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Sep 13, 2009 06:44 PM

Is it insulting to the chef to special order in fine dining?

There's not really a specific reason I'm asking this question, just something I was thinking about. In a restaurant run by a well-known chef, with carefully put-together menus and dishes, do you think it's rude or insulting to make special requests or substitutions for a dish simply because you don't like certain ingredients, or some other similar reason? I know how carefully chefs work to compose a dish, and something like leaving out an ingredient could really affect the its integrity in the eyes of the chef. Is it better to taste the dish as the chef envisioned it, risking that you won't like it as a result, or to order it the way you would prefer and thereby disregarding the chef's own feelings about it?

For the purpose of this question, moral or dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian or dairy-free, are a separate topic.

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  1. Well, you could always ask.

    When we went to Babbo, I wanted the beef cheek ravioli but it included "crushed squab liver" (I'm pretty sure that's it). I told the server that I don't like many livers. He said he didn't either but that he didn't notice it as livery at all in that dish. He was right and I LOVED every bite. I think if you know you're going to retch and gag, then either speak up or order something else. If, like me, you're not 100% sure, I'd order it. I don't want to keep my world - food or anything else - too narrow.

    1. If I am paying for the meal, chef's 'feelings' don't even rank second in importance.

      EXCEPT-if dining at the chef's table or a tatsting menu-then you are specifically coming to eat the chef's creation as presented. Try it, eat or leave it, it's your choice.

      1. In general, I don't know about insulting per se (though many chefs would probably be insulted). But, yeah, a friend was just the other day telling me about a customer who wanted the daily pasta-and-mussels special prepared with shrimp instead. They rolled their eyes (in the back room) and did it for her -- charging her handsomely for the privilege, thank you very much.

        But if you want a short-order cook, don't go to a fine-dining restaurant. And if you want the skate but not the celery root puree on the side, just choose a different dish altogether. It's not "one from column A, two from column B."

        3 Replies
        1. re: dmd_kc

          "It's not "one from column A, two from column B."
          i like that :)

          i'm on the fence about this one - i think it depends on the nature of the request. if you're asking the chef to omit or substitute an ingredient that's really integral to the soul of the dish, you might as well just order something else. i'll never understand why people *want* to order something that contains several flavors or textures they don't like. why would it even appeal to them? but if it's a simple swap, such as asking for a different vegetable on the side, then as long as you've seen the vegetable you're requesting somewhere else on the menu so you know it's not a real chore for the kitchen to do it, i don't think it's a big deal.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            I really have such conflicting thoughts about it. Like the same friend tells me he's gotten requests like "Hollandaise, but no butter," or the steak with the chicken's sauce. That's just silly.

            I tend to try to rock the boat as little as possible when it's a chef I respect, or one I'm trying for the first time. And knowing what a major PITA a lot of customers can be, I want to be on my best behavior usually!

            And on the other hand, it's true you're a customer buying a product. One of my frequent dining companions loves good food, but isn't big on "rules," and isn't much of a drinker. Sometimes he wants a danged soda with his $39 entree, and I'm not going to hassle him about it. To be honest, Dr Pepper does taste pretty good with a steak, so more power to him. I bet the restaurant makes a better margin on that $2.75 soda than on my $9 pinot noir.

            1. re: dmd_kc

              "And knowing what a major PITA a lot of customers can be, I want to be on my best behavior usually!"
              yeah, unfortunately for me, i *have* to be a PITA because of my gluten & soy issues...but the last thing i want to do is ask the kitchen to go above and beyond my health/safety requirements to accommodate requests in addition to that!

        2. A restauranteur friend says "if you don't want to try the food the way that the Chef has prepared it, don't go to the restaurant" - but to be honest, I'm not really fully in agreement wtih that. Every chef, while an artist at heart - must be pragmatic. They know that, at the end of the day, it's more important that the customer like the taste of the food than that the chef does.

          1 Reply
          1. re: brooklynkoshereater

            at the end of the day, if the chef can consistently fill his/her restaurant with patrons while steadfastly refusing to make ANY modifications or substitutions,
            the chef is plenty "pragmatic" enough.

            in my town, some of the BEST food is served in restaurants with that policy, and they are not suffering at all from this decision, the decision that to you, doesn't appear to be pragmatic.
            (gjelina, father's office, lukshon, etc)

          2. Are you going to Gordon Ramsey's restaurant? If not, I wouldn't worry about it. It also depends a lot on the degree of substitution. If someone is deadly allergic to a certain ingredient, I don't see why not ask for a substitution.

            1 Reply
            1. re: PeterL

              The OP specifies "fine dining".....
              where the food that is prepared is essentially "edible art"..
              so yes I think it IS insulting to the chef.
              Having said that - if you are paying $500 for a meal - I really believe you are entitled to request something or other if you really must!
              I personally wouldnt only because i am extremely adventurous and am willing to try the way that it was created to be....
              But if you are forking over a small fortune, I supposed you have every right to enjoy your meal to the fullest - sorry if it does insult the chef!