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Nov 3, 2010 02:50 AM

Why your favorite Restaurant now sucks

The Chef less Restaurant

We all have eaten in them .. That nice dip that used to pop in your mouth with freshness and flavor on the table now tastes like Ortega dip with a small doctored up finish. The foccatia is missing the Grana Padana , The water glass is clean just no sparkiling,.The server reads the specials but there are less of them and simpler .
That special indescribable something is gone .The food is ok but kind of flat. Welcome to the Chef less Restaurant. Here is how it generally goes down. The owner opens with with the best chef he can find., and as time progresses the cooks in the kitchen learn the dishes the chef created , The prep guys kind of learn how to cook and the dishwashers learn to prep .The owner looks around and realizes the biggest salary who is the chef he can get by without him. The Food still comes out of the kitchen , The dishes are Almost the same and the thousand a week he was paying the chef can go into the owners pocket
Then it starts the slow process of erosion. The Dishes start coming out under salted , That crunchy garnish is gone from the plate. Instead of braising something for 8 hours at 300 degrees now its cooked in 4 hours at 500 degrees. No basil for the tomato sauce, it’s ok “they” [Meaning you] will never no. The cook now says It’s getting late we can get another day out of the oil in the fryer no need to clean it.” Those fries the distributor brought in are pretty good look at all the labor that will save .Lets buy them and you know what that cheese cake is almost the same Frozen from SYSCO let’s give that a shot too. And before you can say Auction the buyers show up picking Your specially designed bathroom décor the $500 dollars in designer salt shakers and your dream ,little restaurant is broken into 1000 pieces for the next guy to “save money in his kitchen”
Sorry restaurant owners of the past present and future .you can’t tug on superman’s cape you can’t spit into the wind and most of all If you want a decent restaurant you need a chef .Not a dishwasher who would be more happy if he was making .15 cents more an hour weeding your front lawn.

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  1. It's not just the owners, the diners are looking to save money too, it's just the way it is right now. To keep menu prices where they are, certain compromises are being made. I'd bet the owners discuss this to some extent with the chef in the course of things, but if a chef thinks $1,000 a week is minimum wage, it's time for them to get off their high horse. What happened to cooking for the love of it? I'd say the majority of restaurant owners, high- and low- end, are just hanging on by the skin of their teeth and hoping for the economy to pick up in the future, so they can pay their employees what they really deserve.

    7 Replies
    1. re: coll

      Being A Past Restaurant owner Coll.there is no question Restaurants are Struggling and diners are looking to save a buck as well.The problem or point I am making really isn't that the marketplace needs more efficient or less expensive is that uneducated owners think that there product does not change, there quality does not slip ,there luster does not fade by removing in most cases the passion in the kitchen meaning the chef.I have many years of schooling thousands of hours in a kitchen and most importantly the desire to share my passion with anyone intrested.The gist of what I am trying to express is you can't take out the heart from the body and not expect the rest to wither,and think your guests are stupid or believe you can fool them .It does not work that way I have not seen it.I am so done eating food served that tastes like no one cares.I would rather eat a white Castle Burger and call it a day.At least they are true to form.

      1. re: adam goldgell

        It makes me sad to see so many people that prefer chain restaurants over ones with a unique chef. Part of it is the economy, but the other part I don't know what to say. You're right, a good chef that knows how to buy, and to cut his own meat, use all his scraps for stews and soups, and so on, will earn his keep in the end. It's just that now, they have to think more like a partner. The creative part (heart and soul) we all know you can't buy from Sysco. I'm just worried that we're losing so many great chefs.I've seen a lot of older ones lately changing careers to something out of food, like truck driving and plumbing, or just going on unemployment, instead of staying on to mentor the young ones.

        My 80 year old Mom has been complaining to me lately that all her favorite local fancy restaurants, upstate in a nice village, seem to be cutting their portions (she likes the leftovers for lunch the next day, being on a very tight budget, so it's obvious to her.). Also, that she can tell the appetizers, like her favorite, fried calamari, are no longer house made. She's boycotting several of them because of this, you'll be glad to know! And she's making sure they notice her absence.

      2. re: coll

        I believe the average diner has no concept of what a chef is responsible for and just how many hours is involved in creating a menu,doing the shopping,running a kitchen,pricing out recipes, training and overseeing a crew,policing walk in and dry storage,maintaining health codes and dealing with owners and partners who demand consistent quality,innovation,and above all profit with razor thin margins, all the while working 60 to 70 hours a week with perhaps 1 day off.
        $1000.00 a week may not be minimum wage but the age of the chef as monk,plying his craft for love does not pay the rent,health care,or his family's welfare.
        So the next time you sit down in a independent restaurant and enjoy that special or seasonal menu, please realize the amount of time ,effort and craft that went into it just so you can have an enjoyable evening out.

        1. re: Duppie

          Oh I realize, I'm in the business myself. I know what goes on back of house. I love chefs that live to be in the kitchen. But sometimes artists have to struggle when the money gets tight, rather than walking away. This recession is just changing our world as we knew it to be, way too quickly for me.

          1. re: coll

            I walked away myself when it became apparent I didn't have the drive or talent to run a kitchen but have all the respect for those who do and dealt with the long hours,heat,stress and slave wages. I fear that those who haven't experienced a hot kitchen think it's akin to the nice,clean,shiny,spacious environment they see on the food network.

            1. re: Duppie

              Well put Duppie.When I went to culinary school they used to make the students work in the field for 6 months before they applied.So they would have a small clue what they were in for.This past summer the Kitchen I was in reached almost 120 degrees We set up a crash cart out side with ice buckets ,salt tabs, hoses etc. I had guys in there making almost no money that put up with it and you ask yourself if your crazy..Despite that most day's I loved being at work.The food Network it ain't

              1. re: adam goldgell

                I too miss it sometimes,the hustle,the heat,the alliances,the brotherhood but am now content to leave it to the professionals and try to leave a clean plate and healthy tip in return.

      3. I googled you, Adam, and it's clear from a recent NYT review of your creative kitchen, that your passion translates not only to your post but to your menu as well. It's also clear that you write from the p.o.v. of both owner and chef, so you clearly know whereof you speak.

        Every problem is an opportunity and sometimes the solution of the problem is more creative than had there been no problem at all. e.g. the economic woes have put a lot of restaurants out of business. Some of the survivors are better for it. And cheaper alternatives that have sprung up have expanded the region's culinary diversity. Price points are no longer ridiculous for the burbs. This ain't the city.

        As to the question you ask, Enzo's in Mamaroneck was terrific back when the warm, dedicated and gifted Enzo patrolled the back and front of the house many years ago. The place today is a graveyard -- taste and customer wise. All the passion gone.

        Enzo's Restaurant
        451 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck, NY 10543

        1. This is a brilliant and very informative post. Thank you Adam for sharing this experience and point of view. So many things touched upon had never occurred to me before. Truly appreciated -- thank you again.

          1. i had a place we used to frequent that was owned by a friend of mine. he was also the chef. he had no formal training but had a great eye for interesting combinations. after several very successful years he got ill and decided to sell the place rather than having someone run it for him although his assistant chefs were very good. the buyer wasn't really a restaurateur and eventually alienated his employees. he then started cutting corners. last i heard, the place is till very good but a shadow of it's former self. a real shame.

            1. I watched you on that latest Food:Impossible show.

              you claimed working in something like 18 restaurants in 12 years!
              By my math, that is a new job every NINE months.