any case, it was now 1.45 pm.

But he insisted we serve them, that we defrost everything necessary and serve the group who, it turned out, were old friends of his from his previous workplace whom he'd invited over for lunch.

'Invited' in French means that you don't pay. So we ended up working one and a half hours unpaid overtime on Christmas Eve to serve a group who weren't even paying for their meal.

And yes, I hated them but yes, I did cook perfect meals for them. Complaining all the time.

Cooks like to complain.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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Well, the schmuck should have warned you.

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2 hours ago, Chris Ward said:

What they don’t want is for you to tell them how they should have written the menu. That you’d like the beef but with the sauce from the lamb. And the vegetables you think should be served with the fish. And on the side, please. Put the sauce on the side. In a pretty little pot. So I can dip my fries in it. Because now that you think about it you’d prefer fries to mashed potato. Even though there are no fries anywhere on the menu.

 

When I was working my way through school, my favorite example of this was the customer who wanted the seafood medley, but without shellfish because she had an allergy. 

 

The medley consisted of an empty lobster tail stuffed with risotto; with the tail itself, some prawns and scallops served around and over it and a sauce made from the shrimp shells. That was good for a collective facepalm in the kitchen. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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I try to make orders fairly easy for the kitchen, but with certain medical conditions you don't have much choice unless you don't go out at all - right now I have to get sauce on the side often because I can't tell if the sauce is going to upset my stomach - my mom often gets sauce on the side because she has to watch her sodium and usually the sauce is where a lot of the salt is when you are talking about an otherwise plain grilled piece of protein. (Although pet peeve is places that marinate their protein but don't say so on the menu. For one, that throws off my mom's order because she usually tries to pick something where the most the kitchen has to do is leave off the sauce, and if she gets a surprise marinade then she can't eat it, and for two, it drives me nuts when I am expecting a nice unadulterated piece of steak or chicken as a foil to the tasty-sounding sauce and instead the steak or chicken has some odd flavor from being marinaded.  I mean, sometimes it's good, but it's still not what I was expecting.)

 

Worst thing I've done probably is we went out to a place that does daily pasta and asked for the daily pasta special to be made vegetarian, which they said they could do. The whole table (about 6 of us) got that, though, so the kitchen could do a 'batch' rather than trying to fuss with one portion. (They do the pasta with a table side service and we go there quite often, so we knew approximately how many people a pan of pasta serves and ordered accordingly.)

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OK, as a customer, I'd just like to tell my story about turning up late.

 

I turned up late with the missus four years ago at Au Bon Accueil, Paris, just as the chairs were being taken inside at dusk. The venue was chosen from internet research- I had a long list of must-eat places. The waiter went inside, talked to I guess the owner, and came back out and presented us with the menu. He seated us side by side. I thought, well, I'd quite like to see my wife as I have my dinner but, whatever. The waiter was insistent. My French is strictly what I can remember from phrasebooks, and this wasn't the time to get into an argument. I can't recall the main course, probably duck confit. I ordered the mille feuille for dessert after the waiter's mimed explanation of the dish. Just as dessert came out, the Eiffel Tower lit up, sparkling like Champagne, right in our eye line. The Eiffel Tower started shimmering! My wife and I had never seen this before, and it was a magical moment.

 
I'd gone to Paris at my wife's insistance, worried about racism at worst and metropolitan indifference at best. All I found was respect and consideration. Much more so than in London. Every restaurant and cafe we went to treated us wiith grace and love. But that evening in Paris, served by people who didn't have any expectation of repeat business, we had the best service we ever had.
 
Four years later I 'm still talking about it. I think I'll rememnber it forever.
 
Thank you to all those who go the extra mile. We do appreciate it.
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The rule at my place was that as long as you were in by my last seating time, you had the whole menu at your disposal (as long as I hadn't sold out of something, of course). My situation was not universal, though, because my last seating was at 9 pm and my last diner might not leave until 12 or 1, because I was inside the hotel where they were staying. Also the kitchen was mostly just me, and I had no equipment to shut down and clean...just a couple of electric ranges and a few other bits and pieces. 

 

It was quite a challenge, serving dozens of five-course meals out of there in an evening. After the first season I learned how many covers I could handle in any given hour, and booked accordingly. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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7 hours ago, Chris Ward said:

But he insisted we serve them, that we defrost everything necessary and serve the group who, it turned out, were old friends of his from his previous workplace whom he'd invited over for lunch.

'Invited' in French means that you don't pay. So we ended up working one and a half hours unpaid overtime on Christmas Eve to serve a group who weren't even paying for their meal.

And yes, I hated them but yes, I did cook perfect meals for them. Complaining all the time.

Cooks like to complain.

Boy, sure sounds like you hated and complained about the wrong people. Doesn't seem to be the way to change anything.

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9 hours ago, cakewalk said:

Boy, sure sounds like you hated and complained about the wrong people. Doesn't seem to be the way to change anything.

Oh don't get me wrong, I'm complaining about everyone. I hate 'em all!

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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I left the restaurant business after 7 years because I did not want to grow old in the profession, did not like getting home at 3 am and did not like being only able to to hang with others in the same profession. We, all of us, accepted the shortcomings of the business, which are inherently, many. Sounds like you should have left too.

HC


Edited by HungryChris (log)
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I really love this topic.

while I have no connection to resataurant food preparation I think we can all see how it affects everyone who eats out.

The inside stories are fascinating.

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On 2/12/2017 at 11:23 AM, Chris Ward said:

Cooks are, by and large, not People Persons.

I enjoyed your post. Well done

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I agree that the story is great. Very entertaining. Not sure I'd say the same thing about the attitude that accompanies it, which I'm just finding to be sad. I do wonder if it is typical. Perhaps others can weigh in on that.

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56 minutes ago, cakewalk said:

I agree that the story is great. Very entertaining. Not sure I'd say the same thing about the attitude that accompanies it, which I'm just finding to be sad. I do wonder if it is typical. Perhaps others can weigh in on that.

I think it's a very healthy attitude. You know that you need to and actually want to do a good job by preparing an excellent meal. And you do.

And when the circumstance really annoy you (because of unnecessary extra work) you still do it, but complain to yourself - instead of spitting in someone's food :P

Sure helps your mental health, keeps your blood pressure low(er) and most importantly does not spoil the customers evening. So what's sad about it ?

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15 hours ago, HungryChris said:

I left the restaurant business after 7 years because I did not want to grow old in the profession, did not like getting home at 3 am and did not like being only able to to hang with others in the same profession. We, all of us, accepted the shortcomings of the business, which are inherently, many. Sounds like you should have left too.

HC

 

I did, nearly 7 years ago. But through health reasons, not because of anything else. I loved cooking and still do, didn't mind the hours nor only mixing with other cooks (which wasn't what I did anyway).


Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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1 hour ago, cakewalk said:

I agree that the story is great. Very entertaining. Not sure I'd say the same thing about the attitude that accompanies it, which I'm just finding to be sad. I do wonder if it is typical. Perhaps others can weigh in on that.

Every kitchen I ever worked in was always full of cooks moaning about the customers and yet still sending out beautifully prepared and presented food. What's hard to accept as a cook is that you ruin your health, your relationships and your finances for what turn out to be a bunch of hungry, ungrateful people who can't even tell the time and work out the consequences of their actions. I'm not sure what attitude I should have had in the above story: be delighted that 8 covers turn up at literally the last minute and order as if they owned the place? Sure the owner/maitre d'hotel could have explained the situation to them. But equally how much common sense does it take to go into any business 3 minutes before closing time and exploit the staff's good will for two hours? 

You don't have to answer that, I know the answer; my first wife was a travel agent and regularly had clients walk into the office 1 minute before closing and expect an hour's worth of advice.Same in restaurants. People are Entitled and think that service industry people should be happy to be exploited.

Tip your waitress. Try the veal. I'm here all week until 10 pm, then the kitchen is closed.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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34 minutes ago, Duvel said:

I think it's a very healthy attitude. You know that you need to and actually want to do a good job by preparing an excellent meal. And you do.

And when the circumstance really annoy you (because of unnecessary extra work) you still do it, but complain to yourself - instead of spitting in someone's food :P

Sure helps your mental health, keeps your blood pressure low(er) and most importantly does not spoil the customers evening. So what's sad about it ?

But you seem to be avoiding the issue, or perhaps you don't understand the issue I'm raising. Blowing off steam is necessary at times, we've all been there whether we work in a kitchen or not; it's not limited to restaurant work. What I don't get in that story is the hatred felt toward the customers. I understand (and admire) the professionalism in executing and serving the meal. I fully understand animosity toward the boss, who sounds like a real piece of work, to say the least. But hating the customers? And I know there are plenty of customers who deserve that reaction. But I'm not referring to all the stories that everyone has about people who feel entitled to do whatever they want. I was responding to the above story only. The customers were invited by the owner. They had no idea what did or didn't happen between the owner and his workers. For all they knew, the owner could have told his staff that anyone who stays would get double pay plus a bonus, and they could either stay or leave, it was their choice. The point is, the customers had no part in this. (The owner, on the other hand, should have been shot.)

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3 minutes ago, cakewalk said:

But you seem to be avoiding the issue, or perhaps you don't understand the issue I'm raising. Blowing off steam is necessary at times, we've all been there whether we work in a kitchen or not; it's not limited to restaurant work. What I don't get in that story is the hatred felt toward the customers. I understand (and admire) the professionalism in executing and serving the meal. I fully understand animosity toward the boss, who sounds like a real piece of work, to say the least. But hating the customers? And I know there are plenty of customers who deserve that reaction. But I'm not referring to all the stories that everyone has about people who feel entitled to do whatever they want. I was responding to the above story only. The customers were invited by the owner. They had no idea what did or didn't happen between the owner and his workers. For all they knew, the owner could have told his staff that anyone who stays would get double pay plus a bonus, and they could either stay or leave, it was their choice. The point is, the customers had no part in this. (The owner, on the other hand, should have been shot.)

 

Please think about it: the customer showing up at the restaurant is the reason for him having to put in more hours. Essentially, he (or me for that matter) hates the situation having to cook after hours, with a clean kitchen etc. The "extra work" cited. The customer is just the vehicle to project the frustration ... yes, it could be the owner, it could be the dull knive, it could be you for that matter. It does not really matter what is the root cause. It's a vehicle to deal with the situation. And "hate" needs to be  taken with a grain of salt here. I assume it's not the same feeling that you would harbor towards a root canal treatment, racists or overcooked steaks.

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What customer, I ask you, is going to want to frequent a restaurant where the chef freely admits that he hates  all his patrons?

HC 


Edited by HungryChris (log)
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Restaurant culture cA ... aan be rough at times around here. There was for many years, a restaurant in downtown Cary, Melba's Kitchen, that served lunch and breakfast only and closed promptly at 2 PM/1400 hours. It was the only place that served fried shrimp in driving distance/time for my lunch hour. It was run by Melba herself and a small crew that had been with her for many years. Melba's closed a few years ago, probably because Melba aged out and retired.

 

The food was not fancy fare, but prepared with care, served hot and was always tasty and affordable with an emphasis on Southern American cuisine. The type of place where all the waitresses call everyone "Hon". This bothered me when I first moved back to the South, but it is not at all meant as condescension, but as camaraderie.

 

I found out about the place soon after I moved here when I was bemoaning the fact just before my lunch hour one day that there was no place that had fried shrimp where I could get to and back to work in an hour. This great old gal I used to work with, whose dad was foreman of Kildaire Farm 

 

" Kildaire Farm was started in the 1920s as a 1,000 acre dairy farm. By 1972 when it was sold for development, it had 10,000 laying hens and 550 head of cattle"

 

and she always took great care of me at work, called Melba's Kitchen where she knew everybody, and asked if they still had fried shrimp. They did, and so I went to get some and got there about 1:30 PM/1330 hours and ordered my fried shrimp plate, plus take out orders for the other two women I worked with. My fried to order shrimp came out piping hot with great veggie sides and a warm yeast roll with real butter about 20 minutes later. At 1:57/1357 hours, 7 minutes and only a few bites into my meal, my waitress came back out with the two styrofoam-boxed take out orders and an empty styrofoam box. For about 10 minutes while I waited for my shrimp order and was eating, people were cleaning tables and placing chairs upside down on the tables. I noticed I was the only diner in there. My waitress patted me on the shoulder when she delivered the boxes and said, ""Pack up your dinner and go eat with your friends, dahlin'. We're fixin' ta close." 

 

So though Southerners are known for their hospitality, closin' time is a priority too. I went back many times over the years, but never after 1:00 PM/1300 hours. :wink: Closing times are pretty strict around here in general, and entitled snowflakes can be shocked if they aren't used to it. There are a lot of rants about this aspect on Yelp on local restaurants from folks coming in from out of town, and they almost always get relegated to the "not recommended" reviews.

 

I don't blame them, because I am so aware that is impossible to put forth your best effort exhaustlessly. I don't know how doctors and nurses do it working so many hours, but they are dealing with life and death or severe, long-lasting disability if they don't rise to their challenges. No one dies or get crippled or disabled because you can't get your order filled past closin' time, so get over it spoiled people. :P

 

On 2/12/2017 at 0:23 PM, Chris Ward said:

What you won't get is the mythical spitting-in-your-food treatment; I have never, ever witnessed this in all my years cooking.

 

Lucky France! Unfortunately, we are not quite as civilized on this side of the pond. Here is a Google link where you can see multiple other links to the incident, in case you can't believe it, like I didn't want to. It's one of the most disgusting examples. Eeeew! These happen more often than anyone would like to think about. And every body fluid you can imagine has been in the news here in relation to food tainting. Some jack-assing teenagers have even posted videos on social media of them contaminating restaurant food and been in the news and the wrong side of the law for it. Cops seems to be prominent targets, but that could be because those cases are the most prosecuted. As for me, I wouldn't piss off the kitchen or waitstaff for big money on a bet. 


Edited by Thanks for the Crepes fighting with quote again (log)
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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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1 hour ago, HungryChris said:

What customer, I ask you, is going to want to frequent a restaurant where the chef freely admits that he hates  all his patrons?

HC 

 

How many cooks prepare food for customers who Just Don't Care what goes on in the kitchen? All of them. 


Edited by Chris Ward (log)
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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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23 minutes ago, Chris Ward said:

How many cooks prepare food for customers who Just Don't Care what goes on in the kitchen? All of them. 

 

 

? I don't understand what you mean by this? I don't believe no one who prepares food for customers Just Don't Care what goes on in the kitchen, and somehow, I don't believe you really do either.

 

Duh? Just thought about it, and you must mean the customers don't give a flip about what goes on in the kitchen. Still, it's not ALL customers. The few bad apples should not be allowed to taint the whole barrel, though. Many restaurant customers care and respect the effort to bring off a top notch restaurant experience. I for one, am always amazed and delighted when I can enjoy food as good as I can cook at home or even better, especially since I can't afford a premium price point. It can be magical, even with a simple and perfectly prepared meal, and is one of the highlights of my life! I do care about and respect the staff, and I am certain I'm not on my own here. Don't let the squeaky wheels distract you. They are very good at being bastards, though.

 

I used to dine out for lunch with a coworker who took all the staff's time from the table. The rest of the diners got very minimal service because of this demanding rhymes with witch. All of us, as customers, had a sort of simmering hate for her too.


> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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1 minute ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

 

? I don't understand what you mean by this? I don't believe no one who prepares food for customers Just Don't Care what goes on in the kitchen, and somehow, I don't believe you really do either.

 

Duh? Just thought about it, and you must mean the customers don't give a flip about what goes on in the kitchen. Still, it's not ALL customers. The few bad apples should not be allowed to taint the whole barrel, though. Many restaurant customers care and respect the effort to bring off a top notch restaurant experience. I for one, am always amazed and delighted when I can enjoy food as good as I can cook at home or even better, especially since I can't afford a premium price point. It can be magical, even with a simple and perfectly prepared meal, and is one of the highlights of my life! I do care about and respect the staff, and I am certain I'm not on my own here. Don't let the squeaky wheels distract you. They are very good at being bastards, though.

 

I used to dine out for lunch with a coworker who took all the staff's time from the table. The rest of the diners got very minimal service because of this demanding rhymes with witch. All of us, as customers, had a sort of simmering hate for her too.

My point is that cooks, by and large, prepare equally excellent food for all their customers, whether their customers care about them or not.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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Its a well-known thing for a group of experts to look down/be irritated by the people they deal with.  Ever hear teachers talk about their kids' parents...or nurses talk about doctors...or doctors and nurses talk about patients?  It isn't admirable but its common.

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8 hours ago, Chris Ward said:

My point is that cooks, by and large, prepare equally excellent food for all their customers, whether their customers care about them or not.

And customers, by and large, do an excellent job of eating that food, no matter whether the cooks care about them or not. :P I guess unless we're talking about regular customers, there's not a lot of "caring" on either end of the spectrum. But I do expect the employer/employee relationship to be a bit different. 

 

 

 

 

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