Locally Grown

The Burnt Question(period)
2010/07/16, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Have you ever found yourself in the company of a chef, celebrity or not-so-celebrity, struggling for a conversation topic?  In my experience on the Chef end, most people go for one of two strategies.  The first strategy is the “Ask A Cooking Question,” which generally acceptable as long as you keep it to more of a simple troubleshooting type scenario.  For instance, “I really have been having trouble overcooking my asparagus, what can I do to fix the problem?” totally works.  “I was wondering how to make Cassoulet” is probably a little over the line, unless you are in a situation where time is of no concern.

The Second Strategy is to “Ask A Stupid Question.”  Yes, people, no matter what your third grade teacher told you, there is such thing as a stupid question.  Here are some examples of questions that most People Of The Chef World absolutely don’t need to here:

  1. What’s Your Signature Dish?” Why do people assume that every person who works in a kitchen has a “signature dish?” What, do I look like goddamn Rachel Ray or Emirilla? (I do however resemble a bald and bearded Paula Deen first thing in the morning) Chefs work tirelessly to come up with new and hopefully exciting foods and flavor combinations to tickle your happy little taste buds, they generally don’t come up with a “Signature Dish,” but guests sometimes turn dishes into somewhat of a signature dish by refusing to allow said dish to be excluded from any new menu.  Whatever.  My signature dish would be a large plate of paste to be fed to the next Signature Dish Question Asking Offender.  How does that sound?
  2. “What Do You Cook Best?” First off, I don’t even like the sentence structure of this sweet one-liner. This gem is nearly identical to Stupid Question #1, with the exception of the small air of vagueness.  This question is just begging for a snappy “Ask Your Mom What I Was Cooking Last Night” comeback.
  3. “What Is Your Favorite Food?” Whenever I hear this question, I want to suggest that the inquisitor try my ‘signature’ dish, the “Paste Express.”

Such vague-ery will get you no where with most chefs or really any professional in any field.  Chefs are busy and have about 30,000 things going through their minds at the same time, from food and labor numbers to specials to vendor issues, employee problems, owner issues, trying to figure out when sleep will be an option, planning new menus, thinking about that last REALLY good meal they had and the ideas that they took away from the table, bills, getting invoices done, more employee problems, and tons of other extraneous thoughts.  It’s a real mess in there sometime, and to have someone come along and ask such broad-based questions could throw everything off what balance it has eliciting some very strange and off kilter answers or maybe it just gets you blown off.

Do you know what questions chefs don’t get asked enough?  I will spare you the rambling commentary and just give you #1:

“What Really Pisses You Off?”

This is the #1 question to ask a Chef if you want a good, honest answer.  They may tell you that it is people asking questions, but my bet is on this answer which is the whole purpose for all these WORDS.

“People Creating Their Own Menu”

What really pisses us off, people, is the guest who comes in to the restaurant, and I am talking about your more upscale places, not Village Inn,and takes a quick look at the menu.  They take a look at this MENU that was created after hours of agonizing, planning, and testing (or sometimes just over a few beers at a local bar) and decide that it just doesn’t work for them.  This guest then, usually during a dinner or lunch rush, deconstructs each dish and starts re-assembling to their liking.  More often than not the choices don’t even go together.  A message from your chefs:

This isn’t Burger Kwing, and this certainly isn’t Papa Jorns Pizza.

Yes, this seems like a “you’ll get what we give you and like it” scenario, and…wait…that’s exactly what it is.  Your chef has taken much time and has years of experience/training, trust the chef…trust the chef…trust your chef…

Are you picking up what I am putting down?

The Cook


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Yeah. So that chili looks pretty good, but can you please take out the tomatoes and put in some asparagus?

Comment by Steve Fuller

Um. Excuse me. But do you have any idea how lucky you are that people care enough about what you do that they even ask a question? Sheeesh!

Everybody in every field gets tired of the same questions (e.g.: What’s your favorite restaurant?). But get creative! Try to find a way to answer the question and also give the answer to the question you wish they would have asked.

So, what questions would you like to be asked?

Comment by Datebook Diner

I wouldn’t say that I, or anyone in my field, is necessarily lucky that people care enough. It wasn’t luck (ok, maybe a little) that made any chef quiz-able (except “chef” Rachel Ray), but a lot of hard work. YES it is an honor to have your opinion valued. YES I enjoy both the attention and the opportunity to help people cook/eat better (I’m a Leo). YES, there a limited number of questions the general public really has in their “Question Quiver” for any field-specialist, and YES all of those 5 questions wear out their welcome with a quickness. The real point of the post was that I have some friends who are fed up with the re-arranging of their menu items.

I always answer the questions, and have a list of stock answers for the stock questions.(see post)

Here is the question I always love to answer: “Can I have a hug?”

Comment by locallygrown

so…what if there’s nothing on the menu i can eat? im vegan. i swear im not vegan just to make chefs lives miserable. if i know im going somewhere, i usually scope out the menu ahead of time if possible. if i think im going somewhere it will be hard for me to find something, well if it’s in my control honestly i usually just dont go there. but like for example, last christmas i had to go out to lunch with my co-workers and i most definitely didnt get to pick the spot. i looked at the menu online and not only were there no vegan options (not a surprise) there was not even anything vegetarian. so i called the restaurant a few days before our lunch reservation and they (seemed) more than happy to accommodate me. last weekend i was out of town for a friends wedding and found myself at a restaurant with a big group of people. instead of trying to create my own meal, i asked the waitress to ask the kitchen what, if anything, they could do for me.

its not that i expect people to “cater” to me alone in a restaurant, but surely special diets are something you have to deal with as a chef. allergies, sensitivities, vegetarians/vegans, etc.? should we just not go to restaurants?

Comment by Lindsay

Lindsay, first I would like to say good choice in being vegan and I know it is very hard to participate in social dining events given your restrictions. I in no way have anything against those out there who have allergies, intolerance for animal products, or any other special circumstances. I have been meaning to re-address this situation, but until I can get to that I would like to refer you to a previous post here at LocallyGrown


This will give you a little insight on the situation from my standpoint. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take care of those who have dietary specialdom. Most chefs jump at the chance to create something for those of us “difficult” diners…but they tire at people who just screw with things for the sake of being an “A-hole.”

So, read the old posts and I will get back on this subject soon.

Comment by locallygrown

well played dj bum a smoke! all i have to say is trust the chef. do you really have to substitute? “could i have this and not that?” “would it be a problem for the kitchen if i did this instead of that?” all you are telling the kitchen is that you do not trust them. get over you egos people. asking for things off the menu makes u feel important. i can understand that. we all want to feel important. lets face the facts, dont we all want to feel like we are somebody? best place to do it is over a bite to eat and either knowing the chef or the owner. some cases one in the same. dj bum a smoke, i can only speak for myself, but as a chef, im am insulted and offended when the public does not trust me. im putting it out there to the public…..order of the menu, try it, eat it, love it. if you dont, just the order the chicken and you will be ok. if the chicken doesnt work for ya, then i will eat all the duck confit and fois gras myself. yall missing out. p.s. couldnt sleep and rambling. i like this blog

Comment by easy p

Word, Easy P. And this blog likes you.

Comment by locallygrown

What do you think would go well with the fish?

Well obviously the chef…you know the dude in the back that works 80 hours a week to bring you this fine food and has been doing so for a number of years…cultivating his palate and learning eveything he or she can about food…that person seems to think asparagus in a nice buerre blanc would go nicely that’s why he put it on the menu, but what the fuck does he know, get what ever you want.

Bought to you by a waiter who gets just as infurated by this shit as every cook and chef!

Comment by Chris

Chris, all I can say is damn straight!

Comment by locallygrown

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