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Chefs Bite Back


vengroff
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i finally realized in the shower this morning what was bugging me the most about this thread: the lack of generosity in the "artiste" attitude. it seems to me that those people are cooking with the primary intent of showing the world how brilliant they are, the hell with their customers' experience. one of the great things about cooking is the ability to make somebody else happy--after all, your patrons have a much more intimate relationship with your product than in any other art form.

and mark, i was with michel during a lot of those meals and i know how much he hated them (every lunch seemed to begin with him pulling the tape and telling me what percentage of his clientele ordered a green salad ... an astonishing number considering the quality of the cuisine). but i also remember vividly a time when an employee came by the table to brag about how he'd dressed down a customer who had had the temerity to ask if they had any white zinfandel on the wine list. michel turned white as a sheet. "but they are customers!" he said.

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i finally realized in the shower this morning what was bugging me the most about this thread: the lack of generosity in the "artiste" attitude. it seems to me that those people are cooking with the primary intent of showing the world how brilliant they are, the hell with their customers' experience. one of the great things about cooking is the ability to make somebody else happy--after all, your patrons have a much more intimate relationship with your product than in any other art form.

and mark, i was with michel during a lot of those meals and i know how much he hated them (every lunch seemed to begin with him pulling the tape and telling me what percentage of his clientele ordered a green salad ... an astonishing number considering the quality of the cuisine). but i also remember vividly a time when an employee came by the table to brag about how he'd dressed down a customer who had had the temerity to ask if they had any white zinfandel on the wine list. michel turned white as a sheet. "but they are customers!" he said.

I don't support dressing down any customer but, I don't think it has anything to do with showing anyone how brillant you are either.

It has to do with designing a menu for people to experience your food the way it was intended, not withstanding food allergies and such.

If chefs wanted to have a place that cooked anything, anytime of day for customers, they would open a diner.

If someone strolls into ,say, WD-40, for a meal, and ends up ordering a piece of salmon and a green salad, should he serve it? I don't think so. Maybe if he wants to charge them a whole ticket for it (if it's prix fixe).

It is a drag sometimes for chefs who see stuff they think is much more interesting and flavourful get ignored for a green salad. It bugs me to see how many creme brulee dishes are in my rack every morning sometimes but I put it there for a reason. It's the 'chicken' of dessertland. And that's cool. I love selling a lot of them because it pays for stuff, like my salary, for one. But I'm not going to make an oreo cheesecake, or a brownie sundae, just because I'll sell a bunch of them. They can go to Chile's for that.

My chef didn't want to sell salmon for awhile. It would bother him that that's all the people would order on the fish side of the menu. He replaced with opa and other stuff. Dead.

So now he has put it back on Fridays and Saturdays as a special, with components that excite him and a 24.95 price tag, which is pure profit.

If people want the 'chicken' of the sea, they'll pay for it.

I like the idea of making people happy with my food because they like 'MY' food,

If they don't like it, I'll have to go back to the drawing board.

2317/5000

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oh, i hope nobody misunderstood: i never meant to imply that stupid requests shouldn't BUG you. all i meant was it's part of doing business. it's why they call it work. and that as workplace violations go, it's pretty minor. you serve it, you charge them, and you hope they come again with a more open mind.

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Russ Parsons wrote:

but i also remember vividly a time when an employee came by the table to brag about how he'd dressed down a customer who had had the temerity to ask if they had any white zinfandel on the wine list. michel turned white as a sheet. "but they are customers!" he said.

Russ, this reminds me what our friend Mark Furstenberg says: The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer.

Mark

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You know, I've worked in several occupations that might fall under the "art" umbrella (including a couple of brief and seriously undistinguished stints in restaurant kitchens), and something all of them have had in common is a certain degree of animosity between the home team (the actors and crew, the kitchen and wait-staff, the editorial department) and the audience (the...audience or the diners or the readers or what have you). In my experience, "we" have tended to regard "them" as semi-literate morons more regularly to be found scarfing Fluffernutters while watching Bennie Hill reruns.

I don't like this attitude, I think it's ungenerous, and I think it produces a less-than-optimum product, whether that product is a meal, a performance, or a magazine issue. But it's prevailed in pretty much all of the places I've worked, and I have often found myself falling in line with it. Have others had the same experience? What do you think this attitude is about?

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i think that's a really interesting point. my guess is that no matter how much we may bleat about writing/cooking/acting/singing for ourselves, all of those activities are really based on pleasing someone else. and when, for whatever reason, we fail to do that for either all of the audience or even the smallest part (sometimes it's that one bad call in the midst of 100 good ones), it really eats us up. blaming the idiots is a lot easier than re-examining what we're doing. of course, sometimes, they really are just idiots.

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You know, I've worked in several occupations that might fall under the "art" umbrella (including a couple of brief and seriously undistinguished stints in restaurant kitchens), and something all of them have had in common is a certain degree of animosity between the home team (the actors and crew, the kitchen and wait-staff, the editorial department) and the audience (the...audience or the diners or the readers or what have you).  In my experience, "we" have tended to regard "them" as semi-literate morons more regularly to be found scarfing Fluffernutters while watching Bennie Hill reruns. 

I don't like this attitude, I think it's ungenerous, and I think it produces a less-than-optimum product, whether that product is a meal, a performance, or a magazine issue.  But it's prevailed in pretty much all of the places I've worked, and I have often found myself falling in line with it.  Have others had the same experience? What do you think this attitude is about?

I 've found this attitude more towards waiters and FOH then towards the customer. I often feel the blame is towards servers if they fail to sell specials,etc.

The only thing I used to HATE about customers at one place I worked at was when they had a great menu of desserts, ice creams and sorbets included, and they would order vanilla ice cream. Pay $4 for a 3 oz. portion of vanilla ice cream when they could get a PINT of Haggen Daz or Ben & Jerrys for 3.59 on the way home.

That drove me nutz!

2317/5000

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The only thing I used to HATE about customers at one place I worked at was when they had a great menu of desserts, ice creams and sorbets included, and they would order vanilla ice cream. Pay $4 for a 3 oz. portion of vanilla ice cream when they could get a PINT of Haggen Daz or Ben & Jerrys for 3.59 on the way home.

That drove me nutz!

I worked in a small place where the owner refused to serve ice cream to people who wanted to eat only ice cream, even though we kept it on hand for use in other dessert presentations.

There were a lot of other things the customers wanted she wouldn't provide, either.

Not only did the place close, but she went through 3 restaurants in 6 years before her husband pulled the plug on her business ventures.

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The only thing I used to HATE about customers at one place I worked at was when they had a great menu of desserts, ice creams and sorbets included, and they would order vanilla ice cream. Pay $4 for a 3 oz. portion of vanilla ice cream when they could get a PINT of Haggen Daz or Ben & Jerrys for 3.59 on the way home.

That drove me nutz!

I worked in a small place where the owner refused to serve ice cream to people who wanted to eat only ice cream, even though we kept it on hand for use in other dessert presentations.

There were a lot of other things the customers wanted she wouldn't provide, either.

Not only did the place close, but she went through 3 restaurants in 6 years before her husband pulled the plug on her business ventures.

I've chilled out/grown up a bit since those days but am looking forward to the same thing happening again soon since I plan to start producing ice creams and sorbets again at one of my places.

I've heard of pretty well known chefs who will serve you an ice cream that's a component of a plate solo if requested but will charge the full dessert price for it.

2317/5000

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or at least it's more respectable to test the outer limits of respectability with the sparkler/pine cone/atomizer of lavender mist/lozenge eating first mentality

LOL

I think that's the first time Spencer's style has brought a smile to my face.

cool beans, dude.

Soba

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The only thing I used to HATE about customers at one place I worked at was when they had a great menu of desserts, ice creams and sorbets included, and they would order vanilla ice cream. Pay $4 for a 3 oz. portion of vanilla ice cream when they could get a PINT of Haggen Daz or Ben & Jerrys for 3.59 on the way home.

That drove me nutz!

I worked in a small place where the owner refused to serve ice cream to people who wanted to eat only ice cream, even though we kept it on hand for use in other dessert presentations.

There were a lot of other things the customers wanted she wouldn't provide, either.

Not only did the place close, but she went through 3 restaurants in 6 years before her husband pulled the plug on her business ventures.

I've chilled out/grown up a bit since those days but am looking forward to the same thing happening again soon since I plan to start producing ice creams and sorbets again at one of my places.

So it's a "You vill eat vat I choose to give you, und you vill LIKE it!" kinda thing?

Sounds just a morsel controlling to me.

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It is a drag sometimes for chefs who see stuff they think is much more interesting and flavourful get ignored for a green salad.

But Tan, isn't that true in, hell, just about every area of life? It's a drag to see people ignore good movies in favor of "Bruce Almighty." It's a drag to see people ignore good books in favor of plunking down their dough on yet another crappy James Patterson thriller. It's a (major) drag to see people ignore intelligent, hard-working politicians in favor of electing subliterate cretins (and I name no names).

When I am Queen, all people who make these tragic choices will get one chance to correct the errors of their ways -- because I am a merciful-type person. :smile: After that, they sleep wit da fishes.

But until such time as I ascend the throne, I will just have to live with people choosing to read crap, watch crap, be governed by morons, and order salad in high-end restaurants. Over some of these issues -- the ones that affect me -- I find it worthwhile to get my knickers in a bunch. But getting peeved because they opt to order salad???

Life's too short. And living with permanently bunched knickers is just too damn uncomfortable.

Edited by mags (log)
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This was the original rant posted on Tom Sietsema's chat:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveo...tsema043003.htm

This thread has gone very far afield. The incident that sparked this response was a complaint to Tom about a dinner at Greenwood. The diner ordered the ice cream sundae and asked for the peanuts to be left off. She told the server that she was allergic to peanuts. She was told that the peanuts could absolutely not be left off , and to order a different dessert. When pressed, the chef stated that the ice cream sundae was a "signature dessert". How silly is that? This is very different from a customer trying to re-write the menu. This is not the sauce from the Ris-de-Veau on the Tuna, with the garnish from the Squab. It was a freakin' ice cream sundae. She should have tried the Five Easy Pieces approach. This is silly.

Mark

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It is a drag sometimes for chefs who see stuff they think is much more interesting and flavourful get ignored for a green salad.

But Tan, isn't that true in, hell, just about every area of life? It's a drag to see people ignore good movies in favor of "Bruce Almighty." It's a drag to see people ignore good books in favor of plunking down their dough on yet another crappy James Patterson thriller. It's a (major) drag to see people ignore intelligent, hard-working politicians in favor of electing subliterate cretins (and I name no names).

When I am Queen, all people who make these tragic choices will get one chance to correct the errors of their ways -- because I am a merciful-type person. :smile: After that, they sleep wit da fishes.

But until such time as I ascend the throne, I will just have to live with people choosing to read crap, watch crap, be governed by morons, and order salad in high-end restaurants. Over some of these issues -- the ones that affect me -- I find it worthwhile to get my knickers in a bunch. But getting peeved because they opt to order salad???

Life's too short. And living with permanently bunched knickers is just too damn uncomfortable.

Hey, I was just referring to the original line , which was about Michel Richard, a GREAT chef, being bummed about how many green salads were being ordered a day in Citronelle, instead of something that :

A- Had something more to it and that he spent time developing and perfecting for a diners enjoyment.

B- He has to give away and that you could have at 'Soup or Sandwich'

And it's funny to me that today, in my restaurant, I was telling a server about this thread, and she told me how bummed she was that 2 ladies who were lunching yesterday completely changed their plates, and ordered green salads for sides.

Is not dining at someplace special (like Citronelle,for instance) or any place that has a bit more to offer to be considered something to experience?

Try something different?

Why is this all about how chefs should just be so lucky to feed people anyway, anyhow,anywhere and take their money? no matter what?

I don't care how many people go see 'Bruce Almighty'.It's their 10 bux .It WOULD be screwed up if they complained to the manager of the movie house that they would like them to make it a bit more like 'Ace Ventura, Pet Detective' and , btw, can you exchange the female lead?

I don't like her. I'd like Courtney Cox.

Books,ditto.

The politics thing is a whole other matter.

Movies, books, they're not personal, you see. If that movie or book tanks, it personal to those involved of course but it's a bit removed. You don't see the people who thought it stunk or didn't bother with it.

And when someone comes into your restaurant, it IS personal and intimate to an extent,don't you think?

Of course, you want to do your absolute best to accomodate them and make them happy and have them enjoy your food and most importantly, not only have them come back but tell other people about your place and get them to

come too.

But, you should be able to reserve the right to get a bit bummed about how many plain old salads got ordered that day instead of 8 other things that the customer couldn't have any day of the week.

2317/5000

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The incident that sparked this response was a complaint to Tom about a dinner at Greenwood. The diner ordered the ice cream sundae and asked for the peanuts to be left off.... This is silly. 

I always thought the whole Greenwood thing was just the straw that broke the camel's back. In isolation, of course it's a joke. But many of Clark's other complaints are less silly than the sundae one, don't you think?

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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This thread has gone very far afield. The incident that sparked this response was a complaint to Tom about a dinner at Greenwood.

I'm with you 100% on the specifics of that incident. But that's an easy one. I'm more interested in the situation where someone asks Ferran Adria to leave something out of a dish -- perhaps something that is bonded to the dish at an atomic level.

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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The incident that sparked this response was a complaint to Tom about a dinner at Greenwood. The diner ordered the ice cream sundae and asked for the peanuts to be left off.... This is silly. 

Vengroff rightfully asked me:

I always thought the whole Greenwood thing was just the straw that broke the camel's back.  In isolation, of course it's a joke.  But many of Clark's other complaints are less silly than the sundae one, don't you think?

Yes, when she got into the part about "you wouldn't ask Beethoven to re-arrange his notes, or Leonard Bernstein to conduct slower" (paraphrasing here), yes , it was more than silly. She cook hamburgers, for Christ's sake. This is not high art. But Gillian Clark and Michelangelo? Naw..........

Mark

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On a less than El Bulli level, I've heard of requests to leave out an ingredient that was braised with the meat for hours and an integral part of the dish. The flavor was in the sauce and straining the sauce would have strained out everything. "I'll have the minestrone, but without the celery."

Unfortunately, threads get away from the original context and we all participate from various perspectives. Start with the word "restaurant" and you'll find that each and every user here, has a different place in mind. It didn't occur to me that there's anything wrong with ordering just ice cream for dessert, but then I never order ice cream unless I have reason to believe it's made in house. On the other hand, if the restaurant is outsourcing it's pies, the ice cream may be a better bet.

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 dare anyone to go into El Bulli and ask:

- "Do you have a kids' menu?"

- "Can I just get a burger?"

- "Is there any way I can get the waiter not to burn rosemary in my face?"

- "Foam on the side."

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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Hey, I was just referring to the original line , which was about Michel Richard, a GREAT chef, being bummed about how many green salads were being ordered a day in Citronelle, instead of something that :

A- Had something more to it and that he spent time developing and perfecting for a diners enjoyment.

B- He has to give away and that you could have at 'Soup or Sandwich'

And it's funny to me that today, in my restaurant, I was telling a server about this thread, and she told me how bummed she was that 2 ladies who were lunching yesterday completely changed their plates, and ordered green salads for sides.

Is not dining at someplace special (like Citronelle,for instance) or any place that has a bit more to offer to be considered something to experience?

Try something different?

Why is this all about how chefs should just be so lucky to feed people anyway, anyhow,anywhere and take their money? no matter what?

I don't care how many people go see 'Bruce Almighty'.It's their 10 bux .It WOULD be screwed up if they complained to the manager of the movie house that they would like them to make it a bit more like 'Ace Ventura, Pet Detective' and , btw, can you exchange the female lead?

I don't like her. I'd like Courtney Cox.

Books,ditto.

The politics thing is a whole other matter.

Movies, books, they're not personal, you see. If that movie or book tanks, it personal to those involved of course but it's a bit removed. You don't see the people who thought it stunk or didn't bother with it.

And when someone comes into your restaurant, it IS personal and intimate to an extent,don't you think?

Of course, you want to do your absolute best to accomodate them and make them happy and have them enjoy your food and most importantly, not only have them come back but tell other people about your place and get them to

come too.

But, you should be able to reserve the right to get a bit bummed about how many plain old salads got ordered that day instead of 8 other things that the customer couldn't have any day of the week.

No, I don't at all feel that chefs should feel "so lucky to feed people, anyhow, anyway, anywhere." But isn't there a rather large gray area between that scenario -- in which the chef is but a craven lackey to the imperious diner -- and the scenario you SEEM to be proposing (and forgive me if I've misunderstood you) whereby the diner is, effectively, entirely in the control of the chef, who determines exactly what the diner will eat and exactly how it will be prepared?

I can't help thinking that these two opposing scenarios are really about a battle for control: Who controls the diner's meal?

With reference to your disappointment at people's ordering salad (used here as shorthand for whatever -- creme brulee? ice cream? -- you might regard as a nearly offensively simplistic item)....I apologize for my habit of creating analogies, but the first thing that came to mind is some fabulously interesting, complex woman, with a great deal to offer...but all the boys are interested in is her large gazongas. And with that analogy in mind, yeah, I can better understand your crabbiness. :smile:

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This thread has gone very far afield. The incident that sparked this response was a complaint to Tom about a dinner at Greenwood. The diner ordered the ice cream sundae and asked for the peanuts to be left off. She told the server that she was allergic to peanuts. She was told that the peanuts could absolutely not be left off , and to order a different dessert. When pressed, the chef stated that the ice cream sundae was a "signature dessert".  How silly is that?  This is very different from a customer trying to re-write the menu.  This is not the sauce from the Ris-de-Veau on the Tuna, with the garnish from the Squab. It was a freakin' ice cream sundae.  She should have tried the Five Easy Pieces approach.  This is silly.

Yep, sounds silly to me!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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