For all the interest in food, chefs, and restaurants, the popularity of “Top Chef” and other shows depicting professional restaurant work, most poeple still have no clear conception of the unique, bizarre, intense, exhalted, depraved, mysterious human stew that restaurants are.
Yesterday, New York Times writer Ron Lieber blogged about being kicked out of Marc Forgione’s New York City restaurant. Disturbed by the chef’s protracted yelling at a member of the staff, he marched back to the kitchen to tell the chef what for. The upshot was that Mr. Lieber was asked to leave. (It’s a good post, read it.)
Mr. Lieber asked for comment on the blog. Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton called attention to it on Twitter, to which I gave a loud guffaw at Mr. Lieber’s act. He could have been dressed as Eustace Tilley walking into that kitchen. I then tweeted that I was eager to see a new Danny Meyer documentary about to arrive (Meyer, leader of the Union Square Hospitality Group, being a paragon of decorum and professionalism in the industry). This sparked a response from @tom_colicchio asking me how I could admire Meyer in one breath and condone a chef’s publicly abusing staff in the next.
A justifiable question. I would never condone any chef’s abusing staff, of course, physically or verbally, though the kitchen was once virtually defined by this relationship. And I would go so far as to say that if a chef is yelling at staff in the middle of service, the chef hasn’t done his job and it’s too late now, just send the poor sap home.
But the fact that Mr. Lieber felt that he could take it upon himself to educate the chef is a stark reminder of how little patrons understand of the unique powerful pressures of running a restaurant and the astonishing breadth of humanity represented by a restaurant’s staff.
People like Danny Meyer, the Culinary Institute of America, and many of today’s leading chefs are making the restaurant kitchen a more professional place to work. This is a good thing, but it’s largely out of the public’s view. What those of us in the culture at large need, those of us who love dining out and who are curious about how restaurants work (after we’ve all read certain, ahem, books), is not more Gordon Ramsay screaming on a kitchen set or Top-Chef style competitions, but a show that really explores the dynamics of the world of professional cooking as it is today. Now that’s something I’d like to see.
Ann, Richard, Robin, when do we pitch HBO?
Oh, and Lieber, if you read this, I owe you a drink for my Twitter remark! Hope you’ll take me up on it next time I’m in the city.
Update 5/14: Many thanks for the great dialogue in comments. Seems like the majority feel the patron’s response was not appropriate, or that both patron AND chef erred. Love the conversation sparked by the nytimes blog.