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Mar 4, 2011 04:17 PM

"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 — 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/ 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.