UnderCover Waitress: New York’s Puritan Chefs Want It Their Way - NYTimes.com

Sunday, March 6, 2011

New York’s Puritan Chefs Want It Their Way - NYTimes.com

I have so often preached that a good restaurant will accommodate diner's needs. This is because I got tired of angry matron waitresses barking "no substitutions" in unkempt restaurants. I got tired of being lied to in places such as Applebee's. At chains such as 99 and Applebee's, the food is pre-cooked and frozen, then thawed to order. Hamburgers are all cooked brown on the inside. If you try to order a medium rare burger at Applebee's, the servers are trained to explain it is illegal to serve "undercooked" meat. This is a complete fabrication and an insult to any diner's intelligence.

At our little restaurant, the owner/chef wanted to make people happy. He accommodated their requests, such as "no olives," "can I have it with potatoes instead of rice" and "extra veggies but no starch." It sounds idyllic, but unfortunately it can be crazy-making. Check out the recent post entitled Veganism and you will understand why the chef cried in the kitchen.

But I think the motivation behind this new breed of puritan chefs goes beyond the convenience of the kitchen cooks.

Professional chefs go to school for a few years to learn how to create fabulous recipes. They spend hours in the kitchen tasting and perfecting the balance of delicate spices and flavors in the food they make and serve with pride. They watch the waitress walk a plate loaded with perfection to the table; perhaps it is an omellete full of fresh sauteed spinach, delicately carmelized onions and just the right amount of feta cheese. They grit their teeth and develop an ulcer as they watch the customer dump store-bought ketchup all over the dish -- before even bothering to taste it.

These puritan chefs have a point. If a diner is going to go out to a restaurant and order an expensive, lovingly prepared made-to-order dish crafted by an expert, why not trust that this expert is sending out something that tastes good? Why ruin years of study with excess salt and pepper? For a $50 plate of food, shouldn't the chef have gotten it right?

I remember the baked haddock. White fish filets spread with seafood mousse, slices of fresh tomato and olive tapenade. Some seasoned bread crumbs on top and served in a parsly and cream sauce. Described accurately on the menu. Took an order for it one time, and the guy looked up at me. He wanted french fries instead of the artisan rice the haddock usually came with. And tartar sauce. He wanted a side of mayo with relish -- that is what tartar sauce is and yes, we had a jar of it in the fridge. This guy went out of his way and spent a pretty penny for basic fish'n'chips.

Eating out? Try a little taste adventure. Trust the chef. 
New York’s Puritan Chefs Want It Their Way - NYTimes.com

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