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Chef's Table.


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Sound man? Food stylist? All that money? Surely you jest.

If there's a common theme in my travels--where most people (Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Mexico, Brazil etc etc etc) neither know nor care WHO the fuck I am. (Goofy-looking American with two scruffy backpackers with what look like home video cameras who seems curiously interested in what they're eating) I have been almost always treated with generosity and kindness. Show up hungry with an open mind and you will be treated well nearly everywhere on this planet. Cameras or no cameras. The tradition of offering food to the wandering stranger persists-even in countries you'd think would be hostile to Westerners. One of the biggest problems I've encountered on the road is getting very poor people who've taken me into their homes to accept payment . Which brings me back to my Chefs Table psoition. Is it SO unbelievable tha the urge to cook is a basic one? That people who cook well--and KNOW it--whether proprietor of a pho stand, rice farmer surprised mid-meal by a goofily grinning and hungry interloper--or three star chef are actually PROUD of what they do--and might want to share that with someone/ANYONE who clearly appreciates their efforts?

Some of you folks clearly don't get out enough. At risk of sounding like Senor Hugs-A-Lot, there's a lot of pretty nice people out there in the world . Some of them are even chefs.

abourdain

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I'm a "foodie" in the food sense... I live for the markets and my time at the burner. I couldn't imagine being a professional chef simply for the rote of doing the same thing every day. When your passion becomes your profession, the passion fades. Or something like that.

I've never understood the cult of personality around chefs. I've had meals in private homes that rival anything I've eaten out (and I've eaten out plenty, living for years on expense account). I'd be hard pressed to name most of the chefs who have fed me.

That said, one of the more amazing experiences in my dining life was at a chef's table.

I met up with a friend of mine in the bar at the Ritz Carlton in Boston (is any martini really worth $12??) on an icy and miserable wednesday night some years ago. We migrated to the restaurant for an early seating and were the only people in the dining room. My friend asked to speak to the chef, with whom we talked about what was on the tasting menu, what was fresh, etc. Then the chef invited us to sit at the table in the kitchen.

There (and this was before the remodel, so I don't know where it is now), the table is in the wooded wine cellar just off the kitchen. Very intimate, but open to the kitchen through the door. The tasting menu, with matched wines, was phenominal.

I would never have paid to sit in the kitchen, didn't desire it at all going in, and would never pay extra to do it again. But this chef (I don't even remember his name) offered it up because we showed interest and appreciation in what he was doing and, probably too, it was obvious that we weren't typical "foodies" (they had to give me a jacket to wear at the door - guess they didn't like the old leather one I was wearing). It was something cool that added to what we were doing, but the food... bubba, the food was the star. As it should be.

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Simon seems to feel that gouging, deceiving, bamboozling and anus-stretching are vital, even primary functions of the majority of talented chefs.

Tony, when I worked in a bookshop, a guy came in and asked for Dante in french. when I gave him the volumes he said " that's great, one of the reaosns I took french classes was to read this in the original"

I bet any money that was at Foyle's :biggrin:

Adam

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What is a mug punter?

On the Chef's table note, I have yet to see one that charges more just for sitting at this table. Generally the cost of having a meal at the table is higher, but the meal given might have more courses or the like.

Personally, I enjoy any view of the kitchen I can get. I enjoy watching cooking as much as I like eating. Watching good cooks is a valuable experience for me and my own cooking.

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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From the first first few posts in this thread , I got the immediate feeling I was in a group that secretly hated fine cooking and those who took it seriously as well as those who prepared it.

oh I see, now we're equating not wanting to sit in a kitchen with a hidden hatred for fine dining. makes perfect sense. :wacko:

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What is a mug punter?

At real football (i.e. where the ball is generally carried or passed :biggrin: ) games he's the guy who kicks souvenir coffee cups into the stands at halftime.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I'd be interested in hearing from any civilians here of any random acts of kindness on the part of chefs.

Or are we all complete bastards?

My brother and I had a nice conversation with Andre Soltner when he was still chef at Lutece one slow weekday afternoon, Likewise Lydia Bastianich on New Years eve 1999/2000. Got a couple free courses from the kitchen at Bouley after ordering his favorite wine. Have had the company of David Burke at a couple different meals. Had Dennis Foy arrange a personalized tasting menu for a meal a while back at his place in Chatham.

We have also gotten kitchen and wine cellar tours from many other chefs/owners/managers after showing a genuine interest in the food and cooking. We have found that the best time to enjoy many of the top shelf places is at a late weekday lunch. There is less pressure to turn the table, people are more relaxed on both the front and back of the house, and the kitchen seems more apt to experiment with new ideas for dishes.

Restaurant staff often seem to want to have as enjoyable time as the patrons when given a chance, Some folks cop an attitude when they expect to drop big $$$ and it often gets reflected back on them. Most proffesional servers will not let this affect them.

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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I now declare it open season

S

would you 2 put the odd smiley in, as some may feel you genuinely have a problem with each other :biggrin:

unless you have had a spat , then carry on, don't mind me

can I just make it clear that Andy is a lovely man, by far the best moderator on the site and one of the few sane people here. I don't agree with his ever so slightly crawly bum lick apporach to the men/women in checky pants, but I will defend to my last breath his right to be an asshole.

It is just Bourdain I have a real problem with :biggrin: ( OK b'dog )

S

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From the first first few posts in this thread , I got the immediate feeling I was in a group that secretly hated fine cooking and those who took it seriously as well as those who prepared it.

oh I see, now we're equating not wanting to sit in a kitchen with a hidden hatred for fine dining. makes perfect sense. :wacko:

I'm often critical of those who waste bandwidth by quoting whole posts, but in this case you manage to reduce a rather long post to a single line out of context. First you've substituted "dining" where I used "cooking," then you seem to have negelected to notice that the first two posts were not about the authors of those posts not wanting to sit in a kitchen, but questioning and even derisive of why other diners might choose to do so.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I'll always remember eating at Lutece as a culinary student. I knew NOTHING. A nervous, horribly dressed, long-haired yokel. Utterly intimidated but grinning idiotically, I mentioned casually to the waiter that I was studying to be a chef and a short while later, Soltner appeared tableside and spent a long while talking to me, explaining the menu, asking about my career plans. He sent me and date out an extra course and returned as I left to offer best wishes. I was so green I didn't know what to order for wine--the sommelier stepped in and suggested something--without embarrassing me by asking how much I could spend (clearly very little).I didn't know how to tip. Seperate tips for captain and waiter? I asked. They were warm and indulgent. I'll never forget their kindness. Soltner, by the way, ate the same thing for his lunch every single day of his career at Lutece: A plate of buttered noodles--sometimes with a few scraps of foie tossed in. I should have added him to my earlier list of very nice, unpretentious chefs. I should mention as well that long before Confidential hit the bestseller lists, when how the old school generation of French chefs like Pepin and Soltner would react was very much in question (God knows they had every right and likelyhood of scorning and denying any relevance to what they did) they were all of them--kind and supportive. Pepin in particular backed me up publicly on many of my supposedly "scandalous" assertions early on --and at a time when the issue was very much in doubt. They could easily have closed ranks and said "This American who nobody has heard of is full of shit." All this was long before the days of "special treament.

Edited by bourdain (log)

abourdain

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I'll always remember eating at Lutece as a culinary student. I knew NOTHING. A nervous, horribly dressed, long-haired yokel. Utterly intimidated but grinning idiotically, I mentioned casually to the waiter that I was studying to be a chef and a short while later, Soltner appeared tableside and spent a long while talking to me, explaining the menu, asking about my career plans. He sent me and date out an extra course and returned as I left to offer best wishes. I was so green I didn't know what to order for wine--the sommelier stepped in and suggested something--without embarrassing me by asking how much I could spend (clearly very little).I didn't know how to tip. Seperate tips for captain and waiter? I asked. They were warm and indulgent. I'll never forget their kindness. Soltner, by the way, ate the same thing for his lunch every single day of his career at Lutece: A plate of buttered noodles--sometimes with a few scraps of foie tossed in.  I should have added him to my earlier list of very nice, unpretentious chefs. I should mention as well that long before Confidential hit the bestseller lists, when how the old school generation of French chefs like Pepin and Soltner would react was very much in question (God knows they had every right and likelyhood of scorning and denying any relevance to what they did) they were all of them--kind and supportive. Pepin in particular backed me up publicly on many of my supposedly "scandalous" assertions early on --and at a time when the issue was very much in doubt. They could easily have closed ranks and said "This American who nobody has heard of is full of shit." All this was long before the days of "special treament.

Andre Soltner, Jean-Jacques Rachou, Jacques Pepin...The old school rules...

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i remember a few years back, i was at Citrus in LA (i *think* it was Citrus). the room and kitchen were separated by a huge glass wall. we asked to be seated next to the glass so we could watch the kitchen. the chef noticed our interest, and btwn courses, came out to introduce himself. we got to chatting about food and restaurants, and he seemed very pleased with our enthusiasm. he brought out an extra course, and when the meal was done, invited us in for a tour of the kitchen. we stood in the kitchen for about 30 minutes talking about everything from food to travel to house shopping. it was quite nice, although no one fucked him. :biggrin: i forget his name, unfortunately.

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You touched on something important Tommy--a good chef can make anyone, sitting at any table in the restaurant, feel like they are sitting at a "chef's table" with a few well-chosen words or actions. It isn't necessarily about where the chef's table is located.

It's about graciousness and hospitality. Sometimes there is a premium attached, sometimes not. And it's up to indivdual diners to decide for themselves if that premium is worth it.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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:biggrin:

Back in late January of this year, a group of Chicago eGulletarians went to the then-newly-opened Opera, down on Wabash at the far southern end of the Loop. By the grace of Ed Schoenfeld (cued, I think I recall, by our own Suvir Saran), we were given the tour, treated like visiting royalty by Jerry Kleiner and cooked for -- wondrously! -- by Chef Paul Wildermuth. We talked, at delighted length, to everybody who came near us. We asked approximately 7,623 questions. We took pictures of everything we ate. We closed the place just before midnight...but nobody got impatient, nobody asked us to pipe down, and nobody threw us out because they wanted to clear up and go home.

Phenomenal patience and courtesy and professionalism? Absolutely. But I think they also shared the obvious pleasure we took in the food, the time, and the place, in a way that most double-shifting, stress-hardened cadres of stove warriors aren't always able to do.

:biggrin:

Me, I vote for the joyride every time.

-- 2/19/2004

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IS the Chefs Table "concept" quickly becoming a popular marketing scam? Sure. No doubt.

Worse: it's working. Publicists are now routinely telling their clients to add kitchen tables into their restaurant plans, and it's fast becoming standard operating procedure at even the mediocre-restaurant level. One restaurant-consultant friend (I should say my only restaurant-consultant friend) told me recently that "chef's table" is now a bullet-point she sees on pretty much all upscale restaurant business plans, because the concept has been shown to generate good profits. They're probably teaching it in the hotel schools and at the CIA. For crying out loud they have one of these things at Smith & Wollensky.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this concept, but like plenty of good ideas it only works when done well by people who give a damn -- and in the case of an interactive medium you need an enthusiastic kitchen staff and a non-idiotic table of customers to achieve the right chemistry. During my brief media-tourist-incarceration in Ducasse's kitchen, I saw a couple of instances during the week when drunken morons -- usually investment bankers -- would stumble out of the "fishbowl" (what they call their kitchen table) and start yakking it up with the poor line cooks, waving their Burgundy glasses within inches of the flattop and saying stuff like, "Is that caviar?" But yes, it can be great: One night, a guy -- a serious gourmet from Houston -- was in the city alone for his birthday and rented the entire fishbowl for himself. Nobody pegged him for a cool guy at first: he swaggered in looking like a total clueless tourist, drawling about how "y'all gonna make me a nice dinner, y'hear?" But eventually it became clear that he was not only fluent in French but also knew just about everything there was to know about old Burgundies. By dessert, half the brigade was in there with him drinking La Tache and telling dirty jokes in French. Even Ducasse.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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he brought out an extra course, and when the meal was done, invited us in for a tour of the kitchen.  we stood in the kitchen for about 30 minutes talking about everything from food to travel to house shopping.  it was quite nice, although no one fucked him.  :biggrin:

Tommy, when are you going to learn the rules? :biggrin:

One of the points I've tried to bring into play here is that if one can honestly say--and I have no doubt we all speak honestly even when using hyperbole--that one has only had one restaurant experience that resulted in a decent meal that wasn't over priced, it may seem as if anyone who compliments the chef is going to look as if he's sucking up and looking for a freebee. I can assure you that such is not always the case. I have met those people who see kissing up to the chef as a reward for special favors and what they have to say about food is less interesting for that kind of relationship.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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One night, a guy -- a serious gourmet from Houston -- was in the city alone for his birthday and rented the entire fishbowl for himself.

Couldn't we have a bulletin board where I could leave my phone number for guys like that. :laugh:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I don't agree with his ever so slightly crawly bum lick apporach to the men/women  in checky pants, but I will defend to my last breath his right to be an asshole.

I'm sniffing back the tears as I type.

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From the first first few posts in this thread , I got the immediate feeling I was in a group that secretly hated fine cooking and those who took it seriously as well as those who prepared it.

oh I see, now we're equating not wanting to sit in a kitchen with a hidden hatred for fine dining. makes perfect sense. :wacko:

I'm often critical of those who waste bandwidth by quoting whole posts, but in this case you manage to reduce a rather long post to a single line out of context. First you've substituted "dining" where I used "cooking," then you seem to have negelected to notice that the first two posts were not about the authors of those posts not wanting to sit in a kitchen, but questioning and even derisive of why other diners might choose to do so.

How do you highlight passages...I've tried holding the shift key down but it ain't happening....

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