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Dec 5, 2010 04:03 AM

Absentee Chefs

I’ve noticed more and more that special evenings out to destination restaurants are missing something special – the CHEF. I understand that you are taking your chances having the star cook for you on a Tuesday or Wednesday night (hey, everyone deserves some time off), but on a packed house Friday or Saturday night there is no excuse for food to be prepared by the staff.

Jamie Kennedy has let us down (more than once), but I knew he had multiple interests. I know hoping Keller would be present at the French Laundry is a long shot, but one still hopes. Most recently, Martin Picard chose not to attend Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal on a packed Friday night (which the staff told me was his only restaurant).

Are there any other paying Customers out there having my bad luck ?

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  1. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. When I was in Paris with my SO I wanted to take her out to a 3 michelin star restaurant for her bday. Looking around at all the big name places, I realized it was more likely the name brand chef wouldn't be there. We ended up going to Ledoyen, the meal was the best I've ever had, and at the end of the night, the chef, came out and greeted every table personally. It was exactly what I wanted.

    It seems when some of the chefs get big, they become entrepreneurs and minimize the "chef" part. It's a shame.

    1 Reply
    1. re: piano boy

      These days, I wouldnt really expect a famous/celebrity chef to be at the stoves at all. If you want dinner cooked by the chef/patron, visit a place where the chef hasnt looked for the limelight. There are lots of them out there.

    2. Chefs aren't allowed to take a night off?

      1. If you are going to a restaurant run by a good chef it doesn't matter one iota whether the chef is there or not. Chefs oversee the running or the organization and when they aren't on site their chefs de cuisine do what they do every night and ensure the quality of the food. If you buy a couture Armani dress by do you expect Giorgio to have sewed even an inch of the dress? Chefs are craftsman not artist and it doesn't take the chef to duplicate his efforts.

        1 Reply
        1. re: reatard

          Well-said. Furthermore, one of the signs of a great chef is that he trains his staff superbly. So the better the chef, the less important his presence.

        2. You know, I understand your disappointment, but a chef's presence isn't required in a top-flight house. (S)He will have a correctly-trained staff turning out food made to his standards and according to his recipes. I've had many fine meals in houses where I didn't see the chef nor expect to, and it was all well and good. And I've had many fine meals in mid-flight houses that do not have a "name" chef where the chef did make a few rounds, during the meal and after service was completed, which made me like it all the more.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mamachef

            Totally agree. I haven't been to all that many "name" places but when I have it never crossed my mind to be critical of the absence of the chef. They get their reputation because of their food.

          2. I also had the thought that unless you asked, how would you even know if the "chef" is there? For instance, a few years ago we ate at Babbo. The only way I knew that Batali wasn't there was because I asked. And I only asked cause I thought it would be fun to actually see one of my heroes.

            4 Replies
            1. re: c oliver

              Ah, I wish I could fine the article but it had a quote from a waitress at Babbo who thinks it's hilarious when people ask if Mario is in. She said something along the lines of "Oh yeah, he's cooking your tortellini as we speak, give me a minute and I'll go get him!"

              Why pay extra to eat at a restaurant with a big chef name when the big chef hasn't been in that kitchen for years?

              1. re: piano boy

                Er, I think you've introduced a new component into the conversation. Our dinner for two at Babbo which included aperitifs and a bottle of wine was approx. $150. Momofuku Ssam was shockingly reasonable. The high prices 'may" come from the creativity of the food, the calibre of the cooking and the excellence and rarity of the ingredients. I think it's putting the cart before the horse to say that the prices are caused by a famous chef. How did she get famous?

                BTW, I wasn't asking if Batali was cooking that night. I asked if he was on the premises. He wasn't but he is frequently. And I doubt that any "big chef" is absent from their kitchen for "years."

                1. re: piano boy

                  What most people clearly don't understand is that these chefs aren't really chefs at this point, they're restaurateurs. Del Posto is a Mario Batali restaurant, but Del Posto has its own dedicated, constantly present chef. Another example could be Savoy and Back Forty, a much smaller "empire." Chef Peter Hoffman is in and around the restaurants daily, but the majority of the work attributed to a chef is done by Ryan Tate, who is technically the chef de cuisine.

                  I have no problem at all with this set up. In fact, I think it ensures that careful attention is paid to diners and their meals. Those who genuinely expect someone like Mario Batali to be at (ALL) their restaurants are sorely misguided.

                  1. re: suckeriove

                    Restauranteur is a good description in that many of the ventures are owned by outside investors and the celebrity chef is basically just an advisor/consultant with some kind of compensation.
                    I wouldn't even use the word CEO...the celebrity chef in many of these ventures isn't even involved in the financial aspects of the operations or calling the everyday shots.