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"Puritan Chefs" in the NYT

Interesting article about grumpy-pants chefs who won't allow customers to salt their own damn food, etc. A bit pearl-clutchy and "Well, I never" but a good read just the same.


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  1. This struck a chord :

    "Kenny Shopsin became something of a cult figure for the litany of rules — including...no more than one order at each table of any particular dish"

    I try to impose this rule - as a restaurant guest, not a chef - on my dining companions. Because I like to have an array of dishes to look at and to taste. And sometimes people even humor me. I've eaten at Shopsin's a couple of times, but solo, so no chance of running afoul of him in this area.

    3 Replies
    1. re: small h

      i love the concept of being able to try more dishes that way, but it's not usually an option for someone like me with food allergies/intolerances...plus everyone at the table has to be willing to share :)

      oh, and i can guarantee one thing...if you ever see me reach for the salt shaker at a restaurant, you're being Punk'd.

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        I understand the backlash against over demanding customers who feel "the customer is always right." I mean, you just have to read some of the reviews at Yelp to see the level of neediness and self-absorption of our generation.

        But you what? Sometimes I don't want to share! Sometimes I don't feel the effort to go through the ritual of passing plates back and forth between people at the table.

        1. re: david t.

          LOL. people on CH complaining about yelp people's self absorption is the pot calling the kettle black.

          and both yelp and CH are populated by people of more than one generation

    2. Good lord..can you imagine being married to one of those control freaks? Yikes!!!!!

      1. I don't see a problem with this. The chefs have every right to determine how to best run their restaurant as long as they're not breaking any laws, and diners have the choice whether or not to patronize those restaurants.

        23 Replies
          1. re: gyc

            Eh, I know everyone has different opinions about this, I just think there needs to be a balance. No, a chef is not a short-order cook who customizes every ding-dang thing, but he's also not my mother, and his preferences are not *better* than mine.

            Mostly I object to the superior attitude behind it, and the mystifying disdain for serving customers. I'm not *too* worked up, though. ;)

            1. re: LauraGrace

              If his preferences aren't better than yours, you don't have to eat his food

              1. re: jgg13

                That's a non sequitur. His execution might be better; he's almost certainly a better chef, one hopes. But preferences are just that -- they're not really categorizable as "better" or "worse".

                I'm NOT saying that these guys have to serve ketchup. It's just the total snobbery of implying that it's "worse" to enjoy ketchup than not. Of course I don't have to eat his food, but I can also call a spade a spade and say that it's snobbish to moralize one's preferences. I have a few foods and condiments I don't care for, and I might or might not serve them in my (imaginary) restaurant, but I wouldn't pretend like my preferences are superior to all other preferences or that people who *dare* to ask for or enjoy something I don't enjoy are ruining the perfect experience I've created for them. I used to get offended when people would salt the dish I'd made for them, but I was fifteen. De gustibus.

                Serve what you like, but don't be an ass about it, is all I'm saying.

                1. re: LauraGrace

                  Serve what you like, but don't be an ass about it, is all I'm saying.
                  and you said it well :)

                  i'm all for staying true to one's vision, but i think some of these chefs and owners are just on a power trip. had the article been about LA and not NY, there's no doubt that Sang Yoon and his policies at Father's Office would have been front & center. (i'm personally a little bitter about that particular example because his categorical *refusal* to serve the famous Office Burger without the bun means that i'll never get to try it.)

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    > his categorical *refusal* to serve the famous Office Burger without the bun means that i'll never get to try it.

                    Can't you just not eat the bun? I went somewhere today (a bakery, for a breadmaking class) where you "can have your eggs any way as long as they're poached." I only like scrambled eggs, so I just ate the potato/veg hash that was underneath the egg.

                    1. re: Jay F

                      "Not eating the bun" is not an option for most people with celiac, AFAIK, because the burger's already been contaminated with the gluten from the bread. A low-carb-dieter could peel off the bread, sure.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        @Jay, if it was just a matter of preference i could simply remove the bun. but i have Celiac Disease, and as LauraGrace so kindly pointed out for me (thanks LG!), once that bun touches the meat, it's not safe for me to eat. (been there, done that, and the results aren't pretty.)

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          GHG, just as a matter of curiosity, is this true of all people with celiac, or is there more of a spectrum? I'd be interested to know how scrupulous I'd have to be about cleaning my utensils prior to making a GF meal for a friend, for instance, or if it'd be a no-go altogether.

                          1. re: LauraGrace

                            as far as actual *symptoms* go there's a spectrum...some people are asymptomatic, others (like me) have very clear physical reactions when glutened. regardless of the manifestation of symptoms - or lack thereof - *any* exposure/ingestion is bad for Celiacs.

                            as far as cooking for someone in a non-GF kitchen, it's tricky. theoretically if you sanitize all utensils, surfaces, and cooking & serving vessels you should be okay...but if you do a lot of baking or cooking with gluten-containing flour in your kitchen, i guarantee you there are microscopic particles of gluten all over the place. whether or not any of it ends up in the food (and the chance that your guest would react to such an infinitesimal amount) is a crapshoot. it usually little details - like crumbs in a toaster oven - that get overlooked and end up causing the problem.

                            i hate to say it, but i've come to accept the reality that 9 out of 10 times when i dine in a restaurant, no matter how carefully i order and how accommodating the restaurant tries to be, i'll end up having some sort of reaction. it sucks, but such is life :)

                              1. re: LauraGrace

                                any time! you have no idea how much people like me appreciate it when someone who doesn't have to deal with this in their own life actually asks/cares to know about the details and how they impact us :)

                    2. re: LauraGrace

                      Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head with the observation about moralizing taste.

                      To me, there's a big difference between a restaurant simply not serving something (e.g. ketchup), and being dictatorial about serving food only one way. Obviously, restaurants have to make decisions about what ingredients they use and what drinks and condiments they serve. It's also fine to recommend serving something a certain way and try to dissuade people from ordering it if they want an omission or substitution that really changes it. But some of these guys seem to hate their customers. I was really struck by David Chang's complaint: "My personal opinion is that a lot of people say they have a special allergy or they don’t like something so they can get better service.” Because wanting good service is so unreasonable....

                      1. re: jlafler

                        I think "wanting good service" in this context means that people want to have all sorts of changes and bells and whistles added to their meals. I think that dining preferences changed into "allergies" a long time ago because that is more PC, and I can completely understand how demoralizing it must be for a chef to deal with these kind of demands. Yes, many people do have food allergies, and they must be very, very careful about what and WHERE they eat.

                        1. re: LauraGrace

                          You're the one who first brought up the notion of preferences being better. I was just using your own words to say "you don't have to go there if you don't like their policies"

                          1. re: jgg13

                            Huh? Where?

                            You're right, I don't. But they also don't have to be jerks about it, and pretend that their non-ketchup-on-fries opinion is inherently superior to my ketchup-on-fries opinion.

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              "and his preferences are not *better* than mine"

                              At the end of the day I look at it this way. It's their business to run. If they want to be jerks about it, if they want to be militant about it, whatever, that's their own preference.

                              If people choose not to go there because of this (I know that I've done that before), that's their own decision to make.

                              In the end, if enough people don't like the attitude and don't go, the place will either change or go out of business. If enough people either enjoy or don't mind teh business and do bring their money to the business, then it'll thrive.

                              Either way, it's the owner's decision as to how to portray themselves and it is the customer's decision whether or not to go there or not.

                              1. re: jgg13

                                Oh, I see! I was trying to figure out what you were referencing. Yeah, by, "his preferences are not better than mine" I wasn't trying to say my preferences are better than his. They're just my preferences. Again, I'm referring to attitude.

                                And yes, Mr. Anti-Ketchup or whoever has the right to be militant, and I have the right to say he's being an ass! ;-)

                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                  I knew what you meant, sorry, like i said i was just using it as a roundabout way of saying something I should have just said in teh first place to avoid confusion ;)

                      2. re: LauraGrace

                        I think it's all pretty pompass ass funny. However, I would be curious to know what happens if you don't like something at some of these places. Do they credit your bill? Do they make you something different? Do they "blackball" you - because you must not have any taste??? LOL

                      3. My DH is frequently asked why he doesn't open his own restaurant, and his answer is usually something along the line that if he did, he'd have to serve people he doesn't like, and change things in ways he doesn't think are good. Obviously these chefs have found a way to remain true to their vision of what and how to serve. Having had friends who come to dinner having recently set out on some bizarre eating regime, I know first hand how annoying and difficult it is to cope with alterations to one's menu. It must be even more difficult while running a restaurant. I say "Yay" to them, and if I don't like it I'll go somewhere else.

                        1. Love the "pearl-clutchy", I am stealing that.
                          These policies make perfect sense to me.

                          1. As one who once (way back in the late '50s) had a guest at a sit down formal dinner in my home for which I had prepared "hard core" haute cuisine, in this case tournedos Rossini, bounce up from the table without so much as a "by your leave," dash to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle of ketchup from my refrigerator, then return to the table and scape the foie gras and tufffle off his tournedo and DROWN in it ketchop, I can empathise with these chefs. However, I was not in business, it was a first time "new guy in town" guest who was never invited again (at my husband's insistence) so I had no future customers to lose. But for restaurants I think some common sense has to be applied.

                            I don't like the rule of no duplicate orders at a table because sometimes I have a favorite dish I want, but would like friends I've been telling about it to be able to try it without sharing mine. I think that's a ridiculous rule! But I DO think it would be a lot of fun if the customers could insist on it.... Wouldn't it be great mischievious fun to go for a 15 course tasting menu and then insist that no one at the table could be served the same thing at the same time? Hey, turnabout is fair play!

                            I would love to see what happens when someone goes somewhere that FORBIDS ketchup on fries or on hot dogs, and as soon as the order is delivered, whips out a bunch of ketchup packets from the nearest drive through. Do they throw him out or does the chef die from a fit of appoplexy? Interesting to watch.

                            As someone with a ton of allergies that are a royal pain in the butt for me, and that I TRY not to make a royal pain in the butt for anyone else, these restrictions don't make a lot of sense to me, especially for places that want to have a happy bottom line. I wonder if they would all be as hard nosed if a customer explained a reason for needing things the customer's way instead of the house's way?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              I would love to see what happens when someone goes somewhere that FORBIDS ketchup on fries or on hot dogs, and as soon as the order is delivered, whips out a bunch of ketchup packets from the nearest drive through. Do they throw him out or does the chef die from a fit of appoplexy? Interesting to watch.

                              Father's Office here in LA has a strict "no-ketchup" policy, and patrons have been *thrown out* for smuggling it in to use on their fries. seriously.

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  I wonder if they were thrown out before, during or after eating? Did they get their meal free?

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    I guess if I lived close enough to patronize Father's Ovvice, I would have to order everything to go! '-)

                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                    And now I'm talking to m yself by replying to myself, BUT....! If I wanted to go to a restaurant with friends that refused to serve more than one order of anything to the same table, I would organize a party of ten, then all of us would insist on separate tables! I LOVE mischief! '-)

                                  3. You can argue about fine lines and balance in how far places go to accommodate customer choices, but there are limits: the Grumpy bs about not serving espresso except in a $12 you buy it cup. What an arrogant insult. Don't they know about soap, water, and something called dishwashing? Or are they playing some bratty joke?

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: bob96

                                      It is a bratty joke. They will only sell espresso "to go" in the $12 cup.

                                      1. re: donovt

                                        Well, I don't know. For me, coffee and paper just do not go together. Paper cups make coffee taste terrible, and I can't even stand coffee made with those paper Melita filters so I have to use the gold plated filters from Switzerland to have coffee I think tastes reasonable. I haven't tried plastic cups. Now, if they refuse to sell you coffee to go in a bring your own china cup, then they're pushing things. .

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          I personally don't have a very discerning palate when it comes to coffee, so paper is fine by me. But, I totally get that they won't do it.

                                        2. re: donovt

                                          The story wasn't clear about this: made it sound as if they would not serve espresso at all unless you "bought" the $12 cup.

                                          1. re: bob96

                                            “You’re supposed to drink espresso fast,” said Caroline Bell, an owner of Café Grumpy, explaining that paper lets the heat dissipate too quickly.

                                            When some customers at the three outposts in Brooklyn and Manhattan became, well, grumpy over the lack of takeout espresso, Ms. Bell instituted a policy meant to be taken more with a wink than with the snarl of the cafe’s logo: Patrons can get an espresso to go, if they pay $12 to drink it from a porcelain cup they can keep. “People actually do that,” she said. “There’s a guy that comes in every day to Chelsea with that cup and gets espresso.”

                                            I think that is pretty clear.

                                            1. re: Meog Eoyo

                                              You're right, but they're still childish scolds.

                                        3. re: bob96

                                          Why would anyone need to take an espresso "to go" when it takes no more than a few sips to finish a shot?

                                          1. re: bob96

                                            It's part of the "to go" policy. Reading somewhat between the lines you can bring the cup back and get your next espresso at the regular price. You wash it with your own soap.

                                          2. Louis Lunch, reputed to be the originator of the hamburger sandwich does not allow patron sto put ketchup on their burgers. There are also many other places who follows this tenet. How is that any different from this case?

                                            14 Replies
                                            1. re: Phaedrus

                                              It isn't. It's dumb. But it's their choice. At the same time, it's a diner's choice to patronize or not patronize the business. An example the article listed was Spotted Pig. I ate their once, thought their burger was a bit dry and their Roquefort way too caustic. i scraped off the cheese and asked for ketchup (for my fries as well) and they refused. So, I haven't been there since. As an aside, I don't understand all the hatred for ketchup. I find people who are against that will put tomatoes, lettuce, onion, salads, salad dressings and so on to "enhance" said food recipient, but whoa betide those who want ketchup. Stupid stuff. But like I say, it's your choice.

                                              1. re: David11238

                                                My theory is that all of the chefs and restaurateurs who force such mandates on their clientelle are the poor souls whose mommies made them eat their greatly despised spinach when they were little kids and this is their way of getting even with the world. Too bad they didn't all run away from home. Then we wouldn't be faced with this sort of cullinary dictatorship.

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  My theory is that people are making mountains out of molehills. Can't get ketchup for your burger at a place? Go somewhere else. Isn't that easy? In fact you should go to Burger King, their motto is, Have it Your Way.

                                                  1. re: pranksy

                                                    I'll do you one better. If you're at a restaurant which serves hamburgers and they refuse to give you ketchup or mustard or mayonnaise, or anything else that's associated with a hamburger, and there isn't any sort of statement or warning saying such on the premises, in plain sight, then leave without paying. Then go to BK, McD's or whatever your favorite burger place is and spend your money there.

                                                    1. re: pranksy

                                                      pranksy gives a perfect example of the attitude in question: if you want ketchup on your burger, then obviously you are not capable of appreciating anything better than Burger King.

                                                      1. re: jlafler

                                                        99.9% of places that serve burgers will give you ketchup and you want the other 0.1% to acceed to you wishes, makes perfect sense.

                                                        1. re: pranksy

                                                          You miss my point. The problem isn't what the restaurant serves, it's how they respond to someone who expects or wants something different. Compare: "We don't serve ketchup, would you like to try xyz instead?" to "if you want ketchup on your burger, go to Burger King." Your words, not theirs, but it's the attitude I'm talking about.

                                                          1. re: jlafler

                                                            I only brought up Burger King because of their motto. If In-N-Out had the same motto I'd have used them as an example.

                                                            1. re: pranksy

                                                              So? The comment would still be condescending.

                                                        2. re: jlafler

                                                          I think the point was more that nobody is forcing you to eat at such places. If you are insistent on having ketchup on your burger, don't eat somewhere that you won't have that option.

                                                          1. re: donovt

                                                            That's fine as long as you know how they serve the food. If I find a burger unpalatable without ketchup, and the restaurant doesn't serve ketchup, then I would order something else -- if I knew in advance about the policy. But if I order a burger and then find out about the no ketchup dictum, then I think it would not be unreasonable to feel disappointed, since most places that serve burgers also serve ketchup (if you want it).

                                                            1. re: jlafler

                                                              If I went to the diner on the corner and they wouldn't give me ketchup, I'd be pissed. But most of the places that have these "puritanical" rules are pretty well known. I would be very surprised if anyo e here would go to them without knowing th rules ahead of time.

                                                              1. re: donovt

                                                                Too me, that's like a restaurant serving a Thanksgiving turkey dinner but not allowing gravy. If you're an American, or have lived in America for a year or two, you take it for granted that a T-Day dinner with gravy is the rule-of-thumb. Just like ketchup for burgers and fries, and milk going with coffee. If a restaurant is going to change the established Rule, then they should have the courtesy to inform the patrons, so they can make a choice on the spot.

                                                    2. re: David11238

                                                      "whoa betide"

                                                      Funny typo. Should be woe betide ;-)

                                                  2. If you change the food before you taste it, that's one thing.

                                                    But if I taste your food and it sucks, I reserve the right to modify it as needed. Even if that means adding a little salt or even tabasco sauce. I carry tabasco in my bag because my fiance likes to use it to disguise absolutely terrible food if his blood sugar is crashing and he must eat there.

                                                    I don't like modifiers (unless it's for a genuine allergy, dietary need like diabetes, or religious prohibition), but a chef is not a god and the ones who think their food cannot possibly need salt and pepper are the ones who tend to screw up the most.

                                                    And woe unto you if you have no diet soda. Diet soda is not for dieters, it's for people who can't stand the liquid candy that passes for a beverage in this country. Unless of course you have real sugar soda, but they never do.

                                                    1. It’s cool by me. Their restaurant, their kitchen, their rules. “Fine, show me what you guys can do.”

                                                      I’ve got no problem eating just about anything offered at restaurants of a certain level. I’ve actually had wonderful meals simply admitting that I was happy to try what the chef suggests. Maybe a chance to try something I never thought of before. No menu, no decision. I’ll gladly let go of the reigns for the night. “Oh, and if you could let me know a suggested wine pairing? Thanks.”

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                        It occurs to me that part of the issue here may be with what people expect from different types of restaurants. As you say, in restaurants of a "certain level," you place yourself in the hands of the chef and the sommelier and expect them to wow you. But when it comes to something like a burger or other casual food, then most people don't expect the chef to be an artiste whose food must not be tampered with.

                                                        1. re: jlafler

                                                          To me the idea of "level" refers to skill, whether it be in the preparation of coffee, burgers, or molecular gastronomy. When a kitchen displays such skills, I'll try what they offer as they offer it. If they place that much importance upon it, then why not a little "when in Rome?" It's certainly not going to kill me to find out what a burger tastes like without ketchup.

                                                          On the contrary, if I'm feeling bitchy and micro-managey, I'll go somewhere else or prepare what I want myself.

                                                      2. Many years ago back when I set the policy ina quick serve restaurant, my dictum to the employees was if we have it in stock, the customer can have it. Meaning that I didn't care what was printed on the menu, if we had the ingredients to make a customer's request then the customer could have whatever he/she darn well wanted. My view was that I was in business to make the customer happy, not the other way around.

                                                        Now wait a minute, I hear you saying. That was a quick serve, we're talking about white tablecloth restaurants here. Not entirely. I was checking out the on-line menu of an Asian sandwich shop in NYC with an eye to having lunch there next week. At the top of the menu is this quote, "Our sandwiches were created to enjoy as they are so PLEASE, NO MODIFICATIONS." The caps are theirs. Since each and every sandwich has both cilantro and mayo and I am one of those who are sensitive to cilantro and I personally abhor mayo, I guess I won't be visiting there. Really, would I upset the balance of nature if I ate a sandwich without cilantro?

                                                        Yes, the world won't end if I don't get to partake in these chefs "visions" of food and my life won't be the poorer for it, but really. This attitude is just plain ridiculous.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: rockycat

                                                          A restaurant is part process and part product. Each establishment must strive to find some point in the spectrum at which to function. You elected to place priority upon the former. It is not inherently correct or incorrect, but it is certainly a valid choice - providing a service to customers is undeniably relevant. I just do not think that there is only a single point of equilibrium.

                                                          For other establishments to adopt a different philosophy or priority system than yours is not ridiculous, just different. Placing the primary importance upon the product is fair, particularly when it is made clear to the customer. For example, if they made a box of mayo-cilantro crackers for sale in stores would that be as objectionable? Or would you simply pass by them, concluding "that product is not for me." If other buys the product and the company succeeds, fine, if not, like everyone else, they must live with the consequences of their decisions.

                                                          What strikes me about this whole topic, frankly, is how many of us place so much importance upon our ability to make choices, but don't try very hard to accept the freedom of others to establish their own priorities in so doing. It is particularly poignant when we note the regard in which we hold our own choices, and the lack of regard many have for the determinations made by others that may conflict therewith. (I mean, even I've been wrong.)

                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                            Most people commenting here do not seem to have a problem with "accept[ing] the freedom of others to establish their own priorities" -- if by that you mean the restaurants' freedom to serve food the way they wish to. As I said above, obviously, some choices have to be made about what they will and won't serve, and (again, obviously) those choices are up to the restaurant. I would not complain if I went into a burger joint and they didn't have udon noodles. It's the attitude that bugs me. Or, as LauraGrace said above, "Serve what you like, but don't be an ass about it."

                                                            1. re: jlafler

                                                              It sounds pretty reasonable to me not to expect udon in a burger joint, but no ketchup? In a burger joint? Come on....!

                                                              1. re: jlafler

                                                                In a way, however, you are illustrating my point. You’re considering the issue from the point of view of the process, the service. Attitude is assumed through such assumption of the priority system. It is likely that a great deal of concern and debate went into determining the point in the spectrum the restaurant would set its approach. “Product is to trump service” was the conclusion.

                                                                It takes a great deal of conviction to maintain such a stance. Frankly, I’m sure the restaurant owners are aware that it would be easier to compromise, and the staff willing to do so in order to pad their tips. Nevertheless, such compromise means more than simply catering to individual patrons, it means abandoning an attempt to maintain a new paradigm.

                                                                In the context of the article, as opposed to the hypotheticals or anecdotes offered in this thread, I do not see anyone being “an ass.” I see an exercise of professionalism in a service industry that traditionally was not viewed in such a manner. We are used to deferring to other professionals in the service industry based upon the acknowledgement of the fact that they have greater knowledge or experience than we do.* Why should it be so different in the instant context?

                                                                * I do admit that I have perceived some eroding of this deference in traditional professional relationships. In part, I believe it is due to an acquiescence by the professionals who are willing to do what some of these chefs are not.

                                                          2. It's easy to say, "if you don't like the way they serve it, just don't go there", but there are many reasons one might find oneself in a restaurant. You might go into an unknown restaurant while out of town, or you might be a guest at a group function and not have had any say in the location. To be in a situation like that and have the restaurant be completely unwilling to accommodate you, whether it be an allergy or just a taste preference, would make for a pretty miserable experience. And shows a distinct lack of hospitality on the part of the restaurant. And aren't restaurants in the business of hospitality?

                                                            1. I just figure that if that's what a restaurant choses to do it's literally their business.

                                                              These days with a Starbucks on every corner and a Mcdonald's close by diversity is good.