Locally Grown

The Burnt Question(period)
2010/07/16, 3:45 pm
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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