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Chefs in the FOH


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I was out at a thoroughly mediocre drinks-n-apps place last week, and over comes the chef, toodling around miserably like she's Ricardo Montalban with a hangover welcoming us to Fantasy Island.

"How is everything?" she asked through her grimace.

"Great!" I lied, with half of my Sysco fries shivering on the plate next to a banal half-burger.

She lied right back, "Glad you're here!"

The whole dance made me feel crappy, and I can't imagine she enjoyed it either. Yet off she trudged, face stuck on "happy-making," to another table.

Why do chefs have to parade in the FOH at any joint charging more than $10pp? Don't we all -- customers, chefs, waitstaff, you name it -- want to give this empty, pathetic ballet a rest already?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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It's good business when the food is good and the chef is genuine. I agree though that if the food is less than excellent the whole experience can be uncomfortable at best. Sometimes I have difficulty refraining from honest feedback. :shock::unsure: It is meant to be constructive, though I'm not sure that it has always been taken so. :wacko:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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That is an interesting point, while I share in your disgust for these types of happenings in crappy joints where you would be surprised to even see a chef.

I must also point out that I dont really go out to the Dining roon unless a customer insists or Its some people I know.

I agree it is a little tacky thats why I try not to do it. But I know that there are some people who really enjoy seeing the chef visit their table.

I know chefs like Alain Duccase never leave the kitchen, and Thomas Keller lets the guests visit him in the kitchen! All in all I guess it all depends on the restaurant, like Doc said....it could be a really uncomfortable experience if the food was lousy and the chef comes out all dirty looking with a clumsy look on his/her face saying, 'hey guys thanks for coming in".........<yuck>

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The icing on the cake on what had already been a great meal at Susur in Toronto was when Susur came out of the kitchen to say hello to someone he knew, he and I caught eyes and he came over to our table. Our then 13 year old son was with us, enjoying every bit of his meal. He enjoyed it all the more after Susur gave him suggestions on how to approach the particular dish he was eating and invited us into the kitchen.

I appreciate the opportunity to thank the chef and by extension his staff for an excellent meal.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Of course then you have the bored chefs sitting at the restaurant bar, schmoozing with anyone who comes in the door, ordering free drinks for themselves, and "buying" rounds for friends.

Always a sign of trouble.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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The icing on the cake on what had already been a great meal at Susur in Toronto was when Susur came out of the kitchen to say hello to someone he knew, he and I caught eyes and he came over to our table. Our then 13 year old son was with us, enjoying every bit of his meal. He enjoyed it all the more after Susur gave him suggestions on how to approach the particular dish he was eating and invited us into the kitchen.

I appreciate the opportunity to thank the chef and by extension his staff for an excellent meal.

OT: Got a chance to meet and work with Susur Lee in Boston this past weekend. He couldn't have been nicer or cooler...real stand up guy. Glad to hear that the positivity extends when he's back at his place as well.

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I've always been a strong supporter of chef's going out into the FOH to greet customers.

However, it's only good business when the food is good, the restaurant is decent, and the chef isn't drunk or hungover!

Eric

RestaurantEdge.com

I agree, when food is mediocre... I just nod and throw out a curt, "fine". If it's really bad...I will elaborate (since you asked, I'll tell you kind of thing) except... if the chef is drunk or hungover. That's a hard one for me, I usually just grunt and don't make eye contact.

When it's really good I also elaborate, with specific praise and gratitude.

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I'm not seeing an outpouring of support for this practice here, which suggests to me that, at least around here, it's not an unqualified smash as PR.

Seriously, what's the point of it? To increase the name recognition of the chef? To increase "hospitality"? Aren't waitstaff supposed to do that?

The only good conversation I've ever had with a chef was with George Germon at Al Forno. Late one night at the end of a shift, he visited my table and eventually sat down for a few minutes while we talked about a restaurant that he had closed (Lucky's) and the cassoulet that had been on the menu. A few weeks later, it was back on the menu.

Other than that, it's just a wincefest every time.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The only thing I can figure is that with the FoodTV culture of the last ten years, the Chef is increasingly a public figure. I've always regarded my kitchen as a sovereign territory and it IS defended from interlopers. I also stay out of the FOH as much as possible unless I'm specifically requested. There's a great "Sopranos" episode where Tony advises Artie Bucco to spend more time in the kitchen and less time annoying customers.

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I usually tell the truth. I'll try to start with something positive about the meal and say that the dish wasn't to my liking, and why. On the other hand, I'll also say if the food was really good.

The way I figure it is, when I cook, I always ask my guests what they liked and didn't like about the food - I really want to know - otherwise I wouldn't ask.

But, I know exactly what you mean, there are times when I just want to eat and be left alone....

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The icing on the cake on what had already been a great meal at Susur in Toronto was when Susur came out of the kitchen to say hello to someone he knew, he and I caught eyes and he came over to our table. Our then 13 year old son was with us, enjoying every bit of his meal. He enjoyed it all the more after Susur gave him suggestions on how to approach the particular dish he was eating and invited us into the kitchen.

I appreciate the opportunity to thank the chef and by extension his staff for an excellent meal.

Having been the last table at Susur a few times, he's always come out and quizzed me on what I liked and such. We've talked a few times regarding restaurants in general and places he's eaten at in the US. He's a very humble and focused chef but very approachable.

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I don't yet own my own place (less than two months, and counting) but I expect to make periodic visits FOH. At my current employer, I have been able to see and witness the impression I make on our guests; anywhere I've been sales have gone up. Casual twice-a-month diners have become every day regulars, after a few minutes' conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one to schmooze for the sake of schmoozing. But if a guest wishes to talk to me about my food, I'm all for it. I know that I can communicate effectively with my clientele, and I know that nobody will "sell" my passion and perspective the way I do (at my last cooking class, a client devouring my roasted-beet salad implored me to "Never tell my mom I'm eating beets..."). I've cajoled my frequently conservative, meat-and-potatoes clientele into trying any number of unusual things, some of which have become major "fan favourites."

I'll be more than happy to come out of the kitchen and talk to the guests at my new place, as the workflow permits (I won't have much help in the kitchen for the first year). I can only see it helping my business (won't be "making the rounds" just 'cause, though...).

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"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 was out at a thoroughly mediocre drinks-n-apps place last week, and over comes the chef, toodling around miserably like she's Ricardo Montalban with a hangover welcoming us to Fantasy Island.

"How is everything?" she asked through her grimace.

"Great!" I lied, with half of my Sysco fries shivering on the plate next to a banal half-burger.

She lied right back, "Glad you're here!"

The whole dance made me feel crappy, and I can't imagine she enjoyed it either. Yet off she trudged, face stuck on "happy-making," to another table.

Why do chefs have to parade in the FOH at any joint charging more than $10pp? Don't we all -- customers, chefs, waitstaff, you name it -- want to give this empty, pathetic ballet a rest already?

I understand, Chris. However, I can tell you that at our place, it was a big part of our joy (our, meaning mine and my wife's, the crew, and our guests) that everything we did was about giving over the experience...whether it was me to welcome people coming for the first time, to see them puzzling over a wine selection (and if I happened to be there, to offer some suggestions), or to answer "how did you make this prosciutto out of duck?" In other words, a communal thing. Sure, it was an ego stroke as well to hear from people very much enjoying their experience. But at the heart of it, the desire to share. Can't know whether that sounds saccharine or not, but it is sincerely what drove everything we did. More, we tried to end the distinction between the front of house and the back of house - service staff needed to know the details of everything that came out of the kitchen; they needed to know not only what everything was, what went into it (and why), and how it was made; but they needed to know their own thoughts about everything as they had learned by regularly tasting our food and wine. Back of house needed to understand that absent satisfying service needs, our food was nothing.

I don't think it's appropriate for the Chef to parade, "love-boat" style. But motivated by sincere intentions, and the desire to augment the guest's experience, I think it's a rather nice thing.

Edited by paul o' vendange (log)

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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(Here I'm talking about fine dining places). This is done all too infrequently in the USA. In Europe, it is much more common to see, and kind of refreshing. Few chefs at great places do it here. In NY, I can think of Daniel Humm at EMP and Daniel Boulud at Daniel but off hand, can't think of others. Maybe sometimes Floyd Cordoz at Tabla but only occasionally.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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I remember eating at "La Côte Saint Jacques" in Joigny, France, a three-star restaurant, in 1989. The father, Michel Lorain was active at that time, cooking with his son. He came out to the dining room before the dinner was served. He and a captain made the rounds of all the tables to welcome everybody and to ask about any special requests or preferences, and in fact we had a long discssion with him about our meal, and he was eager to create a meal exactly to our wants. Then he disappeared into the kitchen and was never seen again. When we went to thank him at the end of the meal, we were directed to the lounge at the other end of the hotel where he had gone to smoke a cigar. I really liked his attitude about the whole thing (and loved his food).

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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It made my day when Wolfgang Puck came over to our table at Granita! He had been welcoming celebs at the front door that were part of a Hollywood party that was in a separate part of the restaurant. After they had all arrived he came over to our part of the restaurant and chatted up each table. We even spoke in German for a bit.

In SF over the years, I haven't had chefs come to our table that often, but it's always been fine. I've enjoyed it when it happens but can see how it could be awkward in a restaurant in which the food was mediocre.

Not applicable to the Granita experience, but when I have had a chance to interact with chefs at a restaurant I appreciate, it's nice to give feedback on great or unique dishes, ingredients or any aspect of the food or service that I particularly enjoyed. In those cases, I am not only truly grateful for their vision and execution and but like to provide positive customer feedback on the things I enjoy in the hope that they will be continued.

(To be clear, I enjoyed Granita quite a bit! I just meant that I wasn't telling Wolfgang Puck that I thought he'd hit on something big with the CA pizza angle... :smile: )

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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In the most of the best restaurants in France, at least the ones I've been to, it's standard practice for the chef to make an appearance in the dining room towards the end of the service. Not everywhere -- Ducasse rarely appears even when he's in the kitchen -- but in most places. On our first trip to France as adults, when we had the resources to dine at this level, we found the practice charming and hospitable.

In the case of La Cote St. Jacques, mentioned by markk, our visits from both Lorains (father and son) led to us extending our stay at the hotel and enrolling in the cooking classes they teach there -- and dining at the restaurant for breakfast and dinner several days straight.

But the chefs in France who do this tend to be true artisans, often running family businesses with long traditions of community involvement. Their ventures are commercial in the sense that they try to make money, however that's just the baseline. In the average restaurant -- in France or America -- the chef is the guy who runs the back of the house, and I don't have any overwhelming desire to meet him or her. Indeed, I'd rather not be forced to. If it's an exceptional meal, though, I might ask to.

So, sure, I'd always welcome a visit to my table by, for example, Susur Lee -- I loved his restaurant, and the experience was indeed enhanced by his table visits and our kitchen visit.

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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To my mind there's a big difference between most restaurants and a chef-owned place. To have the owner of a restaurant (or any small establishment) personally thank you for dropping and maybe make a little chit-chat strikes me both as good manners and good business. It puts a personal stamp on the evening, differentiating it from the chain places and making you feel personally valued by the owner. I don't think I'd ever get to detailed in any detailed critical analysis, though.

Of course, one of the chefs we saw regularly was the chef at the Washington Palm, hardly an artisanal joint. But he was a friendly guy, a Cambodian who would occasionally alert us to some distinctly non-Palm-ish Asian special he'd added for the day, and he'd make my kid BLT sandwiches that weren't on the menu. Again, it made us feel special and valued, and encouraged us to return.

(Years ago, I saw Muddy Waters play a small club in DC, After his set, he stood by the exit and shook every patron's hands as they left. Very classy. Works the same for chefs.)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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But the chefs in France who do this tend to be true artisans, often running family businesses with long traditions of community involvement. Their ventures are commercial in the sense that they try to make money, however that's just the baseline. In the average restaurant -- in France or America -- the chef is the guy who runs the back of the house, and I don't have any overwhelming desire to meet him or her. Indeed, I'd rather not be forced to. If it's an exceptional meal, though, I might ask to.

Exactly. If its a chef of a good/very good to outstanding restaurant in Europe or a gifted chef in NY, for example (like Daniel Humm), then I really enjoy a brief chat, either before or after the meal. If its the head cook at my neighborhood diner or whatever, thanks but not necessary. :-)

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When I was in Miami recently, I stumbled upon Michy's, before I did any googling and learned who Michelle Bernstein is. The first night I ate there, she had come out very late to talk to some friends at their table, and on her way back to the kitchen I snagged her, and she chatted with us for quite a while - it was very late in the evening. She reccommended an Argentinian restaurant to us for grilled Sweetbreads (we had raved about hers), and we went to it the next night. We went back to Michy's again the following night, and after dinner I asked if she'd come out to visit with us (so I could report on the restaurant), and the staff genuinely seemed a little flustered. (Normally, I just barge into kitchens to visit chefs, but I'm told that's rude so I was trying not to do that so much.) Well, it was late when I asked, and they came back and told me that actually, she would come out a little later when she finished up, although now I think it may have been because she was waiting for the restaurant to die down a bit and empty. I got the feeling when she came that she was trying to avoid making a show of coming out and parading herself around, and now I'm sorry if I put her in that position. She's just totally humble, and I like that in a great chef.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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