Success in the kitchen is all about choice. The pan you choose, the purveyors you embrace, the people who take your notions in hand and bring them to life. These choices define you, define your cuisine, your brand, your experience.
So too diners embrace choice. What makes a dish good is uniquely subjective. Some want high art, some want satisfaction, a whiff of something familial, or just an old fashioned good deal. These days eating is under a finer microscope than ever before. In the great land of choices, the high church of substitutions, we dine by association. People more than ever, are acutely aware that what we take in, is more than just what we ate… its part of who we are.
Sometimes, contrary to everything we lead ourselves to believe, the best experience for the guest, is the one that they themselves have chosen. Other times, despite what experience has taught them, a modicum of trust is the difference between the meal you expected and the one that brings you clapping from your chair.
So how do we get it right? How do chefs bat 1.00 in the dining room? Even when your concept and your approach are brilliantly understood, when you kitchen is cooking with total clarity and your space speaks utterly to what you’ve fashioned, its possible for both sides of the line to get it wrong.
Easily the moral and nutritional imperatives of persons invested in a particular avenue of dining need not only to be respected, but also to be embraced. The spirit of hospitality is not exclusionary, nor is it egotistical. As chefs, who are we to flinch from the challenge of doing it sans dairy, or carrying vegetables to their full expression? Do we in fact embody the mastery we espouse if we fail to meet these challenges?
I think not.
There are many reasons to become a chef, but if providing for others in a way they find satisfying isn’t amongst yours, you are likely to be much abused by the long hours, low pay, atmospheric conditions and general malaise involved with kitchen life. We all have something to be learned from each other, and if a chef should learn anything in their tenure, its a healthy respect for the reasons people join us at the table. Often our experiences with food can be as bad as they are good. I myself carry preferences from my childhood that I struggle to shake. Through time and exposure I have shrugged off many of them but I’m ashamed to admit I still gag a bit on raw tomatoes sometimes. I am not alone here. These personal choices often go beyond mere preference, expressing religion, deep morality, and personal ethics… I mean these are the things people fight wars over… who are we to argue?
With that nod to the guest, there are two sides to this table, and I would be remiss not to examine both. I know for a fact that good chefs agonize over what to serve you, how to prepare it, balance it, present it, source it, and ultimately deliver on the promise of the menu. Maybe you’re not a fan of beets, but when was the last time you had them? Were they from a can? Did you mom make you eat them? Maybe that beer seems a little expensive for a beer, but did you notice it was 750ml, 11.2%, barrel aged for 18 months? If it was wine would you think twice? A little trust can go a long way. Your server has your best interest in mind, your chef would beg for your five star review. You’ve brought your money here trusting they have done the work for you. Let them. They have seasoned, balanced, curated and deliberated over the details on your plate. Give them a chance to show you their stuff and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The notion of the shared experience is central to dining. It is why restaurants matter still and why cell phones will never replace the warmth of good company. In this bond, we both share the table and it takes a little from both of us to make a restaurant special. A kitchen with a wholesome respect for how people choose to dine, and a little trust from the public that the chef has your best experience in mind.Food has so much to offer all of us beyond basic nutrition and like any divisive issue, mutual respect and a willingness to embrace someone else’s point of view is at the heart of good intention. Like it says on our menu, bring yourself, your needs, your wants and let us serve them, but don’t forget a sense of adventure, a willingness to embrace the table, and a childlike sense of curiosity for the world around you. If you can, and you do, you will share with us the same respect and delight that we are so eager to share with you…
See you in the dining room.