HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


How to (and should I) raise poor chef skills to a restaurant owner?

We ate at an Italian restaurant the other night, a small family-run place that we'd never been to before. It was a bit on the high-end side, nice white linens, and prices to match.

I don't usually order Carbonara because a lot of places do it with lots of cream and peas and I prefer it done with egg yolk and parsley. It was described on the menu as "Sautéed with pancetta and egg yolk, a touch of cream and pecorino cheese" so I was excited they did it the way I prefer.

When it came, it wasn't swimming in cream, so I was excited, but when I started to eat it, I realized what I'd gotten was a plate of linguini with pancetta, a bit of cream, cheese and parsley, and studded with egg whites. I double checked multiple times just eating the white bits and yes, it was definitely egg whites. I've made this myself and I know egg whites don't come anywhere near this dish... it was flat out wrong and it tasted like pasta with scrambled eggs. I just don't think whoever was making it really knew how to do so. Maybe they thought it was OK to use egg white instead of egg yolk? Maybe they used a whole egg? Whatever it was, it was not done correctly.

Both the owner and waitress did (eventually) ask how everything was, although neither seemed to notice that I only ate 1/4 of my $18 pasta entree and didn't wrap it, although I wrapped something else. I smiled and said fine. I'm not usually reluctant to speak up but this was SUCH a mistake and I felt like I'd be suggesting their chef didn't know how to do his job and I didn't know how well that would go over. Plus I was there with my young daughter who notices everything and didn't want to have to explain to her the entire situation, especially if they got upset about it. In addition, we were on a tight time frame because we had to eat and run to pick up my son from a class.

So my question is do I just let it go and not go back there (or just never order that again) or do I email the owner to let him know? I feel like a small business owner would want to know about incompetence in the kitchen, but I also don't want them to think I'm looking for a freebie or trying to tell them how to run their operation. My instinct is to just let it go. I had my chance to speak up, I didn't take it, and I should just forget it... but I'm not going to go back.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I would probably just not go back there. It sounds like the chef doesn't know how to cook, so why bother. Who knows what's really going on behind the scenes. Maybe they put in the whole egg. Maybe the chef quit and someone else is cooking who has no clue. I would have said something to the server like, "hmm, do you know why the kitchen used egg whites instead of a yolk? I've never had a carbonara before that had egg whites in it."

    If I was with someone to where it was uncomfortable bringing it up while we were there, I'd just not bother going back. I might give them one more chance if someone insisted on going there a 2nd time, but there are too many restaurants to choose from to go back to a place like that IMO.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rockandroller1

      Ya. High price mixed with incompetence makes for no return visit. Nothing to see here, move along.


    2. I have commented on food I thought wasn't very good, but it has rarely made a difference so I say little unless a dish is so bad it has to be returned. (Must admit I was surprised by your statement that "egg whites don't come anywhere near this dish." I've always made Carbonara with whole eggs, plus extra yolk/s. Checked a number of Italian chefs' cookbooks and whole eggs were part of all the recipes.)

      5 Replies
      1. re: escondido123

        Fair enough, I've never made it with whole eggs, just the yolks. I suppose if it was tempered properly, the egg whites must be able to work in it, but I've never found it that way. Although since the dish was described with "egg yolk" and not "egg", it seemed that the restaurant and I were on the same page with regards to expectations.

        1. re: Chris VR

          My husband makes a wonderful carbonara with whole eggs and no cream.

        2. re: escondido123

          I also make my carbonara with whole eggs, as do the Italians who taught me. Perfectly acceptable. Eggs lightly hand-beaten appropriately before adding to the dish, it mixes well with the cheese forming a nice coating to the pasta. You actually wouldn't "notice" egg white were involved.

          Sounds like the cook, ?broke the egg into the pasta before mixing, leading to some separation of the eggs. Ok, not so nice. But are you saying this was inedible? Perhaps thou does protest too much.

          1. re: violin

            Inedible is subjective. But I don't go to restaurants for scrambled egg pasta. It's a dish that relies on simple ingredients put together properly.

            1. re: julesrules

              Agreed. It was edible, it just wasn't good or what was promised on the menu, so I didn't eat it.

        3. Funny you should bring this up as I have been a chef in many a place like the one you describe. As others have said, it could be an unskilled or ignorant chef/cook, but often times in smaller places an owner will insist on having the final say on EVERYTHING, even if they aren't skilled at cooking. I've had my share of arguments with owners who read one cookbook, or went to one part of Italy (or France, Mexico, etc.) and insist that the version of dish X that they encountered is the one, true example (not knowing the village down the road does it completely different). Or they slip their own food prejudices into the menu (I hate egg yolks, so let's do the Carbonara with whites). Also, if you've seen shows like Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares or Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network you'll know that most of a kitchen's mistakes stem from an owner that can't recognize the problem themselves, or simply insist that things be done a certain (usually incorrect) way, which the staff is obliged to follow.

          That being said, if the Carbonara misstep was the only problem I would email the owner and constructively explain why.

          And for the record, I've seen Carbonara done with egg yolks, even whole eggs, but never with just whites.

          1. As a restaurant operator I'll tell you this: all input is important, not always appreciated, but always necessary. You don't know the circumstances, chef could have been off, cook might have snuck one by, maybe as d8200 mentioned, the owner wants it done that way because of some particularly misguided though process. Either way, a politely written email can alert the restaurant to an issue that they're not aware of, or add another vote in a debate.
            I''ve often seen a situation where the owner insists on preparing dishes a certain way, against all advice from the chef or other staff, but do a complete turnaround when under non-public critique from a customer.

            just my pennies

            1. Whether you go back to the restaurant or not is your choice, but from what I read, questioning his chef skills is not appropriate unless you are questioning his execution.....

              * What you received was different from the description you read on the menu

              * you are questioning his interpretation of the dish, which is different than yours.

              If it is indeed his execution you have a problem with....it has nothing to do with his use of egg whites or whole eggs....but rather, with the dish presented to you, the egg mixture was either not tempered properly, or they simply were not whisked or blended thoroughly enough. Mistakes most certainly can be made, but i doubt it was made with egg whites only....as by your description of mentioning *pasta with scrambled eggs*.

              For the record....I think the authentic recipe for egg yolks only is arguable at best. My suggestion for you is to just request you do not want egg whites, but yolks only if you want the dish.....so you won't have any disappointment and your expectations could be met.

              2 Replies
              1. re: fourunder

                There were no egg yolks in the scrambled part, just whites. Sorry if my description gave the wrong impression. I said "it tasted like pasta with scrambled eggs" but all I saw, as I also described, were egg whites.

                And really, I"m not interested in arguing the with owner or anyone else about what's authentic or proper. The menu stated egg yolks, so that's what I was led to expect. The dish didn't have any yellow tinge at all, which has been what I've seen when I made it at home, but I"m not hung up on how it looked, just on how it tasted, and the cooked egg white taste was very evident. I didn't taste or feel any egg yolk.

                But really, whether it's made with egg yolks, egg whites or whole eggs, do you agree there shouldn't be any sort of solid egg in the finished dish? The egg is supposed to function as part of the sauce, not be a separate textural component to the dish.

                1. re: Chris VR

                  What I would agree with is, that the finished dish should be a creamy type of sauce in texture....as in smooth and silky, but without knowing how the dish was prepared, the solid eggs could exist and result from the preparation. If the chef makes the sauce on top of the stove, then it should definitely be smooth from constant attention and stirring......by my idea of Carbonara is to pour the hot pasta into the egg mixture....depending on how quickly the pasta is mixed with the egg, I could definitely see some curds forming.

                  Ultimately, if it tastes good, I'm satisfied......

              2. Would it not be possible to find a different restaurant?

                1 Reply
                1. re: beevod

                  Surely, and as I said in my post, that was my inclination. I explained my reasoning for why I posed the question here at the bottom of my post.

                2. I would only take it up with the proprietors if they were personal friends. It is the responsibility of the owners to keep an eye on the business. A disappointing, even bad meal is nothing to worry about, in my opinion. Just move on.

                  1. I know that you thought you were in a situation that you couldn't say anything at the time, but I disagree. When asked how your dinner was, why not just simply say it wasn't what you expected, that you've never had carbonara this way. Leave it at that. no need to argue. But, doing nothing at the time, yet obviously fuming over it, just teaches passive aggressive behavior.
                    One can teach a child how to resolve conflict by communicating instead of bottling it up. Conflict exists in everybody's lives, and addressing it forthrightly is acceptable. Conflict doesn't mean fight. Addressing conflict politely is a much valued skill.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: wyogal

                      I"m not sure where you got the impression I was fuming. I was disappointed. Disappointing meals happen. Nothing to get wound up about and no need to fume.

                      I gave my reasons for not wanting to discuss it with the owner at the time, and I can see that you disagree with them, but that's not really the issue here, because I can't go back and change what I did at the time. I have spoken up to an owner/waiter with no compunctions before (and I'm sure I'll do it in other situations), but didn't in this particular situation.

                      Do you have an opinion on the question I asked? Do you think it's worth bringing it to the owner's attention at this point?

                      1. re: Chris VR

                        Yep. too late. It just seems that you were fuming, at least internally, by what you wrote on this board, your word choice. That's all.

                    2. "My instinct is to just let it go. I had my chance to speak up, I didn't take it, and I should just forget it... but I'm not going to go back."

                      If it bothered you enough at the time you should have spoken up immediately. Taking the owner to the side and discreetly letting him know what you felt was wrong would have been a favor to him. To say anything now that the even has passed will not have the same impact.

                      By the way...I make a very basic carbonara with just pancetta, whole eggs and parmigiano reggiano. I never have to temper the whole eggs and by the time the dish is served you would never know there were whole eggs in it. Not one bit of coagulated egg white in sight. It can be done.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        I"m sure it can be done! It wasn't in this case. The only reason I raise the point is because the menu specifically said it was prepared with egg yolk. If it hadn't specifically said egg yolk, I wouldn't have expected it.

                        1. re: Chris VR

                          "I've made this myself and I know egg whites don't come anywhere near this dish..."

                          Your comment led me to believe that it was just wrong to include a whole egg. It is done in Italy all the time.

                      2. If you do otherwise *want* to go back, you might call and ask for the owner, and just ask some questions about how they prepare their carbonara. And then explain your experience, in a friendly way - "I was really looking forward to the traditional dish, based on the menu description, but that wasn't what I got. Was this an error or are you preparing it differently that I expected?". I do think it's tough for the owner to take your feedback back to the kitchen without the evidence in front of him, but at least he can take a closer look at this dish. This approach would be based on the assumption that you genuinely want to offer constructive feedback with no ulterior motive. If they offer you something maybe you will have incentive to return and that's good for both of you. But in the grand scheme of things... I would probably let this one go. If I liked the restaurant and it was convenient for me, I would probably return and simply order something else. But I generally don't order things that I can do well at home.
                        Eh, scratch that... I probably would be turned off enough by this to not return. But then I wouldn't bother calling either. Just move right along.

                        1. I would give them another chance. There can 10000000 reasons a dish got screwed up..

                          My neighbor is a DIshwasher at a fairly high end place, when the cooks go out for a smoke or whatever-- he fills in.. the Kid to this day doesn't know how to make oil and vinegar dressing.

                          1. as someone who has worked in fine dining for many, many years, you should have said something at the time. there is nothing more frustrating than being lied to, or only told of a problem long after it has happened. this gives no opportunity to make things right.

                            as mentioned by others, there are many ways to approach this and polite honesty is certainly my choice, lol.

                            "i'm sorry this isn't at all what i was expecting." they can either remake the dish or take it off the bill.

                            how were the other dishes?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              I had a salad which I really enjoyed. My husband liked his chicken marsala and my daughter had pasta with red sauce. I didn't care for the red sauce.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  Yes, and the salad was especially good.

                            2. A properly made carbonara never includes cream (which was mentioned as an ingredient on the menu) so that would have raised a huge red flag to me that the chef did not know what they were doing. It was polite of you though to not make an issue of that significant error. It is easy to raise a stink but you did the more difficult thing and just bit your tongue. But if it were me, I would not return.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Fowler

                                Since this was an old-school red sauce Italian place I could forgive them for using cream as the majority of their regular clientele probably have a "raw" egg phobia. I know that's a sweeping generalization, but one thing I've learned working in the industry is that most owners could care less if they get a violation from the authenticity police, as long as they are turning a profit and customers are leaving stuffed and happy.

                              2. I think you missed your opportunity to tell them when you were there -and point out the problem on the plate. It is too hard to tell "after the fact" if the menu had a typo and they should have written "eggs" instead of "egg yolk" or if just your particular dish was goofed up.

                                1. I use whole eggs in carbonara but that seems beside the point. There's no reason to be rude, but why should a consumer have to worry about the chef's feelings if an $18 dinner is inedible? I would have said something and given them a chance to respond. If I didn't like the response, then I wouldn't go back. But if they took care of me, I'd surely mention it as a plus to others.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jwlucasnc

                                    I keep thinking about this. Quality food is not an elitist issue where the artistic sensibilities of a chef are the only concern. It's a business. The person who washes dishes at that restaurant likely would have to work three hours to afford that meal.

                                  2. What I've been wondering, is if the owner and a server came by to ask how everything was, maybe the owner thought something was amiss, so went to your table to verify. But, since you said nothing was wrong, the owner maybe thought, well, we dodged a bullet with that one.
                                    It's easier to fire a chef when the customers aren't happy, it's less personal for the boss.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: wyogal

                                      The owner seemed to be working the room and we were also at the table right by the kitchen where all the traffic was. I don't *think* he thought something was amiss but you could be right, and it would make sense if he was wondering if the customers noticed. The server came by about 3/4 through the meal, after the owner swung by.

                                      I like the suggestion to bring these types of issues up in an inquisitive way: "I've never had this dish with X before, is this the way you usually do it here?" It lets them know my expectations weren't in line with what they delivered but also doesn't come as judgmental (and put them on the defense.) It lets them decide how to deal with it and lets me decide if I like the way it was handled.

                                      1. re: Chris VR

                                        since everything else on the table was fine, this sounds like it was an anomaly, and i'm confused why your dissatisfaction with your dish, which you did not address when given the chance, is the deal-breaker here.

                                        owners and managers touch tables for exactly this reason: to make sure everybody is enjoying everything. it's not because they think the food is sucking. and when it is, and nobody tells them, how do they fix it?