Have It Your Way? I Don’t Think So

It’s been a while since Fakename discussed food, which her byline says is one of her favorite topics, so it’s only fair that she give the subject some attention.  The perfect opportunity arose when the NY Times published this article yesterday.  I could hardly make it through the article without stopping to laugh and applaud.  It’s essentially about chefs who say no, you can’t have it your way. 

That’s because in part it reminds me of someone I used to know.  Fortunately I haven’t seen him in years, and wouldn’t have chosen to see him voluntarily even when I knew him, but regrettably, he was the partner of one of my very best friends ever.  Going out for a meal with him was torturous and maddening.  It was like…restaurant rage. 

It didn’t matter where you went, he wanted to alter the menu.  I think it was more of a control issue than a taste issue.  You just wanted to say to him…if you don’t like black olives, DON’T ORDER THE DISH WITH BLACK OLIVES IN IT.  Pick something else!  But really, it was far worse than that.  Ordering was more like an interrogation of the server.  If he was leaning toward the shrimp, it would be, how large are the shrimp?  Are they fresh or frozen?  Where did they come from?  What school did they attend?  (Just seeing if you were paying attention there.)  If he could make it through all the shrimp questions without stumping the server, he’d start on the chicken.  After about 20 minutes, he would finally settle on something, only he would rewrite the whole dish.  (“I’d like the pan-fried grouper, except broiled instead, and tartar sauce with no capers, the mixed grilled vegetables except leave out the carrots, and I’ll have unsweetened tea but bring me some Splenda.  What?  You don’t have Splenda?  What kind of place is this anyway?”)  Fakename would be grinding her teeth by this time, probably some sort of primitive precursor to biting him.  It’s like, Dude!  You need to just go home and cook your own bleeping food. 

So if you go to a restaurant that only serves burgers with Roquefort, don’t ask them for a burger with Provolone.  Go somewhere they let you pick the cheese, or otherwise, see above (go home).

That said, some things can be a little too picky on the part of the chef.  A refusal to provide salt and pepper for example, as described in the article.    If they are serving steak or roast beef, you should be able to have it cooked to your specification.  You should be able to get salad dressing on the side.  None of these things interfere with the chef’s “vision”.

A funny story now…at least, I think it is…in September of last year, Fakesister came to visit.  We went to the coast, and on the way back we had lunch at Angelo’s in Panacea, FL, a very famous place around these parts.  They have their own fleet of boats, and whatever they bring in that day is whatever gets served.  I ordered a dozen raw oysters, and when they came, I asked the server, “Why are they so small?”  That was not intended to be a criticism, it could have been (and probably is) because past hurricanes have diminished the oyster beds.  And the server answered, “Um.  Because that’s what the boats brought in today?”  I almost spit out an oyster, I laughed so hard.  “Good answer!”, I said. 

Sharing a meal with someone is a surprisingly intimate experience.  I don’t know why that is, but it must be some evolutionary issue.  I always feel as if I know someone better after sharing a meal, although, again, I couldn’t say why.  Perhaps a reader can enlighten me.  I do know that if you start complaining about the sauce on that mammoth steak I’m feeding you, I’m moving your ass way outside the campfire.  And I might bite you first.

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15 responses to “Have It Your Way? I Don’t Think So

  1. Ah, yes, food. I agree, if you need to exercise control of the restaurant kitchen then you need to eat at home. Eating out is a great way to discover new tastes, new cuisines, new sensations. Hard to savor those if you micro-manage the menu.

    Sometimes those new sensations include wanting to strangle your tablemate(s).

    Sometimes there are medical reasons to exercise some control of the kitchen. For instance, in my riding trip to CA a couple of years ago, I (and a few others) typically ordered the vegetarian entrees – we had to place our order for every restaurant on the first evening. The last night’s dinner, our vegetarian entree was mussels. But one of our vegetarian-ordering number was allergic to shellfish and fish fish and lots of other foods. Not to mention that a dish with meat in in has a hard time qualifying as “vegetarian”. The dish they threw together for us sucked. And they’d had all week! Plus we’d had to re-order every single day because they kept losing our requests.

    That kitchen needs some control. I vote for dining elsewhere.

    The SO and I nearly always order dressings and gravies “on the side”. I’ll pick mushrooms out of the food if I can’t find an entree without them. (Our current regular restaurant doesn’t seem to be able to cook without mushrooms and asparagus although I haven’t tried the breakfast menu yet.)

    The chef gets to exercise “vision” but I want to enjoy my meal: the food, the presentation, the aura. Without submitting too much to someone else’s idea of what I should enjoy.

  2. “Vegetarian” at this restaurant clearly did not mean the same thing to you as it meant to them. You would think in California, they would get it 🙂 I fondly remember Judith’s definition of vegetarian, which was absolutely no farm-raised animals. Deer and fish were okay, because in her estimation, they had led a free life and had a chance not to get caught. I’m not saying that’s logical 🙂
    But there are degrees of vegetarianism.
    If you are a chef with a vision that includes not allowing salt and pepper, be prepared to have nobody come back. If you can survive that, more power to you. I, personally, think it’s a stupid business model. You will be a purist all the way to bankruptcy.
    I did like the article though, just becuase it reminded me of the ordeal of having dinner with Brian, and also…I hate ketchup 🙂

  3. Chefs who refuse to accept that “the customer is always right” see themselves as “artists” rather than as businessmen. And ironically, artists starve.

  4. LOL, Rocky! But some of them are revered after they’re gone.

  5. I know a few folks like Brian. I avoid them whenever possible and never sit down to share a meal with them. Instead I try and enjoy the company of more delightful dining companions. I have on occasion found it necessary to improvise off of the menu because of gastric necessity and believe there is a way to do that pleasantly without offending the wait staff or kitchen. Once I did it at Angelo’s while my son just sat and stared in disbelief. (never understood what the big deal was)

    My all time favorite movie scene on this subject is Nicholson in 5 easy pieces.

  6. I share the lol re: Rocky’s comment. I actually wondered, Rocky, if you had ever been to any of these establishments. And pt, thank you so much for posting that famous scene from Five Easy Pieces. That one, along with “You can’t handle the truth!” have to be two of the most iconic scenes in all moviedom. It’s referenced in the article but there is nothing like seeing it in person again. And I would like to say that you are a perfectly delightful dining companion yourself!
    And now I am reminded of another story. When I first moved here, Fakesister was coming for a visit and I called up what was then the most frou-frou restaurant in town, Chez Pierre. (It’s been sold and now sucks.) I asked them if they had a dress code. “Yes we do”, they said, “We require that you wear clothes”. That taught me an important lesson about Florida, and restaurants in general 🙂 If you won’t serve people wearing flip-flops, you just knocked out 75% of your customer base.

  7. Gourmet chefs. like intellectuals, suffer from delusions of adequacy. If I suspect a table next to me suffers from this infection, I delight in talking loud enough for them to hear me about I how i enjoy some strange combination of food (say, ketchup on a good steak), to just to make them cringe.

  8. I’m just morally opposed to ketchup and A-1 lol. Delusions of adequacy–I love it. Chefs may go too far at times, but so do customers, so I’d say the article’s point still has validity. Plus, thinking of the Brians of the world, it’s a little risky to to piss off the server and the cooks and the chef. A lot of things can happen between the kitchen and the table. I picture the cooks having a little cache of “special ingredients” set aside just for such customers.

  9. Ketchup is good as an ingredient for making, say, a sauce for meatloaf. Add a bit of brown sugar, spicy mustard, Worchestershire to some ketchup and spread over the meatloaf during the last 15 minutes of cooking ….

  10. Lol Fakesister. Fakename remains morally opposed to ketchup, which is not allowed to darken her door 🙂 As if Fakename ever cooked any more, if she did, she would use tomato sauce instead for the above-mentioned meatloaf topping.

  11. Ketchup is just one of those things that overpowers everything in its path–not in your example, but when eaten alone. If you want ketchup, I would advise just having a bowl of it, since the “frites” are rendered totally irrelevant by it. That’s why I liked the example in the article of the restaurant which specializes in steak and “frites” (speaking of frou-frou), which has a big sign posted saying “No Ketchup”. We don’t have any. Don’t bother asking 🙂

  12. “I’m just morally opposed to ketchup”

    Obviously you were not a bowling enthusiast in your youth, one simply can’t eat bowling alley fries without ketchup and a coke. I mean dude……. like get with the program.

    “And I would like to say that you are a perfectly delightful dining companion yourself!”
    Ditto:)

  13. pt, you are so wrong! I WAS in fact a bowling enthusiast. I still vividly remember the experience of wearing the disgusting rented shoes, and graduating to being able to handle a 12-pound ball. The thing is, I can’t remember ever eating in a bowling alley 🙂 Maybe that’s how I escaped a love of ketchup 🙂

  14. Well dude you just gave yourself away. I mean renting shoes is for amateurs. I traveled the panhandle looking for tournaments to compete in. I worked as a school janitor after school so I could fill up the car with county gas and get some pocket change for bowling. I think I was in 3 leagues most of the time. So I ate a ton of bowling alley fries and drowned them all with ketchup.

    BTW I had the pleasure of sitting next to Alex Sink and her husband Bill McBride last week at a FSU/UF Baseball game and they ate ketchup on their fries:)

  15. You could certainly say I was an amateur. My mother was in a league and had her own ball and shoes, but my sister and I were orphan bowlers 🙂

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