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Bad taste in my mouth from the Chef's behavior-Fabulous food! (Long)

We recently were home in New Orleans for the holidays and decided to try a restaurant that everyone absolutely raves about. I have heard nothing but positive feedback about the excellent food and wonderful dining experience. This restaurant is in the mid-price point and serves local, casual fare. My husband and I are both avid foodies and adventurous eaters and dine in numerous 5 star restaurants throughout the country. We will eat anything-with the exception of his one dislike---Stilton Cheese! When reviewing the menu, we came across 3 salads. A wedge salad with a stilton cheese dressing, a snap pea salad with a rasberry vinagarette, and a beet salad with a balsalmic dressing. I chose the beet salad, and he chose the Wedge, but requested the raspberry vinagarette in lieu of the stilton. The waiter came back to our table a few minutes later and stated that the chef requested that my husband order the snap pea salad if he wished for the rasberry dressing and that he would not put that particular dressing on the wedge. We were both floored and my husband asked them to put the stilton on the side and to send out an oil and vinegar mix. The salads came out, with stilton dressing on side, but no oil and vinegar. Waiter again stated that the chef would only servce the stilton with the wedge salad. What do you say at this point? The waiter apologized about chef's behavior, and a few minutes later all of the waiters had a 10 minute powwow about the fact that my husband would not eat the stilton. I found this very odd and although our entrees were outstanding, (some of the best we have had) Im not sure how to handle this. The chef is the owner of the restaurant, and I thought about dropping an email discussing our experience. I understand the temperment and creativity that goes into a meal of this caliber, but IMO a dressing exchange was certainly not worth this odd and very embarrassing exchange that took place. How would you handle this? Would you contact the GM, the chef directly, or post reviews about this on dining websites? I was at a loss and so dissapointed as we loved the place other than the chef's behavior. Were we out of line here?

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  1. Prima Donna chefs like that exist and imho, this sort of behavior seems to be growing. I have been to three restaurants in 2009 that stated on the menu that “the chef will NOT change or alter menu items”. In one restaurant with prix fix tasting menu so you had no choice a couple got up and walked out when one ingredient that the person was allergic to was asked to not be “sprinkled on top”.

    Personally I applauded their decision by voting with their wallet and that is probably what I would do if I encountered a situation like yours. There are plenty of dining choices in New Orleans and while it may be an inconvenience to you it will send him a message.

    And yes post you experience on every review website that you can find (Yelp, urban spoon, etc.). I posted about our meal and included the bit about the patron’s walking out because of this piss-poor customer service attitude.

    1 Reply
    1. re: RetiredChef

      Good to know we are not the only ones. I was tempted to get up and walk out at that point as well as there is a wonderful restaurant two steps away where the Chef is incredible and does not sport the prima donna attitude. I think you are right-I will post. This experience is so off base from anything my friends or family have said but ridiculous nonetheless. I can bet others have been in this same situation. Thanks again

    2. The best answer would be to get up, pay for your drinks, and leave.

      I can't fathom a chef/owner attempting to get into a pissing contest with a customer whose sole request is for a hunk of iceberg lettuce -- with any dressing just not one with blue cheese. How long has this moron owned this restaurant? (I'll bet he won't for much longer).

      Since the chef is the owner, contacting anyone at the restaurant, even the GM, will not get you anywhere. I think that if you belong to any dining websites (yelp, CitySearch, etc.) you should certainly discuss the exact experience you had at length. It's bad form, however, just to join such sites to post a single bad review. Nobody's going to take it seriously.

      You could also contact a local newspaper (get in touch with whoever reviewed the restaurant for the paper). Get your story of the "salad Nazi" out to anyone who'll listen.

      No, you were not out of line. Yes, the chef in question is insane -- absolutely nuts.

      1 Reply
      1. re: shaogo

        On the waiterrant website, the writer has an amusing article called "Crazy Restaurant Owner Syndrome". Sounds like this guy fits the CROS profile.

        http://waiterrant.net/

      2. You might post your experience on the New Orleans board--along with the name of the restaurant...it would be interesting to read what the NO contributors would have to say...

        1. My first inclination would that he is a jerk. But on further thinking about this, I can see where he may be coming from. Just humor me. Maybe he painstakingly designed the dishes to have a very specific flavor profile that he feels matches with the quality of his restaurant. If he puts a dressing on a salad that it wasn't designed to complement, then you might have a complaint about the food-- food that wasn't meant to be paired together. Try looking at it as going to someone's home to dinner and aking them to change something about the way they make their food (I know you are paying for this meal, but maybe he sees it as you are paying to experience HIS recipes.) Think about it as telling an artist that the painting is good, but you think it should have different colors.

          If I had a restauraunt, I would honor customer requests, but he may be just trying to deliver a level of taste that he doesn't feel you would get if you start switching out ingredients, etc...

          10 Replies
          1. re: sisterfunkhaus

            I get where you're coming from but the customer is the one paying and it was not as if the OP asked them to re-work a sauce or something like that. It's a wedge of lettuce; there is no way to mess that up. It was apparent that the customer didn't want to experience the dressing...I can't believe that chef/owner would rather lose a customer than to change dressings. It makes no sense and there is no rational behind it in my opinion.

            I am with the others in that I would make sure to tell as many people as I could about it and make sure they continue to lose customers. I'm going to NO in April...to the OP, please post the name of the restaurant so I can make sure that my 30 friends (members of a club) and I don't spend our money here.

            1. re: sisterfunkhaus

              In the specific circumstance related by the OP there should be NO issue of the guest concluding something negative from the salad dressing. If he asked for the substitution, finding fault with his own pairing would be as stubborn and arrogant as the behavior of the chef.

              While a 'bleu cheese wedge' is a definite classic pairing, it is really quite ludicrous for a chef to be so adamant. As was said by others: "It's just a hunk of lettuce". I say......let him put ketchup on it if he wants to.

              1. re: Midlife

                I disagree about it just being a hunk of lettuce. Iceberg is very bland and high in water content and needs a thicker dressing that won't fall through the cracks of the wedge. Also, I have had several wedges that were far superior to others. The best I have had just the right balance of toppings and were accompanied by hard toasts to spread the leftover chunks of cheese on. And, fresh dressings can take as much artistry as a fancier dish. It's often quite difficult to get the perfect balance of flavors. And if the chef created that dressing to complement certain salad flavors, it is definitely artistry.

                When I think of a wedge salad with a thin raspberry vinaigrette on it (which I love), I kind of gag. I can imagine it being thin and watery tasting. I do think that certain greens should be paired with certain dressings. I probably wouldn't put a creamy Gorgonzola dressing on a spinach salad with strawberries, but I would put crumbled Gorgonzola and raspberry vinaigrette on a nice spinach salad.

                I can totally understand the idea that if you are going to the restaurant with a certain chef for the experience, you should respect their food. I actually do think that the chef should have given them the dressing they wanted, I can just see where the chef is coming from in looking at it from an artistic/craftsman perspective. There are plenty of experiences that people pay for that they don't get to demand having their way, and apparantly that place is one of them.

                1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                  I have sympathy for those with frustrating restaurant experiences and I agree with your assessment (while very much enjoying your name, sisterfunkhaus). I was thinking the same thing regarding a wedge salad, and also wondering if there wasn't some concern that a passerby might assume that salads at this restaurant are likely to be that sad bowl o' lettuce (iceberg) found in cheaper establishments.

                  What I find interesting is that the hounds crying in outrage might very well be the same hounds who would sniff in disdain at anyone seeking to change a meal or combination at an 'ethnic' restaurant. It is always interesting to see where demands for respect of craftsmanship and tradition (or that fave of chowhounds 'authenticity') become demands to recognise the eternal correctness of the customer.

                  1. re: Lizard

                    >>>"It is always interesting to see where demands for respect of craftsmanship and tradition (or that fave of chowhounds 'authenticity') become demands to recognise the eternal correctness of the customer."

                    Good point, Lizard. I've been trying to find a comeback but I started a post decrying some very (to me) bizarre toppings on "pizzas", so it's hard to frame the response properly.

                    I think everyone has their own 'lines in the sand' for this sort of thing. I really CAN see the downside to the dressing substitution. I wouldn't want to have my Tom Kha Gai served with a beef broth and I won't put ketchup on a hot dog, so I guess it is NOT just a hunk of lettuce when it's listed as a Bleu Cheese wedge on the menu.

                    But................ here I go................ to recall Jack Nicholson (in The Last Detail) ........ perhaps the OP's husband should have ordered a plain wedge of iceberg lettuce and a vinaigrettte salad - HOLD THE SALAD! Ah, but I'm getting a bit out of control now.

              2. re: sisterfunkhaus

                How much artistry goes into a wedge salad? It's not like the chef has carefully selected several ingredients to create a certain profile. It's one ingredient with a salad dressing. If the customer knows he likes another dressing, chances are it isn't going to ruin any level of taste by putting that dressing on the wedge.

                1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                  Sisterfunkhaus: I agree with you completely. And the Beethoven analogy is spot-on.
                  If I'm in the mood to "have it my way" I'll to Burger King. Otherwise, I'll patronize a place with artistic integrity.

                  1. re: Leonardo

                    I have absolute respect for artistic integrity so to speak, but a wedge salad is a wedge salad. I would never request that a chef change a well crafted dish to my specific tastes, as I feel that would be insulting. But a salad dressing? C'mon!

                    1. re: Leonardo

                      Artistic integrity? It's food!
                      Now, all cooking isn't the same, but when you're a paying customer, it's not extraordinary to ask for small accomodations. And this one was miniscule.
                      ps. Beethoven wasn't in the service industry, where misanthropes do not belong.

                    2. re: sisterfunkhaus

                      i could see this being the case. However, OTOH, it was a lettuce wedge. With dressing. I can't imagine that the raspberry vinaigrette would work on snap peas, but not a wedge... seems silly, yet, i guess it's the chef / owener's right to do whatever.

                    3. to the unnamed crazy narcissistic chef -- a "narcisschef" ©:

                      if the customer wants a wedge with another dressing in your cheffy repertoire, give it to him; what's it to you?
                      ~~~~~~~~~
                      i'd have paid for drinks, walked out (but on my way <maybe> popped my head into the kitchen to say "thanks, but no thanks" to narcisschef; "keep your stilton, bro.'").

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: alkapal

                        alkapal--you might also want to copyright "narcissichef". The extra syllable seems to make it easier to roll off the tongue.

                        I do love your linguistic twist here!