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Puritan Chefs Know Better Than You


Waitman
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Oh, I understand that there are a lot of demanding assholes trying to order dinner, and that time and money concerns mean that every kitchen has to have limits even for non-asshole requests. I also know that, in a good capitalist economy, proprietors can do what they want as long as the employees get paid and the rent is covered. And I even know that there's a certain charm to curmudgeonly proprietors. But please:

At Café Grumpy in Park Slope, Benjamin Anastas, a writer, said the counterman had refused to grind two pounds of espresso beans at once, expressing concern that the coffee would lose its freshness before Mr. Anastas could brew it. The solution? “I told him I was going to drink it all over the weekend,” Mr. Anastas said
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Clark Wolf, a restaurant consultant, recalled a San Francisco spot that would not supply salt or pepper because the chef supposedly seasoned every dish perfectly.

Bite me.

A hole is to dig. Food is to taste good. And I, the paying customer (within reason) have the last word on that subject.

And I say that, by the way, as someone who cannot ever recall having asked for a kitchen to make a change on my behalf.

Just, you know, leave the salt on the table.

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I don't mind special requests.

But customers make a request on an infrequent but regular basis {actually create a dish of their own} that really violates the dish. Say they sub a sauce from one dish to another, where its not going to work well. The sauce subbed works on its dish because of the marinade and spices used on cooking the main ingredient of the proper dish. Subbing it onto another main won't get the proper effect. We tell them, then they don't like it and ask for us to take it off their bill {or go on Yelp and say how bad the meal is} .... should I?

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When I read the article in the NYT yesterday (and posted about it separately with the "soup nazi" link), I found it pretty fascinating.

There's an irreconcilable tension in business (not just restaurants) between 'customer focus' and what I'll call 'proprietor point of view." In plainer English, we like places that do interesting, delicious and innovative things that we'd never have thought of ourselves. We 'know it when we see it' kind of thing. Business leaders like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs both famously discounted market research, believing customers don't really know that they want.

On the other hand, zillions of pages have been written about customer focus and, if you phrase a survey question properly, virtually all American respondents will agree that their views and preferences should be central to whatever a car company, computer company or restaurant do.

There are obvious parallels one could make to the arts: painters, sculptors, writers, etc and those that hew only to their own compass or try to do what the market wants.

So, restaurants. You have the customer-centric kinds of places that allow nearly unlimited requests and customizations (maybe the country club example a previous poster cited). Then you have spots like Pasta Mia, which are more "their way or the highway" but still attract large crowds over many years because they're doing something right with what they're offering for many. I think Gillian Clark is more this way too. Lots of limits to what you can customize or request at General Store but, in my view and clearly lots and lots of others, her food is great and crowds keep coming back as a result.

Most places are somewhere in the middle. Take Palena. We had lots of debate on that thread a month or two back about whether or not cool that the change was made with the expansion about separating the two menus entirely and no longer allowing ordering from either in the Cafe. I argued then and would still argue that, at the end of the day, the food, service and overall experience at Palena are fantastic and that's what most matters. And, though they made that change, you can still ask for your caesar salad to be divided there or some other reasonable kinds of things without changing courses substantively. So it'd be wrong to say Palena is entirely inflexible--they're not.

There are plenty of restaurants that put out crap but will honor all sorts of requests. They fail. There are plenty of other restaurants that are unyielding on requests/changes yet still put out crap. They fail even faster.

My conclusion: The Times article brings a clear bias with its title ("puritan chefs know better...") and didn't really account for the other side of the debate.

it's all about the quality of the experience. Give me a lot of choice, give me no choice or take my input selectively. I don't so much care most of the time and find the talent in the kitchen is the thing. Whatever you do on customer input, if the food is great, the experience fine and the prices right, I'll be there. And, despite all the debate about chefs that are more or less resistant to customer input, most will revisit those spots that meet their quality bar irrespective of how 'customer focused' they are. I think that's just the honest reality.

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Prez and FLOTUS at dinner

"As with any VIPs or friends who dine at the Source, Drewno sent signature items to the Obamas’ table: tuna tartare cones, squares of suckling pig, tandoori Arctic char. The first couple make a point of having those items added to the bill. (We clearly travel in different circles.) Drewno made sure to take the beets off that Arctic char dish because the president doesn’t like them, a tidbit he had known beforehand."

I'm not asking for the freebies. VIPs get them and I (mostly) don't.

But, if you're taking the beets off the Arctic char for The Prez (and I'm with Barry here, I've never loved beets) you should take them off for me, with a similar respect for my preferences and a similar understanding that -- despite a minor disagreement over topsoil-tasting root vegetables -- I respect your unique and awesome genius, in turn.

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I was agreeing with you right up to the point where you said "I argued then and would still argue that, at the end of the day, the food,". At the end of the day is night. At the end of the day it's 6:00pm and then it's evening. Can we agree, that "it is what it is" (to overstate the obvious cliche which joins your earlier version), because what the hell else would it be and what is wrong with removing that stupid string of six words? Until that point, I was silently agreeing with your hypothesis. We need a Trite Phrase Forum.

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I was agreeing with you right up to the point where you said "I argued then and would still argue that, at the end of the day, the food,". At the end of the day is night. At the end of the day it's 6:00pm and then it's evening. Can we agree, that "it is what it is" (to overstate the obvious cliche which joins your earlier version), because what the hell else would it be and what is wrong with removing that stupid string of six words? Until that point, I was silently agreeing with your hypothesis. We need a Trite Phrase Forum.

???

Perhaps we need a random post forum. :)

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???

Perhaps we need a random post forum. :)

A farking cliche warning system might be better. There is nothing random about being besieged by cliches by people who incorporate them into what started as a (relatively) intelligent posting. Re-read Darkstar965's posting and you will see where the "random" statement came from (or I could simply repost the entire posting for you and highlight in BOLD and Italics and perhaps a nice soothing color the overwrought, over-used, trite, asinine turn of phrase used by people who mindlessly repeat drivel from other drivel spouters...or maybe not...:)

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