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"Chef-is-always-right" restaurants [moved from Los Angeles board]

[We've moved this discussion from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7881... which is referring to the incident reported on in this article: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/daily... -- The Chowhound Team]

According to today's Times Food section, Gordon Ramsey and Victoria Beckham had a very different experience. The very pregnant Mrs. B asked for the smoked trout salad without the garnishes and with the dressing on the side - which I would say certainly qualifies as an omission - and was refused. Protests and appeals to reason were to no avail. Someone from the Times called the restaurant, and was airily informed that the policy is clearly stated on the menu, and that's that.

Pity - I thought I'd probably like Gjelina. But I'd as soon patronize a place with roasted kittens on the menu as any of these "Chef-is-always-right" joints.

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  1. >>Pity - I thought I'd probably like Gjelina. But I'd as soon patronize a place with roasted kittens on the menu as any of these "Chef-is-always-right" joints.<<

    Just my humble opinion, but in Gjelina's case, any chef who can turn humble ingredients like kale or wheat berries into glorious dreams is probably always right, at least in his kitchen. I'd respectfully urge you to give them a whirl - I think they'll pass muster with you...

    29 Replies
    1. re: bulavinaka

      I do not doubt the chef's skill, only his attitude. If I'm paying my money the food is mine, not the seller's (or "creator's", if you wish). What's so hard about that?

      I spent many years working as what used to be called a commercial artist, and learned very early that the first word of that description was much more important than the second. My clients often required work that was not to my taste, but as one brilliant boss told us repeatedly, "The client may not always be right, but he's always the client!" Now, as a home cook, I can do food exactly to my taste (and of course Mrs. O's); were I to put it on the market, it would be a very different story.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Sure, but to continue that analogy - Not all artists are that accommodating nor are all artists commercial artists. Gjelina know they are going to lose a certain percentage of customers when they do this, it's a business decision and have to be okay with it. Obviously the restaurant feels there are benefits that out weigh that. OTOH I think it's foolhardy to try and convince someone to surrender themselves to a good chef when they are not willing/able to give up that control.

        -----
        Gjelina
        1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

        1. re: AAQjr

          Let's back off from heavy philosophical confrontations here and regard the case of Victoria Beckham: let's say that she's passionate about smoked trout, and loves it in a salad. But let's say she breaks out in hives if she gets near this or that ingredient, or (as I'm sure was the case) is concerned about controlling the amount of dressing on her salads - and many of us are under stern orders from our doctors to demand our dressing on the side, so this is far from unusual. The restaurant, in refusing this very reasonable request for what it deems are perfectly sensible reasons, comes off looking like a pack of snooty twits, and the chef earns the scorn of a more eminent (if not necessarily better) chef.

          No, not all artists are commercial artists, any more than all writers are journalists, or all cooks are commercial cooks ... UNTIL they hang out that shingle, and start demanding money as the quid pro quo for their product. Of course they can keep that artiste's attitude if they want, and there are plenty of people who will applaud them for it and pay big wads of money for the privilege of worshipping at the altar (or atelier, if you're in the mood for bad puns). Travis's food may well be worth the adulation, and probably is, but if he can't bring himself to put the damn salad dressing in a side cup I'm thinking he's just a tad full of himself.

          1. re: Will Owen

            I disagree. There are godknowshowmany restaurants in LA that they can go to who will gladly (or not so) fulfill that request. Upon the knowledge that they would not be accommodated, Posh and Ramsey could have left and gone to any of them.

            Without getting into political or economic discussions, t's a free market, and if this particular proprietor thinks he can make a decent take preparing food as he sees fit, I see no reason why he shouldn't. He has the right to attempt the business model, and they have the right to protest by patronizing a different one.

            I think the idea that your dollars entitle you to whatever you want, whenever or wherever you want is just as snooty as refusing to make substitutions. :)

            1. re: inaplasticcup

              I vote the salad was pre mixed with dressing waiting in the fridge to be plated

              1. re: kpaxonite

                >GASP!!!< Oh no you didn't just suggest that Gordon Ramsey would eat at a restaurant that predresses its salads (highly unikely tho it may be that they do)... The scandal...

                1. re: inaplasticcup

                  hahahaha maybe they were scouting locations for Kitchen Nightmares: Upscale Edition lol

                2. re: inaplasticcup

                  Re-reading the OP I'll add:

                  22Protests and appeals"? Why? Just leave! They probably assumed with incredulity that the server obviously didn't know who he/she was refusing.

                  22Policy is stated clearly on the menu." Good on them for not kowtowing to money and celebrity.

                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                    I'm with you, cup. I always tell this story but I learned my lesson in the sweetest way possible my first time in Italy when a chef at a restaurant on the Amalfi coast gently but firmly refused my request for a particular pasta with a particular sauce, explaining that they just didn't go together.

                    Many of us would, and have on other threads, agreed that when it comes to that abominable bugaboo of authenticity, or better tradition (vs. innovation on the one hand or ignorance or fraud on the other), you have to know the rules before you break them. That gets a bit more complicated in the context of contemporary cuisine, where a chef is setting his own rules rather than relying on the established foodways of a particular culture. But only a bit. My feeling is, when I go a restaurant, I want to experience what the chef has to offer. Otherwise, why go? If a particular dish isn't to my liking as is, then I don't order it; I order something else. (I'm lucky enough not to have allergies but if I did I'd like to think I'd plan accordingly—presuming that restaurants of this ilk are usually of the special-occasion variety that you're planning ahead for anyway.)

                    Of all the things I look for in a chef, or any artist, however well or poorly paid, willingness to compromise isn't one of them.

                    Edit: Admittedly, the particular example of Posh Beckham raises my hackles, since everything about her screams overprivileged control freak.

                    1. re: tatamagouche

                      While I'm always willing explore and try stuff on my own, one of things that we all pay for when we eat out is the expertise, knowledge and opinion of the restaurant staff and kitchen. We would not be getting what we implicitly paid for if a chef or waitstaff does not tell us that a particular substitution impairs the quality of a dish and why.

                      Of course customers care about the manner by which the staff convey their knowledge and opinion. It's important, but that's a separate hospitality issue.

                      1. re: tatamagouche

                        "I learned my lesson in the sweetest way possible my first time in Italy when a chef at a restaurant on the Amalfi coast gently but firmly refused my request for a particular pasta with a particular sauce, explaining that they just didn't go together." And many clients of mine have been persuaded to drop or change some really awful design notions/typography/color combinations because I told them, always gently and reasonably, exactly what was wrong with those and why this other thing would look better. Which is emphatically not the same as simply refusing to do it.

                        Maybe I'm just a total customer-service freak, but that's (a) how I was taught to treat my clients, and thus (b) what I expect from vendors. And by "vendor" I mean anyone from a grocery-store clerk to a restaurateur. Because they are ALL in the business of selling stuff.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          That's true. As limster said, the mode of the message's delivery is very different from the content. Rudeness is not acceptable. But the original post, like the linked blogpost, doesn't reference how the message was delivered; the implication, then, is that the mere act of refusal is rude in itself, and on that point I disagree.

                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            Here's Ramsey's take from The LA Times' Daily Dish:

                            >>"The lady's pregnant!" Ramsay said. "No one is asking to be fussy.... I still think that's the customer's prerogative.... It was a sour note. I don't think customers should be treated that way. That might not be the way I choose to eat it, but that's what the customer wants."<<

                            Ramsay can think what he wants. I'm sure he'd be accommodating to a pregnant Lady Victoria, right? Unfortunately, this isn't his restaurant, so as much as he feels it should be the customer's prerogative, it's not his call. Besides, as a defender of his Lady-friend's meal choice and requested-but-denied deconstruction, maybe Ramsay could have asked her to defer from the choice in the first place. Considering her condition relative to what she ordered, all present should have thought twice. Goodhealthgourmet, a poster who I have the utmost respect for (and does great write-ups and has a killer avatar), brought up a very relevant point in this sub-thread that was spun off of another Gjelina post:

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/788295

                            Pregnancy trumps smoked fish. Considering how anal Beckham always appears to be (c'mon, Lady - crack a smile once in a while - your face won't crack), I'd think she'd know much better, but I guess persnickitiness and erudition don't always go hand in hand.

                            >>He added that he had an overall positive impression of the restaurant -- "the place is great" -- but added: "I don't know, times are tough out there. You have to show a touch of sensitivity."<<

                            Ramsay seems to be a well-schooled chap - what part of, "Changes & modifications politely declined." does he not understand? Sure, times are tough out there, but they aren't for Gjelina. And even if they were, the restaurant has its own perspective on how it does things and is free to make friends and enemies drawn to or revolted by their ways of business. They push quality, organics, the staff is extremely polite and helpful, and the results speak for themselves. And have a touch of sensitivity? Words Ramsay should consider himself.

                            Ramsay -- who refers to Victoria Beckham as "Lady Victoria" -- said he did not know who was running the kitchen at the time, or whether chef Travis Lett was in the house.

                            <<I contacted Gjelina for their side of the story. When the manager, who identified himself as Fran, came to the phone, I explained why I was calling and asked about the Beckham encounter. There was a long silence, before he said: "So you would like to know about our 'no substitutions' policy?"

                            Sure, I said, tell me all about the policy.

                            "It's clearly stated on the menu." And then he added, "Have a nice day," and hung up.<<

                            Classic Fran - High Five, bro...

                            1. re: bulavinaka

                              Yeah, agreed. There's nothing there that says the restaurant was actually rude, just unaccommodating of special requests per their policy.

                              The only thing I disagree with you about, bula: I think Posh's face would, in fact, crack if required to smile.

                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                Given how much food I've seen Ramsay spit back out onto a plate on his various shows, he doesn't appear to be the utmost in accommodation himself, even though I do get the difference.

                                His entire "but she's pregnant!!!" (aka special) rant kind of grates on me. There are any number of people who shouldn't eat suspect seafood, and a number more who shouldn't eat many other foods. .

                                1. re: im_nomad

                                  Yeah, that plea of His Lady being pregnant fell on deaf ears to me. That's begging pity from a guy who has none for just about anyone else.

                      2. re: Will Owen

                        I generally don't make "dressing." I dress a salad and serve it. You couldn't have your dressing on the side at my house. There is no dressing, per se.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          It's not about being full of himself. This is not Burger King 'your way right away' It's about showing off the food in the manner the Chef intends in a consistent manner. He's NOT demanding your money, Gjelena has a product, market driven rustic food and you can choose to consume it or not. But just like with Sang Yoon, you are buying 'as is'. If you are not interested in what the restaurant has to offer you don't have to go, I won't try to convince you otherwise.

                          The best way to service the majority of customers in a very busy restaurant is to have a dish leave the kitchen the exact same way every single time, with out variation.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            "No, not all artists are commercial artists, any more than all writers are journalists, or all cooks are commercial cooks ... UNTIL they hang out that shingle, and start demanding money as the quid pro quo for their product..." - Coming from a family where people earned their money by being an artist without being told what they have to do you are completely wrong about this definiton. "Commercial artists" (or those who do what they are told) are not artists in classical definition but more or less just tools for other. Being a "true" artist means having a certain level of competence and creativity which "commercial artist" don't have. In addition, not waiting to be told by somebody what to do but having own creativity also means not going the easy way but having an own vision of what to achieve. An that's not different with chefs and restaurants.

                            "...and there are plenty of people who will applaud them for it and pay big wads of money for the privilege of worshipping at the altar.." - I have heard this argument often from people who never reached themselves to certain level of competence in their field and tend to try to downplay other people's achievements and those who respect them

                            1. re: honkman

                              "Coming from a family where people earned their money by being an artist without being told what they have to do you are completely wrong about this definition." No, I'm not. The discipline I'm talking about here is not that of artist - the old appellation was misguided - but what we now call Graphic Designers, people whose skills are directed entirely towards commercial print or online work, what you rather nastily demean as "tools for the other". The Wyeths and such tribes as that are of a different ilk entirely, although again you betray an unfounded eltism by pronouncing those of us who do "mere" work for hire as devoid of advanced skills. I would suggest a visit to the exhibit space at the LA Art Center next time you're in the area ...

                              Designers, journalists, journeyman architects and chefs all have our moments of inspiration beyond (FAR beyond!) our clients' narrow interests, and every so often the client comes along who asks, "What would you really LIKE to do here?" That's lovely, if rare. In the meantime, our job is to keep everyone happy, do the best work we can get away with, and keep the rent paid.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                "In the meantime, our job is to keep everyone happy, do the best work we can get away with, and keep the rent paid" - Again you are wrong here. You seem to see your job solely to earn money but pretty much don't care what you do and have no desire to create something of your own anything beside what somebody told you to do (which is nothing else what a robot is doing) but many artists have a very different idea of their job and what they want to achieve. For them it is not only about the money but about integrity. Your approach is the easier one and will pay you more money in the short term but has nothing to do with artistry.

                                It is also the same outside of art - many people are willing to change their jobs and earn much less but are able to do what they really want because for them it is not only about to "keep the rent paid".

                                1. re: honkman

                                  What the hell do you mean, I don't care about anything but the money? Of course I HAVE to care about the money, to keep the household alive, but that's the first order of business for any responsible adult, and you're a moron if you think otherwise. I very much enjoy my craft - all of my crafts, I should say - and take great personal delight in exercising them, and am delighted when a client gives me rein to run free with it. But why should I sneer at the blacksmith, the miller, the weaver, the baker? Why should you? We who work in the trades do good and valuable work, and take pride in it, and find pleasure in it; to regard it as mere wage-slavery is to do a grave disservice to honest labor, on which doth the wheel of the world have its axis. The great wrong of our time is that those who hire the proud workers want to strip them of both their pride and their work, and send the latter overseas to those who toil for bare subsistence.

                                  And if you can't write any tighter than that, would you please just stop? Among other things I'm an editor, and this is making me crazy.

                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                    "but that's the first order of business for any responsible adult, and you're a moron if you think otherwise." - I think you are a moron if this seems to be your main driving force in life.

                                    "But why should I sneer at the blacksmith, the miller, the weaver, the baker? Why should you?" - I don't do it but based on your comments you do it at Travis Lett and how he decided to run his business.

                                    "The great wrong of our time is that those who hire the proud workers want to strip them of both their pride and their work, and send the latter overseas to those who toil for bare subsistence. " - The world is not just black and white and it would help if you would stop using meaningless phrases and add something substantial to the discussion

                                    1. re: honkman

                                      Folks, this discussion is coming very close to being removed for violating our "no personal attacks" rule. Please find a way to express your opinions and points without resorting to name-calling. Thanks.

                              2. re: honkman

                                "Coming from a family where people earned their money by being an artist without being told what they have to do"

                                This sort of qualification is unnecessary unless what you're trying to say can't stand on its own. And quite frankly,

                                "Being a 'true' artist means having a certain level of competence and creativity which 'commercial artist' don't have."

                                ...is quite possibly the biggest pile of BS I've ever read here. It is positively dripping with a disgusting amount of elitism, and more offensive than the posts that are in all caps and lack punctuation. There are plenty of "commercial artists" who are very skilled and creative, and plenty of "true artists" who are not.

                                You also mention the world not being black and white, yet you fail to acknowledge that in your black-and-white separation of "commercial artists" and "true artists". In this instance, it simply isn't that simple. There are plenty of artists who support themselves by doing commercial work, which gives them the financial freedom to be able to do their art on their own time; for example, some of the best musicians in the world are the ones you hear on commercial jingles. Also, being a chef/restauranteur is, by and large, a service-oriented profession. The goal for some is to be successful enough to be able to forget about the service aspect of it, so as not to have to surrender any amount of integrity of work, which Travis has been able to achieve. But that doesn't mean that someone who hasn't achieved that success yet is any less of an artist, just because he chooses to do that which Travis does not, in order to make ends meet and keep cooking with the hope that, someday, he will also reach that level of success. It also doesn't change the industry in which Travis works, and thus it isn't surprising that there are customers who still expect a certain level of service that someone in Travis's position might not wish to offer. I agree that Travis has the right to refuse substitutions and omissions, but I also understand those who feel that, no matter how much success one achieves as a "commercial artist", the service part is still important. And it doesn't make them any less of an artist. After all, what matters most as an artist is expressing oneself, and service can be one aspect of that expression, especially when one chooses to be an artist in the service industry.

                                "many people are willing to change their jobs and earn much less but are able to do what they really want because for them it is not only about to 'keep the rent paid'."

                                Unless you know of many people who have taken so drastic a pay cut upon changing jobs, that they can no longer make ends meet, this is a worthless statement. Because yes, there are people willing to earn less in order to enjoy what they do more, but they still make sure they're making enough to survive, just as Will Owen suggested a responsible adult should do. And he never said making money was the only thing that mattered; that was your own misinterpretation.

                                Congratulations to your family for being successful without ever having to compromise. But keep in mind that the reality of the situation is very few artists ever are, and many do what they must to survive. Regardless of how you might feel about their (commercial) work, that doesn't make them any less of an artist.

                                1. re: mrhooks

                                  Thank you mrhooks--that was the most reasonable, well-constructed post I've read in a long time.

                                2. re: honkman

                                  the truth of honkman's arguments can be ascertained by the fact that despite this policy, gjelina is still packed.

                        2. The original comment has been removed
                            1. re: melangeinc

                              I don't even trust myself to give my client what he wants without some feedback. I trust other cooks a lot more than I trust myself, for the most part. But if he won't accept any feedback, I have to assume that he's not as interested in pleasing me as I am in pleasing my own clients, and I have to wonder where the hell he went to school.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                I don't go to restaurants to give feedback. I go to eat and enjoy food. If there is a dish that has components I'm not interested in, I don't order them. I never ask for substitutions, the chef has created the dishes the way he feels they should be served. If I dont feel the same way about a dish, I order something else.

                                1. re: donovt

                                  I see any meal as dialogue, not as dictation. Someone feeds me something, I respond. I have always thought of a meal that way, haven't you? Here's some duck, how do you like it? Done enough, or too much? How about the snails? Too mooshy? Sorry ...

                                  The thing I hate hate HATE about the Smith Bros. places is their vapid self-assurance, that the rote routine they've developed for all of their locations will soothe the clientele while insulating the restaurant from any meaningful nudges toward change. Case in point being the Lapin au Moutarde at Le Cheval Blanc that was only slightly more interesting than poached chicken breast in white sauce. Every opportunity to make that dish sing was deliberately avoided, for the sake of cost. Now: am I giving the Smith Bros. hell because they're a commercial concern? No, I'm giving them hell because they lack proper respect for their clients.

                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                    That's not the way I look at a meal. Even if it was, you are giving examples of offering opinion after eating, not changing what the chef intended to serve. I have no problem saying " I didn't enjoy x because....". But if something contains beets, I wont order it because I don't like them.

                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                      A meal should be a dialogue but it's not a dialogue if the customer wants to have changes than it's just a monologue by the customer.

                                  2. re: Will Owen

                                    Sorry Will, but the analogy is apples & oranges. In your business/profession, this element of consulting and to&fro is key. In the restaurant business, the house makes the rules and the market decides - much as you have already. The house decides to what degree that it will honor all requests, omissions, substitutions, etc. - that's their call. You've been around more than long enough to recall the epic battles over Father's Office's policy - that's their gig. But at least in my experience, the difference between FO (Santa Monica) and Gjelina is that I've experienced rude behavior with a heavy serving of hubris on the side at FO. As is stated on their menu, Gjelina's staff >politely< declines.

                                    If every time that a celebrity entitlementarian whines about not getting this or that starts a feud like this among us, we've all lost our minds. Ramsey and Beckham don't fit in this neighborhood and wouldn't last a month here, and their whining to the press is proof of that. Moreover, the lines at Gjelina just seemed have gotten longer because of it.

                                2. We've been down this road before (e.g. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/731083), but I'm enjoying seeing the support for the "chef as professional" notion. For any professional, catering to a client's wishes, ideas, etc. is dependent upon both stature and willingness to foreclose some avenues of compensation. If one chooses to not do so, I respect her integrity. If one, instead, elects to do so, it does not mean she is unworthy of respect. Michelangelo took commissions.

                                  1. I think this could be a lose-lose situation for both the chef and the diner. If the chef refuses to accommodate a special request because he thinks it would compromise the quality of the dish, he risks losing the customer because of his attitude. If, OTOH, he does agree to the request and the result is not pleasing, then he could still lose the customer. Sometimes a single ingredient is essential. Anyone who has ever given a favorite recipe to a friend, who then changes the ingredients and afterwards claims the recipe wasn't good, knows what I'm talking about!

                                    As the mother of a son with severe nut allergies, however, I can tell you that I won't bring him anywhere that refuses to accommodate us. It's not worth the risk. But like most people who really enjoy food, I eat out for entertainment, so unless there's a pressing need to change something, I'd rather let the chef decide what sounds good together in a dish than try to deconstruct it to be something more familiar to me.

                                    If I'd been in Victorian Beckham's position (heavily PG and probably picky), I'd have read that little "no changes" disclaimer at the bottom of the menu, and then gone elsewhere.

                                    1. It's the chef's restaurant (or kitchen).

                                      He or she can do it however they want.

                                      If the diner has a problem, the diner can take their dining dollars elsewhere.

                                      It's really that simple.

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