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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Smart Idea or Dumb Idea- You Decide

I found an interesting article in the Wednesday, New York Times (but then again what isn’t interesting in that paper!) titled “Your Waiter Tonight…Will Be the Chef.” The cover picture that accompanies it is of one of those skinny bedraggled chefs who really should stay in the back instead of serving his food.

I know the eating public embraced the fly on the wall concept of dining in restaurant kitchens a few years ago. That craze flew right by me. Yes, it would be great to watch a famous chef (real one, neither Mama Paula nor Sister Rachel) but kitchens and silk dresses don’t go together. I want to be pampered, not smelling of a fish fry or seared tenderloin at the end of the meal.

Now the craze is for the chef to go to the market, (thank you Martha Stewart) serve, mop, and wash his own dishes and be creative on the side to win loyal customers. I know money’s tight but I think creativity wanes when one puts on too many hats. The article mentioned that when service was busy at one restaurant they stopped answering the phone. What is wrong with this picture? A prospective customer calls to find out what is being served, how long the wait, etc. and willing to spend buckaroos at your establishment and can’t get through because the restaurant hasn’t hired a front man? It strikes me as cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Kitchens are run as a dictatorship. Top to bottom and bottom working up to the top. Its tough love. You can’t have everyone running around with a mile high toque in charge. “Everyone who works here is a chef, and everyone is also a dishwasher,” Schwa Chef Michael Carlson bragged. What bunk. The idea of all for one and one for all doesn’t get the mussels cleaned or grease trap unplugged. Remember the Cultural Revolution in China? That was one smart move by Chairman Mao.

I know there can be hostility between the front and the back of the house with no one liking the bartenders who come in late cut lemons and limes and get great tips. But you sign up for your own poison. I loved being a cook. All tables were dupes and all I cared about was taking down the dupe and replacing it with another. I couldn’t do the waitron’s job and cook at the same time. The waitron segued between my little piece of paradise and the world beyond. When it was done we all kissed up to the bartender for our drinks.

I also ponder what are these chefs’ com waiters going to wear? If they are preparing the food it will get slopped on them. White outfits are magnets for red sauce. Again if I’m paying for a nice creative meal I don’t want to see dirty side towels or beurre rouge splattered coats. For all of the money they are saving on staff they will incur a large cleaning bill.

The two best quotes, in the article, justifying truly good waitrons were-“A really sensational waiter is transparent,” and “I tell my chefs to concentrate on their food…the waiters are there to be ambassadors, and they are trained to take command of the customer as soon as they sit down.” Nothing sets the tone of a meal better than having a good waiter working for a big tip.

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