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Chefs Bite Back


vengroff
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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,

The quote was actually about Michel being bummed out about how many salads were being ordered at Citrus. Citrus was in HOLLYWOOD. 2 blocks from Paramount. Actors and actresses, you know the drill: Evian, salad, broiled plain fish.

Mark

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i see nothing contradictory about taking pride in your craft and working to please your customers. and while thomas is in a wonderful position now, after 30 years in the business, you can bet he served a lot of sauces on the side to get there. the kind of trust that exists between customer and chef at the french laundry that allows him to take the chances he does is a goal, not a given.

I'm glad you said that. The trust issue is one I had been thinking about, but wasn't sure how to get at it.

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tanks. i'm a little amazed that this thread, the point of which is really academic, has lived so long (of course, i have contributed to that in no small way). As a chef, you have a perfect right to refuse to alter your cuisine in any way. And as a customer, you have a perfect right to ask for any adjustments you like. And then to refuse to patronize anyplace that doesn't accomodate you.

i guess the part that hit the hot button with me is the strain i detected of "how dare someone ask such a great artist--nearly a god!--to in any way do something he doesn't want to do?" when in the real world, all of us are asked to do this all the time. it's called being a grownup.

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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?"

But I have heard "I'd like the tasting menu [which is primarily seafood] but I can't eat fish or sea food" at El Bulli. It was asked in advance and accommodated. It's all about what's appropriate, yet the debate here is often on absolute terms. Of course one has the right to make any request one pleases and the right to refuse all requests and we have the right to mock the requests as well as the refusals -- or at least some of them.

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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It's all about what's appropriate

If everybody behaved appropriately, we'd have no problems. The issue is how should those who wish to behave appropriately deal with those who don't know how or want to behave appropriately?

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:

LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Man, I have to clear up a few things here...

First off, to Mark, I apologize for getting the restaurant wrong.I know Citrus and I still remember a lunch I had there in 1991 as a very special treat and a chance to eat food that was prepared by someone I still think most highly of.

Sorry about that.

To Russ, it IS called being a grownup but a lot of chefs certainly still exhibit childlike tendencies, wouldn't you agree? It's just a fucked up by-product of the business, I think. Some suffer worse then others.

And it's not about thinking you're a god or godlike. It's more like that movie 'Groundhog Day' . The same scenario being endlessly repeated with things you wish you could change sometimes but it won't.

And Mags, I didn't mean to infer that YOU thought that chefs should feel so lucky to,etc.,etc,...

It's just become so clear that people are either on the 'I see where that chef was coming from, even if the art references were pushing it a bit' (the sundae thing was ridiculous but, the straw that broke the camels back?), and or people are on the other side ,which seems to be saying,'yes, you have every right to not accomodate the customer and be a jackass, kiss your biz goodbye'.

The diner is NOT in control of the chef... yet.

But, in this, I hate to say it, post 9/11 world we live in, and weird economic times, when you can hardly predict what your daily numbers are going to be, because they're ALL over the place, not just at your place,but at every restaurant in town (except for the chains, probably) and you might as well read the tea leaves, 'cause no one can come up with a solid reason for business to be so flaky everywhere, THERE is a nagging tendency to forget your mission statement and just do anything you can not to offend ANYBODY, to run down the street and get a pizza for a customer, if that's what they want, and that's scary!

I'm sorry if I came off crabby, kind of. Your 'gazongas' analogy is kind of accurate but, most of the stuff I've mentioned are more observations then anything else. I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing and what people are eating from my menu.I'm a pastry chef and I have a good selection of stuff and even though this morning in both of my places I could see that I sold more classic creme brulees then the other items I have to offer, it's not really that big a deal.

I just wish that sometimes people weren't so 'vanilla'.

.

2317/5000

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At the risk of sounding like a total snob here, I will say this. Carole Greenwood's place and Gillian Clark's place are not high end places. They may be expensive, but they are not lux restaurants. It is easier in their places to make adjustments. Especially when it is something as stupid as leaving the peanut sprinkle off the top of an ice cream sundae. I worked for many years at Jean-Louis at the Watergate. I remember distinctly a table of 8. The guy told me that 2 of his guests were kosher. He asked what they could eat. I told him: "nothing". Everything in that restaurant had cooked pig, been touched by pig, forks, knives, plates, pots, pans. Please, there is a limit to what people can ask for, even in a high end restau. We could do "pretend kosher", but, what is that? Steamed fish? Greenwood was clearly off base with the sundae thing. Gillian was clearly off base comparing herself to Beethoven.

Mark

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It's all about what's appropriate

If everybody behaved appropriately, we'd have no problems. The issue is how should those who wish to behave appropriately deal with those who don't know how or want to behave appropriately?

Indeed and the adamant reactions here on either side generally reflect our minds' images of a restaurant we know little about. Those defending the chef may be thinking French Laundry while those deriding the chefs may be thinking Applebee's. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many readers here have never been to one or the other and have only a very vague notion of what they should expect.

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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At the risk of sounding like a total snob here, I will say this. Carole Greenwood's place and Gillian Clark's place are not high end places. They may be expensive, but they are not lux restaurants. It is easier in their places to make adjustments. Especially when it is something as stupid as leaving the peanut sprinkle off the top of an ice cream sundae. I worked for many years at Jean-Louis at the Watergate. I remember distinctly a table of 8. The guy told me that 2 of his guests were kosher.  He asked what they could eat.  I told him: "nothing".  Everything in that restaurant had cooked pig, been touched by pig, forks, knives, plates, pots, pans.  Please,  there is a limit to what people can ask for, even in a high end restau. We could do "pretend kosher", but, what is that?  Steamed fish? Greenwood was clearly off base with the sundae thing. Gillian was clearly off base comparing herself to Beethoven.

I've been watching this thread with interest and awe. There are some valid points on both sides. As for Carole's "signature" dish...has anyone eaten it? Do we know for a fact that the peanuts are only sprinkled on the top? I don't know that some of the prep of the dish doesn't include peanuts that can't be removed. As for 8 top at the Watergate, that request is difficult, if not impossible, no matter how "high end" you consider yourself. I've read Ms. Clarks "rant" and although the Beethoven analogy may not have been the most suitable, I seriously doubt Chef Clark compares herself to Beethoven.

Like Malawry, I've eaten at Chef Clark's restaurant. I had my salmon as the chef intended it, but my dining companion was allowed to make a substitution with no fuss or discussion.

As a side note....my salmon was perfect. Something I haven't always had at "high end" restaurants. But that's another thread now, isn't it?

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It amazes me to no end when I go out with some of my friends and they make certain requests of their servers, knowing full well in advance what their allergies or dislikes are and yet still insist on having it THEIR way as if they can dictate to a chef or a restaurant how something should be prepared.

Frequently I am tempted to retort that they'd be better off cooking themselves, but I usually bite back my tongue.

For example -- one friend has a strong dislike of cilantro and jalapeno...yet digs Mexican food.

Soba

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I dare anyone to go into El Bulli and ask:

- "Do you have a kids' menu?"

But wouldn't it be awesome if they did?

:hmmm:

Noise is music. All else is food.

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It amazes me to no end when I go out with some of my friends and they make certain requests of their servers, knowing full well in advance what their allergies or dislikes are and yet still insist on having it THEIR way as if they can dictate to a chef or a restaurant how something should be prepared.

Frequently I am tempted to retort that they'd be better off cooking themselves, but I usually bite back my tongue.

For example -- one friend has a strong dislike of cilantro and jalapeno...yet digs Mexican food.

Soba

That's one of the things I'm talking about... :blink:

2317/5000

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I dare anyone to go into El Bulli and ask:

- "Do you have a kids' menu?"

But wouldn't it be awesome if they did?

:hmmm:

It IS a kid's menu. It's all about playing with your food.

Well, actually, someone else playing with your food.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Hmmm...

I'm relatively new to egullet (signed up a month or two ago) and love the lively debates. I see both sides, since (among other things) I serve as a buffer between bakers and customers. They both seem to think it's OK to have a tantrum if they don't get their way. I dunno...Miss Manners would probably say a gracious customer doesn't make unreasonable demands, and a gracious host does everything possible to accomodate his guests' wishes. I do think, however, that there's a differentiation between refusing to try something new before changing it (would the "don't salt food before you taste it" rule apply?) and having absolute rules about what you eat (allergies, kosher, vegetarian, whatever). However, as anyone in the service indutries knows, the customer is always right, and also usually dumber than a mud fence. I really only stay in this job because the bakery front has a case with a curved glass front, and I never get tired of watching people smack their heads on it! I know, I know, but if you could see it, you'd laugh too!

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Blond007, welcome and please keep posting.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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The one request that gets me happened when I was at The Grill Room, a customer wanted us to make her a White Chocolate bread pudding just like she could get at The Palace Cafe. We did not do it. We suggested that she try something from our dessert menu that she could not find at any of the Brennan restaurants. It worked.

Food is art, it is the total balance of flavor, texture and visual impact. If a customer has allergies, then you try to work around their restrictions, Otherwise, suggest something else that fits into their diet. Food is a very flexible art. If every dish is unchangable, then a fluidity has been lost and creativity suffers. Sometimes, these changes can lead to a dish that was never thought of before. Creativity comes from many different sources.

As to someone ordering a meat cooked well done. My father ate his meats well done. It became my goal to make that well done steak or whatever the best one the customer had ever eaten. It was how they liked their food prepared. Personally, I have been known to order the dish cooked the way the chef likes to serve it, especially lamb and fish. Sort of a compliment to the kitchen, also insures that I get the dish as the chef intended. That way I can experience where they were going with the dish. I doubt that someone from outside the world of food would understand this concept.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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:rolleyes: As a former restaurant owner/head cook, I can tell you that we tried to customize customers' requests all of the time. I don't think any kitchen would deny this on terms of ego alone. Sometimes, however, the sauce has been already made, the die is already cast so to speak. When you are cooking "a la minute" - to order - you can adjust the recipe to the customer's wishes, providing the ingredients are on board and/or prepared to be accessable to the dish. It's not always possible to accommodate special requests, but most restaurants will try their best. Service personnel have the responsibility to convey the message from the kitchen accordingly. The restaurant manager/owner has the responsibilty to make sure that the customer is treated with the utmost respect, even if the customers' requests are outlandish. Reviews should be a weathervane, from the customers' point-of-view. Restaurants should listen accordingly.
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As to someone ordering a meat cooked well done.  My father ate his meats well done.  It became my goal to make that well done steak or whatever the best one the customer had ever eaten.  It was how they liked their food prepared. Personally, I have been known to order the dish cooked the way the chef likes to serve it, especially lamb and fish.  Sort of a compliment to the kitchen,  also insures that I get the dish as the chef intended.  That way I can experience where they were going  with the dish.  I doubt that someone from outside the world of food would understand this concept.

If you want to eat well done beef, you should cook a pot roast. Grilling a prime steak to death is silly. I wish more restaurants served pot roast!!

Mark

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I have spent the last hour reading all the links, philosophies and inputs to my great pleasure. It is truly satisfying to see so much passion in this industry outside of the plate by chefs, owners and consumers.

I think it is important to remember that their are two types of restaurants (this is not black and white but scaled) where people dine. On one side there are restaurants that nurture and feed people. On the other side of the scale there are restaurants that purely entertain. Foie Gras tastes great with Sauterne, it is not necessarily nurturing to your internal systems and health.

When I dine at my local diner I am very specific on how I want my food, toast dark, no butter, etc. But when I go out with my wife to be entertained I leave the experience up to the (hopefully) talented hands of the chef. At my restaurant we feed/entertain 400 - 600 customers a night and I need to juggle the nurture/entertainment factor. I am dead smack in the middle. Travelers/tourist eat at my restaurant and locals/vacationers come in to be entertained. I judge my flexibility on functionality. I will always fill every request but a time line is set out, in advance, with the customer. I had a customer who wanted a live King Crab presented to his table. I told him I could have it ready in 2 hours. He agreed, we purchased and prepare, and everyone was happy.

Making something different then is on the menu is difficult for most fine dining restaurants and chefs need to be fair to their customers. Allergies are a fact of life. Dislikes are a fact of life. Be truthful and sincerely explain limitations rather then present a guest with a flat out negative.

As for food critics and chefs it will always be a love-hate relationship. We all want good reviews and we are all scared of the bad ones. But the reality is if you have a problem on a table (which does happen even in the best restaurants) most reputable critics will compliment on a successful recovery.

Ultimately it is not what the critics write in the papers.... it is the line up at your door and number of covers you do in a night that keeps the clientele coming back to your restaurant. Take care of the customers (including the critics) and you don't have to worry about the critics. Food writers like restaurants that are full!

Chef Fowke.

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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