Photo by Donna

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.

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118 Wonderful responses to “Restaurant Workers, Restaurant Patrons—
Disconnect Remains”

  • merry jennifer

    This was a fascinating exchange to watch/read yesterday. After reading your series of Chef books and Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, I learned a lot about the professional kitchen culture – and learned I never wanted to work in a professional kitchen, but I’m happy to partake of what it produces. And, I’d LOVE to see a documentary like the one you suggest pitching HBO. Please, go do it!

  • kate

    Those who have worked in the industry always jump to say, ‘you don’t understand unless…’ and point to unique pressures as justification for bad behavior from chefs. And while it’s true that it takes a tough nut to be a successful chef, there’s no excuse for yelling at someone in front of the dining room. It reflects poorly on the chef, not the cook. And I think Mr. Lieber did right to stand up for unacceptable behavior. In the end, what matters is whether he can sleep at night, and I respect his decision to take a stand, in a day and age when so many people will watch wrongdoing and not bat an eye.

    • Matt Freedman

      Mr. Lieber was not justified in entering the kitchen and speaking directly to the chef.

      Instead, he should have spoken to the general manager or another front-of-house employee about the matter.

      While it may be appropriate for a customer to enter the kitchen to stop, say, a physical beating, a verbal dressing-down simply isn’t justification for entering an employee-only area of the restaurant.

        • VintageS

          This makes sense to me, but I can also see the logic of thinking “this guy is going apeshit, I really doubt another underling will want to tell him something else that will make him mad.” And while it would never have occurred to me (who has never been in a restaurant kitchen) to walk into the kitchen, someone who works in the food world might be somewhat inured to crossing the dining room/kitchen line. (I had the impression from the original post that Lieber had at least some acquaintance with the chef, but I could be wrong.)

      • kate

        @matt, good point; i don’t agree with the way he went about with his admonishment. that said, i think leiber did a good job of recognizing the failings in his approach.

  • Russ H

    I read the post in question. If the reviewer felt copelled to say something, he should have asked to speak to the chef in private. Of let the General Manager know that this was inappropriate. Walking into his kitchen and telling him what’s what really undermines his authority.

    I hope the chef being yelled at didn’t lose his job for this incident.

  • Karin

    I think, perhaps, that Mr. Forgione’s yelling is symptomatic of our broken food system. While workers at all levels of our food production are underpaid and treated poorly, food is sanctified by celebrity chefs and meticulously plated for those that can afford it. From farm and slaughterhouse workers, to the “sacred space” of the kitchen, those that perform the work do so at low wages, for long hours and under difficult conditions. The professional kitchen staff has it better than those at the front end of our food chain. The rarified environment of the formal dining room certainly isn’t paying to hear the executive chef berating the staff but also shouldn’t be blind to the social inequities that pervade our food system.

    I know some folks working on a documentary about migrant farm workers, maybe our HBO show can feature behind the scenes of food production, from field to plate.

    • Annie

      Have you watched Food Tech? That’s sort of the same thing as what you are proposing.

    • Foop

      Are you kidding me?
      You have NO idea what you’re talking about.
      Go get a job in a restaurant, spend a couple years in the industry, front or back house, and then come talk to us.

  • Annie

    My son trained at the Culinary Institute of America. While he was doing his restaurant rotation, we had the pleasure of dining at Caterina de’ Medici. The food was delicious but the whole experience was ruined by the Chef yelling at everyone in the kitchen. As the kitchen is open, the patrons were all treated to the humiliation of the students who were only trying to learn. I can understand (perhaps) a Chef wigging out at a private establishment, but at a school where they are teaching? Perhaps the chef felt that he should get the students used to this sort of behavior, but I don’t believe it has any place within earshot of the customers.

    We were able to dine at all of the other restaurants at the CIA, and can happily report that the other kitchens had a more professional air.

    • Jonas M Luster

      @Annie: So the yelling should start after school? Or not at all? The former is a disservice to students who have a right to be readied for the whole restaurant worker experience, not just the faux white collar smoke screen culinary schools like to layer on top of a very, very, blue collar job. The latter is unlikely.

      A training kitchen without yelling is even less a reflection of real world kitchens than they already are. There’s no getting fired for wasting minute amounts of product, no chef spending 40+ sleepless hours trying to save their establishment, and no FoH staff running illicit businesses at the side in the back room. Take out the screaming and you have the sterile lie perpetuated by FoodTV, not the true animal out there.

      Once upon a time people became cooks and ultimately chefs because the environment was what they wanted or the only one they could get a job in. And it was a good time. Chefs were equal opportunity dresser downs, cooks were ground into dust and emerged as eminent figures of the culinary landscape from it, and diners didn’t expect the whole thing to be a white-washed environment of kumbayah singing mediocrity.

      Today we sell this notion of white collar and define professionalism as being muted in every respect of a chef’s daily work. I am not sure it’s made us better for it. But at the very least, ten years ago, diners would have never walked into the lion’s cage that is a kitchen. Never. Just because FoodTV shows a few neutered actors playing chefs and a few chefs well edited to look sane doesn’t mean that’s what a kitchen is like.

      The sooner we learn that it’s not a good idea to walk up to a drill sergeant screaming at his soldiers or a chef screaming at his brigade, the better. If I had a nickel for every “foodie” walking into my kitchen expecting me to be like the guys on TV and understanding of their special needs and interests, I’d be able to buy that cattle prod to use on them.

      Don’t walk into a chef’s kitchen. If the atmosphere bugs you… walk out.

      • Chris K

        Ruhlman,

        Why do we need a show that “really explores the dynamics of the world of professional cooking as it is today?” Do you think it would make a difference to anyone?

        Nobody would watch such a thing. Television is, after all, entertainment. And (true) reality is boring. We all experience drama and conflict in our work lives; we watch television to escape it.

        Cooking shows are a passing fad; eventually people will get bored and move on to the next new thing. In two years people will be watching “reality shows” about meth-addicted dry wall hangers on HGTV. It’ll be huge.

      • shuna fish lydon

        “Today we sell this notion of white collar and define professionalism as being muted in every respect of a chef’s daily work. I am not sure it’s made us better for it. But at the very least, ten years ago, diners would have never walked into the lion’s cage that is a kitchen. Never. Just because FoodTV shows a few neutered actors playing chefs and a few chefs well edited to look sane doesn’t mean that’s what a kitchen is like.”

        Jonas– I think you’re touching on one of the roots of this complicated issue: Class. The dirty word few people cooking or eating, want to address full on.

        Now that middle & upper middle class kids are taking over kitchens {b/c, let’s face it, they’re the only ones who can afford culinary school & their parents might be able to pick up the loans}, & TV is “informing” “the public” about what kitchens “are” or “should be,” everyone’s an expert.

  • Paul

    I don’t manage a restaurant or a kitchen but I have managed large organizations for twenty plus years. Yelling at employees is is the definitive sign of a bad manager and usually a flawed professional. But I also want to say that feedback is critical to assessment and a chef has to reflect on the fact that it was his/her yelling that started the whole sequence of events in the first place. The employee’s screw-up could have been corrected and left unknown to the public. The Chef’s yelling could not have been left unknown. Dining is the experience, not just the magic of the chef.

    • Jonas M Luster

      So most everyone in police, fire management, and military leadership is a bad manager and a flawed professional? Kitchens are closer to the military than they are to cushy nine to five office or retail jobs. It’s only in the past ten years that, thanks to FoodTV and foodie delusions kitchens have become this white collar beacon of “flavor explosions in my mouth” created by god-like superstars in white.

      It ain’t so.

      • Mantonat

        So you think being a cook in a kitchen is like being a soldier? Maybe if you are trying to cook in the middle of a gun battle or getting the brunoise right makes the difference between whether the rest of your crew lives or dies. Soldiers in the military can’t walk away from a confrontation; they can’t quit in disgust; they can’t go home at the end of the night and unload their problems on a sympathetic ear.
        Cooks are employees and are half of a voluntary relationship that can be easily severed for any number of reasons – good or bad. They are also cooking food, not protecting civilians.
        Jonas, if you think you have even one-fourth the responsibility to your crew that a drill sargeant has to his soldiers, think again. A military leader must make sure that his men do exactly what they are told so that they live another day. If they don’t, they die. Whatever it takes to get this through to a soldier is within the realm of the permissable, short of physical violence. Can you make your crew run miles in the rain as punishment? Do they trust you with their lives? Being a chef is job. Being a cook is a job. Being a waiter is a job. Being a soldier is not a job.

      • Jonas M Luster

        Mantonat, you are validating my argument instead of refuting it. Of course a kitchen isn’t like being out at seven-six-quad and getting shot at. My original argument stands – blanket presumptions about leadership tones are more hurtful and dangerous than helpful. Getting dressed down in front of everyone by my LTC is OK. I know what I did wrong, I deserved the dressing, and after all is said and done I’ll keep on doing my job. Getting asked to see him at oh-eighthundred at his desk is not OK. That means politics, it means I likely didn’t do what I am accused of, it’s definitely much more severe than leaving the keys in our ARV or cursing with embeds present. I’ve had plenty of those morning “talking to” sessions in front of my guys, I shrugged them off, got my slaps on the back when I did the right thing and a few choice words when I didn’t. None of those made it into my file. Things in offices did. I dreaded the nice talk, the “let’s have a chat” crap. I didn’t dread getting yelled at. And, just for the record, I know it’s hard to imagine these days, but a soldier’s life doesn’t start and end on the battlefield. Instructional and correctional tone start at day one, in a freshly plowed field outside Ft. Worth, not in a province in the south.

        Kitchens aren’t nine-to-five office jobs. Ballet performances aren’t ice cream truck jobs, and cops aren’t pilots. Each and every one of those jobs has its own lingo, atmosphere, command structure and communication. No one would waltz into a theater production (I used to date a showgirl for a while, the tone there scared even me) and tell the producer to tone it down. The actors and stages known the drill, they know the language, and they know what means serious issues and what doesn’t.

        It seriously pees me off to see everyone up in arms about a line getting yelled at by their chef. Walk a few miles in the cloqs of a line and you’ll know what serious means. This over-zealous savior mentality in which some presume that what’s true for them is true for me or my kitchen. Go ahead, tell the theater director, the cop, the soldier, the pilot that their job is just like yours and you’d like them to act in the same way that’s all right in your job.

        It’s all right. I’ll come and tell them how to do their job. From now on we’ll talk only about those present, we do not wait until tomorrow to address grievances, we voice them without diplomacy. That’s what makes a good cook happy and a chef good. It’d destroy your local mortgage broker. Don’t try your management techniques on me and I won’t try mine on yours.

        • Shelly

          There are many vitriolic posts on this issue. If you don’t like what your doing, be it dining or working, there are other options. Personal responsibility for ones own happiness cannot be taught by yelling at a chef or a blogger.

        • kelly

          I’ve worked in law enforcement for twenty years and have never been berated by a superior in front of co-workers and / or the public. (Been screamed at in training, yelled at when I screwed up, hollered at when goofing around, but all in the appropriate time and place.) People pay for the ambiance as well as the food when dining. The chef ruined that. Lieber shouldn’t have had to talk to anyone…GM or other front of house should have handled it without being asked.

        • Jonas M Luster

          Kelly, if you take a step back you’ll see that to a civilian the tone in training, the tone during roll call, the tone during pretty much any part of your job will sound “odd”. While I can not claim twenty years in law enforcement, I can claim a few years in kitchens and a few years in military LE, and in both cases the tone was distinctly different from the one you’ll find in a flower shop or office building.

          In a kitchen, the appropriate time and place is here and now. As a LEO you have to maintain command authority. Dressing you down in front of civilians is counterproductive to that. As a cook you are entrusted with a chef’s VERY shaky bottom line revenue, and waiting until the shift is over is sometimes not an option.

          Remember all the videos you see about LEO doing X and everyone condemning the actions of the LEO? How often did you think “if only they’d seen the lead-up to that, understand the whole situation”. This is one of those cases. If a chef makes their diners uncomfortable he deserves to lose business. As it stands, we don’t KNOW what happened in the kitchen, we don’t KNOW the lead-up, and we don’t KNOW if the line felt he was being treated unfairly or if any diners aside from one felt uncomfortable. What I do know, however, is that each and every job has its own tone.

      • epic

        you are incorrect and possibly a bore, what kind of alpha male chest beating are you condoning the kind we did 10,000 years ago or the kind that tries to pass its self off as “getting the job done”…i would love someone to scream at me, i would be glad to laugh in their face and inform them how evolved humans communicate and leave them to finish playing in their own fecal matter…its 2010 not 2000BCE

    • luis

      Exactly right on Paul. The chef is in dire need of therapy and re-evaluation of his role in the restaurant.

  • alkali

    Respectfully, those defending the chef are drinking too much Kool-Aid about the unchallengeable authority of chefs and the sanctity of the kitchen. Metaphors are not reality: a chef is not really a army sergeant or a brain surgeon, and a kitchen is not really a battlefield or an operating theater. Once a chef starts screaming at people in public, he (or she) should not be surprised if someone tells him to get himself under control.

    “Walking into his kitchen and telling him what’s what really undermines his authority.”

    Yes. Too bad. The chef might have thought of that before losing his temper in public view.

  • Chris R

    Honestly, as a diner I don’t care about the unique relationship a chef has with their staff. I don’t really care if they maintain it by yelling at them, beating them, or giving them foot rubs. I don’t care about their personal drama or unique motivation techniques used to provide us the best food possible. All I care about is a superlative dining experience and being subjected to a screeching diva is not conducive to said experience. I can’t say I would have marched into the kitchen to demand a cessation of the screaming but I applaud Mr. Lieber’s action. The relationship between the restauranteur and patron isn’t one of servility but the service industry profession *must* remember that they aren’t doing us a favor by allowing us to dine at their establishment. We, the patrons, are the ones supporting them. As such, we deserve a modicum of deference and enough respect to know that screaming at your staff in front of us is unacceptable. Mr. Forgione should hang his head in shame.

  • Jessika

    Good on you, mr. Lieber!
    Undermining authority.
    having no understanding on how it is to work in a restaurant kitchen.
    Cry me a river, anyone?
    Well, that can be said about any kind of work. Stress will inevtibly permeate a workplace, how stressed out you allow yourself to get is about management. If you, as a manager and head chef of a restaurant start yelling at your staff, you have an anger management issue.
    Studies have shown that workplaces that is managed in harmony and without yelling, restaurants specifically, do better. Turnover lessons significally. Mr. Forgione’s actions are not justified, nor are any other of his fellow chef’s when they start throwing tantrums.

    • Jonas M Luster

      “Studies have shown that workplaces that is managed in harmony and without yelling, restaurants specifically, do better.”

      Yeah, I’d love to have a wellness coach and chair massage Fridays. Aeron chairs for the dish washer, and weekly open meetings where everyone can air their petty grievances about Bob from Accounting taking the milk from the fridge again and forgetting to put it back in.

      The lessened turnover is possible, but at what cost? Working below expectations is not an option in a business that has less than 4 per cent gross profit on food items. One spoiled one means twenty-five more to sell just to break even. If having a weekly tea and crumble sitdown with performance reviews and personal development goal verifications would work, Chefs would do it. It doesn’t. Those restaurants die first.

      • Jessika

        Read Carri’s reply below on big egos.
        It probably does better than I do.
        And no, it is not about the massage chairs and whatever. God knows there are trenches… oh whatever. Read Carri’s reply.

      • Jonas M Luster

        I’ve spent enough time in white collar “harmonious” work environments to call them for what they are. Little passive aggressive notes left on fridges, water cooler gossip, king-makers and the old-boys club, alliances and allegiances, nepotism, and plain out demeaning behavior in the name of harmony and PC.

        Kitchens are different. A dressing down is the equivalent of a non-formal complaint relayed by your superiors. Because, alas, the “formal” complaint is you packing your stuff and leaving through the back door.

        The line in question likely took it the way most cooks take it. Listen, say “yes, boss”, keep on working. After hours have a drink with the boss who might even be your best friend, and all is done. To that cook, being called into an office to “discuss some issues that have come to my attention” would be demeaning, likely aggravate them, and a sign that the chef doesn’t trust them. Getting yelled at is OK. It happens. Chefs don’t even have to bust a vessel when doing it.

        But, sure, it’s the “big egos”. And it’s unbalanced, unprofessional, lower lifeforms. The bile and demeaning attitude displayed by many who neither know the industry nor would work in it (but are more than willing to eat our food and gloat about it on their foodie journals) is what truly upsets me. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a covenant between the chef and the line. One that states that screaming isn’t all that bad, it’s bad when the chef gets quiet and asks you to follow him into the office. One that states that there’s certain lines that aren’t crossed, by either, and on the opposite there’s a few lines that would be decried in office buildings but aren’t in kitchens.

        Maybe, just maybe, that’s why the line works there. Maybe it’s because he, like me, is sick of watercooler gossip and performance reviews and passive aggressive notes and the Lumbergh-like office drones.

        I’m not cut out for the whispers behind my backs. Some aren’t for the screaming in their face. I find the former more hurtful and gladly accept the latter as a normal form of communication that I don’t have to read the malice into you do. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by lack of familiarity with the real reasons.

        • Mantonat

          OK, granted – yelling and confrontation work in a professional kitchen and everyone expects it. What does this have to do with disrupting a diner’s experience? Take it into the walk-in cooler where the noise will be muffled.

          • carri

            Yelling and confrontation are outdated…passive aggressive is in! I’m with you, Jonas, on the note-leavers…just tell me what you want, don’t leave snotty little notes…that is also a rule in my kitchen, if you can believe it. We are into communicating at reasonable decibles in friendly tones, and for the last 17 years or so that has worked well for us, if someone can’t work like that, we send them on down the road

      • Jonas M Luster

        Carri, I fully believe you’re running a great kitchen. I know that every kitchen is a little different, and – believe it or not – my kitchen is a quiet one, too. My chef doesn’t scream, I (Sous) don’t scream, I don’t yell, I don’t throw things, and I don’t tolerate pranks, bigotry, or any presumption about a cook’s abilities above and beyond their actual skill.

        Those are the great places to work. Yet, I am sure you have the same issues as I do when it comes to defending our own style of management. There’s still many out there who think I am not going far enough (for example I don’t give people performance reviews or write line reports for the GM) and some think I need to step back and be louder. It’s my leadership style, it works, my gals and guys like it, and if I have to raise my voice they know it’s serious.

        But I also worked for chefs who screamed as a status quo. And it worked. What made the place hostile at times wasn’t the screaming, it was the “Mr. X please see the GM at your earliest convenience” chits being reached in by the Maitre d’.

        Oh, and if the diners are bothered by it, the chef deserves to get slapped for it or lose business if he’s the owner. No tow things about that part.

  • Dot

    As a Chefs apprentice at the age of 18, I had a Chef who would yell and scream (in a closed kitchen) and no doubt it made me a better Chef. He had no problem yelling at a female and I got treated no different than the Chef’s who were male. Later on when I applied for other jobs people who knew my Chef & learned I worked for him for many years really respected me for being under his apprenticeship because they knew of his work ethics. I do agree in an open kitchen there should be no yelling, the public doesn’t want to hear that but as far as yelling and throwing things -like it or not it’s a great learning tool and there’s a great chance you will NOT repeat that mistake again :)

  • carri

    I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and worked for more dicks than I can count on two hands. Most of them were men, but a couple were women and they all had one thing in common: big egos. When I started my own kitchen my number one rule became ‘check your ego at the door’! We all work hard to put out a quality product and all that power play has no place in it. You don’t have berate and emabarrass to get people to do what you want. If they aren’t doing it correctly, it’s because they weren’t trained properly in the first place, and who’s fault is that?
    I do agree, though, that if a customer has a problem, they should take it up the front of the house, or just leave…don’t walk into the kitchen, there are angy people with knives in there!

  • Big Red

    Having been the lowest of the low all the way up to the head of the kitchen, I have seen this through many different sets of eyes. I agree with carri, as it comes down to ego. I worked for a guy that reminded me of Jeff Dunham’s character Walter, who used to degrade everything you did. If he said nothing then you did good. He used to always say, “If it is your best, you don’t need me to tell you that. Too many people however don’t know what their best is. And then they come work for me, and I get crap sent out to the house…” Then he would usually sigh and say that he can’t ever die because too many people don’t know how to cook and if he doesn’t teach them, then we will all starve after he’s gone. Quite a character, but one built on ego. But ego is nothing more than insecurity, and I think he was a real softie, but softies rarely make it in the kitchen.

    As far as the patron bitching at the chef, I personally would have leveled the guy. Are you working here? Then it doesn’t concern you. End of story. There is a dynamic in the kitchen and not everything is as it seems. That particular employee might actually NEED to be yelled at to get him motivated.

    You keep your nose on your plate and out of my kitchen. If you have a problem with the food, then we can chat, or you can yell at me. Whatever. Don’t critize my supervisory tactics, as you have no idea what the hell you are talking about.

    When I go out, and I enjoyed the food, I tip my server, and send a note with another tip back saying that I enjoyed the experience and I will be coming back again. Last time I was in San Antonio, I actually had a chef come out and thank me one time because he had never had anyone thank him or his staff in the back before. I don’t know if that breaks some sort of ethical code, but the hell with it, if I like it, I’m gonna tell you that.

  • Chris R

    Big Red,

    If you expect me to keep my nose in my plate when some twerp is screaming his head off and ruining my dinner you are sadly mistaken. You are *not* doing me a favor by cooking my food. I’m doing you a favor by keeping your establishment in business. Don’t screw up my enjoyment of the experience. Period.

    • craigkite

      I am with Chris on this issue. Anyone that works a kitchen and doesn’t know that yelling and verbal abuse is NOT to be heard by the customers is ready to let their business slide into the abyss. I have had terrible food served in a joyous ambiance that made the dining experience great. I have had great food served while listening to a chef bitch for 15 minutes at the top of his lungs about missing mis en place. I have also witnessed a hapless owner try to run his kitchen without his sous, and then watched him fire the sous, all of the time making sure that the drama did not destroy our dining experience. People that behave like assholes in any workplace, and expect that it should be accepted because it is the nature of the beast, better hope that it is not witnessed by the folks paying for their products/services. It will determine our overall opinion about returning to the business again. This is a simple matter of customer relations and economics. Most diners do not come for drama…we get enough of it in our daily lives.

  • Susan

    Well, it’s probably a good thing for everyone involved in this drama that it came to pass. It will (hopefully) open up some dialogue about work place ettiquette (?..maybe anger management is a better term) in the restaurant kitchen..and the dining room.

    Shuna Fish Lydon has written about the professional kitchen hierarchy and the staff relationships many times in her blog. It is interesting to me as a diner to see that side of the restaurant business. Michael, this looks like a good project for you..I’d buy a book about it!

  • Lobbert Morbid

    I can respond very simply: 1) I would never, ever, raise my voice in my kitchen. If the offending employee committed an act grievous enough to warrant such behavior, I would relieve him on the spot. 2) If a customer entered my kitchen uninvited, my response would likely get me arrested.

  • yatesh

    Situations always have some boundaries that we should not cross. I think it a fair comparison to ask if Mr. Lieber would feel upset if a stranger interrupted him as he disciplined his child and questioned his parenting abilities (assume it’s not child abuse warranting legal action).

    Also, it’s interesting to read from Forgione’s rebuttal that he apologized to patrons who overheard the initial incident, but that was left out of the original story from Lieber despite having had the opportunity to speak with him two days later for the article.

  • Erik

    If a chef ruins a dining experience by screaming and yelling at the staff in the dining room is a patron within their right to refuse to pay?

  • Cali

    Two wrongs don’t make a right. That being said, the second wrong (the writer entering the kitchen uninvited) would never have happened had the chef not been acting so unprofessionally. Bottom line: the chef was the bigger jerk. Screaming at staff doesn’t ever “teach” a darned thing, all it does is create a hostile work environment and cause alarming staff turnover rates. Training staff is expensive and the more often it needs to be done the worse the bottom line for the entire establishment.

  • Sherry Bellamy

    Both individuals behaved poorly. Yelling at employees is simply the behavior of a bully; it’s akin to a three year old having a screaming tantrum because he doesn’t like peas on his plate. Get over it, grow up. If your management technique includes screaming in (or out) of the earshot of customers, then you are an pathetically inept manager.
    On a certain lowest-common-denominator-viewer level some might be entertained by this sort of behavior …but I highly doubt that the object (read:victim) who presumably must need the employment pretty desperately would be amused. If the search for ‘perfection’ involves abusive behavior, then it’s a futile search indeed.

    Mr. Lieber’s little performance was equally stunned and immature. He only made it clearly evident that he has zero knowledge of how to protest an abusive business owner. Here’s how it’s done:

    Stand up
    Gather your things.
    Exit
    Never return.

    Easy-peasy, so to speak.

    • Snow

      +1
      Just vote with your feet people.
      I wouldn’t go back to a place that ruined my dinner with screaming, and neither would my family, friends, etc.
      Only several thousand other restaurants in my community to eat at.

  • rockandroller

    Both were wrong. Great to stand up for the staff, COMPLETELY the wrong way to do it and honestly I’m surprised he didn’t get decked. Hello, he was doing THE SAME THING – publicly berating someone for behavior he didn’t like.

    Dressing down of any employee should not happen in front of the customer/guest and I don’t hesitate to seek out a manager after such an incident has subsided and quietly tell them that’s how I feel and thus I am leaving, and won’t be returning.

    Pretending that dressing down of employees in ANY profession rarely to never happens because it’s “wrong” is living in a fantasy world. We can talk about what “should” happen in the world in a hundred different ways, this is really not one of the high priority ones IMO.

  • Natalie Sztern

    There is so much I have to say about this topic….I am busting…but I will say that I hope retribution comes to Mr. Forgione via his patrons and the city, so that he can then learn to treat his staff with respect and understand that his kitchen is not just a place for him to make money it is also a work environment and has human rights attached to that.

  • Dervin

    If one is going to work in the hospitality industry, they have to create a barrier between the image and the reality. Forgione’s extended tirade against his employee broke through that barrier.

    Something tells me if the customer complained to the GM, the chef wouldn’t get the message.

    If I’m paying $18 for a starter, I don’t want to listen to hysterical chef yelling at his employees. When I’m paying for a fine dining experience, I expect a fine dining experience – but that’s just me.

  • David

    There is one right answer and they’re both wrong.

    You don’t berate your staff, especially to the point where patrons hear and you also do not EVER walk into a chef’s kitchen, unsolicited.

    They say that history is won by those who write the books and in this case, I bet Lieber knows his behavior was much more inappropriate than he is letting on. But he gets to write the article, so he spins it his way. Quite frankly, the article is clearly a retaliation to save face after he was thrown out of a restaurant and it is an absolute disgrace of his “power”.

    What should he have done? Left the restaurant. The end. Talking to a GM won’t do a thing, as those of us who have worked in restaurants know…the person running the restaurant is the one running your kitchen. The GM would have scolded him and that would have been the end of the story.

    Moral? If you don’t like something you see at a restaurant, leave. Come back one more time and if you still see the same problem, don’t go back any more. This article is quite frankly a bunch of trumped up BS and they’re both idiots.

  • Al W

    I once had a Chef back me up against a wall and threaten to “cut off my testicles, sauté them, and feed them to the bums outside”. This was before service and I hadn’t done anything wrong yet. We had important people coming in that night and he wanted our best. Rather than being scarred for life, I’ve had a story to tell for 30 plus years. To this day, having my testicles sautéed is still the best threat I’ve ever received.

  • Derek

    It seems like there are two different issues at play here and they are sometimes getting inappropriately mixed in the comments. The first issue is whether it is appropriate for a chef to yell at his/her employees. The second issue is whether it is appropriate for a chef to do it in earshot of the restaurant’s customers (at least, as it was done here — repeatedly and prolonged). I can imagine situations where the answer to the first question is yes. But I don’t see how anyone can argue that it’s appropriate to scream at a worker in front of paying customers like this.

  • Big Red

    Wait…I have an idea. How about we ask the employee that was being berrated how he feels about it, and how about we ask the other patrons how they feel about it. I would bet we get an ambiguous response from both.

    And as far as anyone doing me a favor by eating in my restaurant, quite the contrary my friend. (Unless you a re a celebrity chef, most chef’s don’t own the place. They just work there) I am obligated to provide a service based on my place of employment. You happen to be the recipient. If it isn’t you, then it will be someone else. You ain’t that special baby. Yes, I am happy if you come in to eat, because I like what I do and take rpide in my work, but I am not going to remember who you are. I am at work, doing my job.

    Would I personally use this management tactic? Hell no…I am far more slick than to loose my temper with my employees. (And certainly not in front of anyone that mattered like people who are eating) There are better and far more effective ways to handle people. We all want to believe that “this way” is the way it should be done. This is reality and everyone has worked for a guy like that. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Work for someone else.

    My original point remains in tact however…they are my employees, and I am their manager. If you were in the middle of Sears or Home Depot and a manager is dressing down an employee, would you say something? Not there, but I might leave a note or make a phone call because that is how grown ups handle it.

    Maybe it is a case of wanna-be hero. The writer may have this whole hero complex and felt like he was coming to the rescue…sad but a distinct possibility.

    Bottom line is this. They were both out of line. But like I said before it comes down to egos. The chef’s and the writer. One thinks he is some sort of gift to the culinary arts, the other thinks he is a gift to the writer’s guild. Neither is correct. How we deal with it as patrons serarates us from the apes…we do not fling shit where we eat.

  • Db Sweeney

    Here’s what I find amusing about all this:

    -I’d be able to buy that cattle prod to use on them.
    -there are angy people with knives in there!
    -As far as the patron bitching at the chef, I personally would have leveled the guy.
    -If a customer entered my kitchen uninvited, my response would likely get me arrested.

    (I realize some of those are lifted, but the general context was that worse would have happened in my kitchen)

    And if you read the NY Times story, there are at least 50 comments that threatened further physical violence had the incident happened in “their” kitchen.

    Are you people really THAT self indulgent? Do you really think of your workplace as “sacred?” You’ve got to f’ing be kidding me. It’s a F’ING Kitchen. You serve food, not the cure to cancer or AIDS. It’s an honest profession, but many here make it sound like it is some sort of religion and we should bow to have the opportunity to be a part of it. I think even Bourdain would say Get the F over yourself. These responses simply show the immature and adolescent behavior that led to the incident in the first place.

    Please understand I’m not trying to put down the Food Service industry or restaurants in general. While the industry is a noble and professional undertaking, I think the attempts by some to get outsiders to see it as some sort of “cause” or “deity” come off as ….. as….. another organization that likes to pontificate about its righteousness. It’s called the Catholic Church.

  • JD in CO

    To walk into a kitchen not knowing the context of the situation and reprimand the chef is unthinkable to me. Did the author have any idea why the staffer was being disciplined? His/her behavior leading to the incident could well have been deplorable; obviously bad enough to require the chef to bring it to the attention of the house (his house, full of diners). Do you ever see football fans jump out of the stands to correct a coach while they are yelling at a player? I think not, and why is this any different? Having grown up in restaurants I would have to agree that media depiction of restaurants and chefs has screwed up the general public perception. I am regularly apalled at diners who abuse waitstaff for things that are clearly back of house mistakes yet you don’t hear much about that do you?

  • Joel

    This sort of abuse happens in every industry, not just restaurants, and there is no justification for any employer to treat any employee in the way described by Ron Lieber. It is the behavior of an unprofessional, immature, spoiled little brat.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Db Sweeney, those that cure Cancer and Aids: are they entitled to a better work environment than kitchen staff in a Restaurant???..is that how belittling a kitchen job is?

    .aren’t there laws protecting people from abuse in the workplace in the United States?

    Perhaps the food industry is notorious for this kind of degradation, hence the need for ‘Celebrity Chef’ status. He/She is much more a Professional with much more integrity, grades above the working class Chef/Owner.

    None the less if one is intent on running an environment with monetary interests then there are legalities that a Chef must follow…if for nothing else but the law.

    Abuse is Abuse; there is never and should never be an excuse for Abusive behaviour by any one individual. For those that stand up for Abuse then Bravo the world needs more of you.

    However, I go one step further, because that is where I made my living…if a man/woman can abuse both verbally and physically at work then imagine what he/she is capable of at home.

    Mr. Forgione needs to see the inside of a courtroom for that kind of treatment of his employees and so do all the other Chefs who follow his footsteps in the treatment of their workers.

    I would like to know a Canadian Chef who screams this kind of way in a Canadian kitchen, truly…because maybe I am the ignorant one.

  • Marco Giacomo

    I hope that I would have handled the Lieber v. Forgione matter differently than Lieber did, but knowing myself, I doubt it. I have dined in restaurants where the chef is on a prolonged audible diatribe, leaving staffers both tearful and terrified, and diners dispirited. And once, while living in the French Alps, I went to a local restaurant and heard a tremendous commotion in the kitchen at the same time I was heading to the WC. As I passed a partially open door to the kitchen, I saw the chef grab a commis by the jacket and bend him backward over a hot grill. Instinctively, I entered the “sanctum sanctorum” and told him in no uncertain words that if he burned “le petit” that he would be next. The chef briefly weighed his options, apologized to me (and the commis), and then came out and had an espresso with me and my wife. During our pleasant conversation we learned that both he and I had trained under the same chef in Lyon. This fellow, after several years became a chef patron in Grenoble while I left the industry after reaching the somewhat middling position of garde manger at a two-star joint outside Lyon many years prior. Small world.

    Had I been working in a kitchen in which a Lieber-like person came in to complain, I wouldn’t have grabbed a cleaver and chased the client out of the place, nor would I have permitted a colleague to do the same. I had several chefs—mostly one hothead in particular—yell at me in the nearly six years I spent in the kitchen, but I made it clear to them that their prolonged ranting or physically threatening me would come at a price. (It helped back then to be larger than most of the chefs.) Just my two cents.

  • Mantonat

    A chef – even a highly trained, well respected, artistically gifted chef – is still a servant. He’s being paid to feed those in the restaurant. The kitchen may be his sacred place, so he should respect that as much as he expects his customers to. How does humiliating an employee show respect to that sacred place? If Lieber’s intrusion undermined the chef’s authority: good. He probably deserved it. That being said, the customer/customer-service relationship is pretty much severed at that point, so Lieber probably should have taken his dinner party elsewhere immediately after the confrontation.

  • Jose Canseco

    This whole thread is retarded.

    1. Chef gets pissed at underling and yells
    2. Customer gets pissed at chef for yelling
    3. Chef gets pissed at customer for getting pissed at chef and kicks him out.

    Don’t you people have anything better to discuss?

    • Dervin

      apparently you are new to this concept of blogs, discussions and “the internet.”

  • Chase

    The responses to this incident are hilarious to me.

    - I’m doing you a favor by eating at your restaurant
    - No one deserves to be berated at the work place
    - Never should a chef yell at an employee in front of the house
    - Good for him for trying to put the chef in his place
    - The chef must have a superiority complex or anger management issues
    - Yelling shows poor management skills

    Are you people kidding me? When did this country become a bunch of cry babies and “it’s up to me to right the wrongs of this situation that has nothing to do with me and I don’t know the context” saviors?

    Do you think a foreman never yells at his construction workers when they’re building all the buildings on this planet? Or a surgical intern never gets a “stern” talking to when they screw up a suture? Or a cadet when they mess up on the police force? Or a _______ when they ______ working for the _____? Give me a break.

    There are obviously two teams. Those that think discipline is necessary, whether it be yelling, or any other “over the top” action. And there are those that believe a cautionary tisk tisk or a time out is in order. I think it’s obvious where I stand.

    I do agree that the kitchen atmosphere has been skewed by celebrity chefs and food shows and the like, to the point where every diner who goes to a fancy restaurant expects the royal treatment. The fact of the matter is that most restaurant kitchens are hectic, fast paced places of business.

    Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe the chef didn’t have the time to take the young cook aside to tell him why he was upset? That could happen when trying to fulfill 100+ covers for all of the patrons that are doing the chef a favor by eating there. Heaven forbid the chef tries to get some productivity out of his employees when trying to feed the hundreds of people doing him a favor by eating there. Or the chef wants to make sure all the food coming out of his “non sacred shit hole workplace” is top notch for all the patrons doing him a favor by eating there. Is my point getting across yet.

    The point is, it’s no ones business except the chef’s and the cooks. Patrons are not God’s gift to restaurants and vice versa. Restaurants exist because there is a need and want. Plain and simple. If you don’t like what happens, go to a different restaurant that fulfills your need.

      • Chase

        To bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control or to punish or penalize in order to train and control, of which the chef chose the latter route.

        Then again, I have no idea what discipline means. I simply meant to say that the “art” of teaching through verbal abuse happens in every profession and to sit here and argue about how it is horrible, is a waste of time because it will never change. Those who think it will or can are lying to themselves.

    • Derek

      It became the patrons’ business when the chef subjected the front of the house to the extended screaming fit, too.

  • Karen Downie Makley

    I love the striking photo of the guys taking a smoke break outside of the kitchen door. The dining room is another world. The beautiful dinners served in these swank theaters are borne out of what is often horrible chaos in the kitchen and never the twain shall meet…or that’s how it should be. Chef stepped in a net, kicked a tripwire, by allowing his voice to rip through to the other world…the dining room. He ALLOWED the two worlds collide. So, in a way, he asked for his kitchen to be infiltrated by the other side. I don’t necessarily fault the chef for being a heavy-handed manager, but perhaps he should strive for quieter means of intimidation/motivation.

  • Traci (CIA Alum '94)

    AWESOME photo – So real! Love it……..

    Also, this story is “classic” – I read both sides of the story and I side with the chef/owner. The customer should have complained to the GM/Server.

    Thanks for a great post, Michael! =)

  • bobdelgrosso

    While I certainly have an opinion about the subject of your post. I can’t write anything about it because I’m too psyched to see that Donna has returned here to a theme that is, in my mind at least, an expression of her artistic raison d’ etre. Sorry man, you are taking a back seat on this one.

  • Paul Michael Smith

    Dear Michael, Having spent the last fifteen years of my life in restaurant kitchens, initially at the receiving end and lately at the giving end, I finally came to the conclusion that as important as I think it is, we are not in a life or death situation. It is, after all, only food. And though I personally find that really important, in the big scheme of things it’s not all gordon Ramsey and others would have us believe. Somehow, even though I’m at the end of my fifteen hour (by choice) day, I should be smarter than having to resort to bullying to get my products to taste and look right.

  • Joe Gardewin

    I for one would never eat at this restaurant. When I go to a restaurant I not only want good food and don’t mind paying for it, I want a calm comfortable atmosphere. I want to feel respected as a guest. The best places have made me feel valued as a guest. I don’t care how good the chef is, putting up with this chef’s loutish behavior would interfere with my digestion. Actually, Mr. Lieber owes this chef a small debt for asking to leave before he ate more. This way his entire meal wasn’t ruined.

  • shuna fish lydon

    This is a complicated topic, no doubt. Although I was “brought up” by chefs who were sometimes great yellers, and physically, verbally & psychically violent, I have chosen a different route. I tend to raise my voice once every few years, to great effect. My “management technique” is: 1st I ask/suggest nicely, 2nd I ask why #1 wasn’t heeded and ask again. #3 I’m raising my voice, maybe.

    Kitchens are loud and to speak at regular volume, especially when expediting, is not possible. Also service is a ferocious time and to get all cooks timed correctly on a ticket takes a lot of yelling back & forth between stations. I always tell people my tone changes during service but not to take it personally. I tell people they’ll know when it’s personal.

    If a diner walked into my kitchen and told me to shut up I would ask them to leave. They would be taking my volume out of context if they didn’t know the situation.

    I’m not front of house for many reasons, but I will say that not all restaurants have effective front of house management, but that is the place where diners should take their complaints since they dine in the front of house domain.

    The author here has quite an audience to his temper-tantrum, n’est pas? The NY Times?! I look forward to the chef’s response, should he choose to explain his side.

    Kitchens are not quiet workplaces. If you think Gordon Ramsay invented yelling expletives I urge you to crawl back under your rock. I often tell cooks if they want a quiet workplace they should work in a library.

    I choose not to “abuse” the way I often felt “abused.” But to be honest here: I would not have traded in my previous scary chef/kitchen experiences for anything. Call me crazy but I, like other commenters here, was made a better cook/chef by those who took the time to target me with their too high expectations.

  • mel in austin

    in any atmosphere, i don’t think it is necessary to yell, scream, haze abuse– whatever you want to label it– fraternities/ sororities, the military, the kitchen, the classroom. i am sure there are plenty of kitchens that are abuse-free, we just don’t see them on tv, read about them or hear about them because those stories would not satiate our appetite for watching people get humiliated and abused.

  • Freya

    I have one question: did the person walking into the kitchen uninvited comply with food safety regulations? Was their hair covered and their hands washed? Were their shoes clean or did the kitchen staff have to clean up the dirt tracked in? Did they touch anything or anyone?

    People not working in that particular business have no right to be in the commercial kitchen; it is a violation of food safety regulations.

    They are also an obstacle in the frantic environment of a kitchen and thus an Occupational Safety issue.

  • carri

    It’s true, Shuna is right. Kitchens are loud. But they should be a good kind of loud. And while it also may be true that we have been made better cooks by being abused, it’s a little like my dad saying he hit me because he loved me. It’s fucked up and there is a better way to get your point across than making a scene. How do kitchens like that even turn out digestable food?

  • Violet Séverine

    I thought the show Made To Order about the Canadian Rubino brothers did a good job of showing a creative and passionate kitchen environment. I can’t stand tyrant chefs. The more you yell, the more your employees shut down. Once respect is gone, how can you create good food?

  • kaela

    The incident was nothing but alpha male bullshit. A man comes onto another man’s turf and tells him how to do his job. Like so many territorial disputes – the challenger lost. The sad thing is he felt the need to whine about his loss on his blog, to thousands, perhaps millions of readers. Talk about ego! I want to lean over and whisper “Pssst! Buddy! You lost. Slink away.”

    Not only that, but Forgione got free publicity out of it. Do you think that bookings will not be up this week? Yep – that’ll learn ‘im.

  • commiskaze

    I think that all you folks with an opinion, that have not worked in a busy, high end restaurant ought to take their horribly deluded opinions elsewhere. Sure perhaps you do not get yelled at at work, probably receive benefits, and a good pay, and maybe only work eight hours a day. Fine I am happy for you, however I as a cook do not. The kitchen is an altogether different world, perhaps its only food, but at twelve to fourteens hours at minimum wage, at the hours in which everyone you know is probably out enjoying themselves, for six to seven days a week, it becomes your world. Now don’t feel pity by any means, its a choice, a choice we made and frankly enjoy. If we minded getting a good tear down for fucking something up, wed work at a chain restaurant, receive benefits, better pay, and sludge out mediocre sludge or the ignorant masses. If the chef has a reputation and a great amount of skill that he bestows on his employees, somebody we can learn from, getting yelled at is not a huge problem, and is actually sought out by aspiring cooks. That said, a well trained, well oiled kitchen should run without a lot of yelling and extra stress. Sure this could just be kitchen rhetoric, me blabbing about how much harder my job is, and your more then allowed to accept it as that -that is your choice. However do not make the ignorant mistake of pretending to understand something you don’t. If you have any doubts take your minimal amount of cooking knowledge (and trust me, no matter how good you think you are… your not,) and cook a multi course dinner for twenty of your friends and co workers, and tell me its not that stressful. Rant done.

    • Sherry Bellamy

      My opinions aren’t ‘deluded’.

      I’ve owned a restaurant, and worked as a chef for many years. I’ve also worked for a few abusive chefs. Here’s a little secret. Being screamed at, sworn at, and on a few occasions listening to overt sexual insults Didn’t. Make. Me. A. Better. Cook. It made me miserable, and it caused me to loathe and disrespect the screamer. Perhaps there’s a macho-masochistic character trait that makes a few people enjoy having spittle flung into their face while their eardrums are bleeding….but I haven’t met any of those people.

      True, I’ve been out of the industry for a few years, but
      I know that kitchens can be hugely stressful. I lived that. I get that, but screaming is never necessary, never anything more than a stress-relief mechanism for the screamer. Someone who has authority, I mean true authority based on respect as opposed to fear, will manage in any environment without resorting to the tactics of the wet-diaper toddler.

    • Db Sweeney

      Amen. I love this idea.

      While we’re at it, no more commenting about:

      -Sports unless you played them professionally.
      -Politics unless you’ve been elected or appointed to a position in local, state, or national government.

      I mean, how could anyone who hasn’t actually done these things make a comment about them that’s meaningful right? I mean, how could Ruhlman possibly know why LeBron decided pull a Karl Malone impersonation in Game 5? Ruhlman never played in the NBA. PUH-Leeze.

      Jose Canseco is about as accurate as anyone here. This is just a chance for everyone in the industry to stroke their egos and talk about how no one knows the trouble they’ve seen.

      Rant done.

  • Shelly

    There are many vitriolic posts on this issue. If you don’t like what your doing, be it dining or working, there are other options. Personal responsibility for ones own happiness cannot be taught by yelling at a chef or a blogger.

  • Jose Canseco

    There is no story here. All you foodies should just keep discussing farmers markets, local organic goat farmers, guanciale, and bottarga.

  • Dan

    I’m sorry, but I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens for years. And in only one of those was the chef verbally abusive to the staff – and that restaurant didn’t stay open long, imploding after staff members quit left and right over the abuse, complaints against the chef from both staff and customers, etc. There are pressures in running a restaurant kitchen that people outside the industry don’t understand, no question, and a quickly snapped off criticism, oft-times even in anger, happens in the best of kitchens, but that’s a different story from dressing someone down in front of other staff, and worse, customers. Mark Forgione, whom I know, though not well, should know better than to behave like that, particularly in an open kitchen, though truly, that shouldn’t even have to be a factor.

    On the flipside, Lieber had no business entering the kitchen, open or otherwise, and as many people here have suggested, the right/intelligent thing to have done would have been to talk to the floor manager, someone in the front of house, and let them take it up with the chef. I’m sure Lieber wouldn’t find it appropriate if a NYT editor was chewing out a reporter over something and some reader of the paper marched into the newsroom and started berating the editor for his behavior.

  • Nancy@acommunaltable

    Reminds me of my husband’s water polo coach. You always knew when practice was on because you could hear the coach anywhere on campus and if you were looking for new and inventive ways to insult someone you could really get an education from this guy. I asked my husband why he put up with it. He looked at me and said that if the coach wasn’t yelling at you, it meant you weren’t worth being yelled at.
    The yelling worked since a number of those players went on to win Olympic medals – and when he retired they threw a huge retirement party for the guy and a lot of the players flew in just for the event.
    A good example that things aren’t always as they seem.

  • Christian

    I guess I’m also in the “loud in a good” way school, but this comment is not about that. Simply, if the was intention of the chef was to maintain high standard of service, etc. and he was doing it by yelling where the whole dining room could hear, it’s a strong case of losing sight of the forest for the trees.

    I don’t know what the employee who got the yelling did to get it. However, I’m pretty certain that it pales in term of negative impact on the dining experience to hearing the chef yell his guts out and humiliate one of his employees in public. I’d never go back to such a place.

  • Hector

    This is a fascinating issue for me! I worked as a busboy and waiter, and got kicked out of a kitchen by a knife wielding chef! I also owned a restaurant, and definitely tried not to promote that type of work environment, and unfortunately suffered from employees who had little regard for my standards. After these experiences I completed an MBA program and now in August I am going to start a doctoral program in Organizational Behavior, at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. I now have a better understanding of organizational cultures, and particularly why they develop. I have identified several factors that influence the kitchen culture:
    1. Chefs/Owners who have minimal administrative understanding: Chefs have the responsibility to organize a production line, which suffers from great variability, both from a number of clients and resources. A flawed production line will cause considerable stress on any organizations.
    2. Limited cashflow of small restaurants: Restaurants have small entrance barriers, making them a popular option for capital-strapped entreprenuers. Hence, cashflow is a consistent issue. This problem affects resources, particularly the number of people hired to work. Again, this might result in a kitchen having less than the necessary people working a production line. This again adds to the stress of the environment. This also makes mistakes in any sense, extremely damaging. A lost client or bad word of mouth will negatively impact cashflow. A cash-strapped entrepreneur is under enormous stress. Well, even non cash-strapped entrepreneur is also under enormous stress, but maybe for other reasons.
    3. Creative personalities: Chefs are artists. The creative process is a wonderful and maddening experience. Wonderful to develop a menu, maddening when it is not easily brought to life by others. Generally speaking, creative artists normally do not develop, or at least don’t enjoy developing the administrative skills to run a business. This of course is not always the case, but if you have ever seen the Restaurant series detailing Rocco’s struggles to manage a business, you get the idea. Not having many skills to deal with a business that is extremely difficult to run, like a kitchen, leaves people stressed and when stressed people scream.
    4. Profile of employees: Pay at restaurants is not top notch, hence the people that do the dirty work at restaurants are either doing it for a short time, doing it cause they have little else to do, or doing it cause they love it. The turnover for these employees is extremely high, compared to say an accountant or business professor. Unfortunately this means that the time and energy that an owner or chef invests will walk out the door in a short amount of time. An owner will not want to spend too much time training someone. A badly trained employee will make mistakes, frustrating the owner/chef, illiciting the afore mentioned response.
    5.Tradition: French chefs. Nuff said.
    Hector

  • Deba Wegner

    Much discussion has appeared in the on line world making all sorts of points back and forth on this subject.

    In 1973 I received a $500 dollar car from my Dad, I was a Junior in High school and needed gas money. Someone suggested I work at the Country Club across the street from the school, because I showed an aptitude when helping my mother with dinner parties at home. I was really shy and was thrust into a foreign world of “lifer hospitality employees”. The executive chef was French (in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, mind you), the first thing I was told was: “stay away from Pierre he throws chef knifes when he gets mad, which was a nightly occurrence.” He was a five foot Gallic, hot head, who luckily was a really bad shot, at least in the year I worked there.

    I have made hospitality, hotels, the wine industry my life (I really did have a talent).

    Cut thirty years later, last week I spoke to a colleague who told me that during the opening of a hotel two years ago, when he told his supervisor that his wife was expecting and that he would be needing to take one day off a week, it was suggested “that getting rid of the pregnancy” would be much better for his future with the company.
    There are many wonderful people and companies in the global hospitality industry. But, to say that there aren’t some systemic, deep seated issues is blatant denial. Things have gone on and continue to go
    that just don’t happen in other industries.

  • michael pardus

    To paraphrase John Waters – which I’ve been doing a lot lately – There are two kinds of people in this world – Marc Forgione’s kind and ASS HOLES…I think you can intuit which camp I’m in…Stay the fuck out of my kitchen if you don’t like my heat. The End.

  • Danielle

    Regardless of how you feel about Lieber’s actions, the comments that suggest yelling as a mode of “discipline” is limited to the blue-collar workplace are based on a false premise. This is not a class issue. Yelling at a subordinate is simply wrong, and it happens everywhere, “cushy office jobs” included. Of course everybody loses their tempers sometimes, and there’s a continuum between briefly snapping in a moment of stress and raising one’s voice repeatedly as a mental/physical method of intimidation. But the notion that a restaurant kitchen gets a pass for treating people this way given its unique environment is absurd. Macho bullshit, indeed. And to argue that it SHOULD get a pass is insulting to blue-collar workers in other industries, not to mention the blue-collar workers who don’t and wouldn’t yell at subordinates to manage them.

    That said, should Lieber have intervened the way he did? No, he shouldn’t have, for reasons already mentioned by other commenters, but not because the restaurant kitchen is exempt from generally accepted standards of civilized behavior in the workplace. ANY workplace.

  • Kanani

    “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.”
    Bingo!
    Just a comparison.
    My husband recently ran a Forward Surgical Team unit in the middle of a war zone. In addition to mortar attacks and small arms fire, there were MASCAL events. Throughout all of this, he was cited by the staff as never yelling, never shouting, even though the stakes were high and many surgeons have run them that way.

    The reason? Everyone was trained well, their jobs and procedures were reviewed time and again. They had lectures, drills, team performance evaluations. Sure, there were differences, but this is how one creates a team. The result? Many soldiers and locals saved, a team that had confidence, cohesiveness, and applied themselves.

    Anyone who berates others either verbally or physically isn’t too sure of themselves. This behavior crosses over and is often reflective of messy personal lives as well.

    • Sherry Bellamy

      ****Oh, but he wasn’t COOKING, dontcha know. Doesn’t know the meaning of real pressure.****

      (But joking/sarcasm aside, great post. He sounds like a great husband, too.)

  • Randy

    I can see both sides. Yes, it probably wasn’t entirely kosher for him to run into the kitchen. However, the cook was also entire inappropriate to have the customer leave. I reread Michael’s book where there was the commentary about the students complaining about the methods at the CIA. I think it is a big cop out to cite the pressures of running a restaurant as a basis for yelling at people. I know Michael is not condoning it but using it as sort of “it is what it is” comparison. But, if you use it to justify yelling at people, when does it stop? I recall in one of Michael’s books that Thomas Keller put a hot plate or something very hot on someone’s hand that was talking. I thought that was just absolutely horrible and if I was that worker, I would have killed Keller.
    You can use the excuse of the strain of running a restaurant only so much before it comes to be hollow. There are many other industries and professions that are extremely stressful and you would not see the verbal abuse that is too prevalent in the restaurant world. But Forgione should have went to the customer and said I am sorry that you had to witness that. This is a no-win subject because you can see both sides.
    However, I feel that this is a great subject-too much emphasis has been put on the cook in today’s food obsessed society and not enough has been paid to the line workers. Restaurants do not pay well, mostly do not provide benefits, abuse workers and generally treat anyone who isn’t the star chef as a piece of trash. My oldest son had designs on a culinary career until the cook at a local steak house decided that he was going to make my son the target of his alcoholic venom. He knows now that he could not live like that. Most of all, this is really a sad story!

  • luis

    This is why I mostly cook at home and don’t eat out unless is a special ocassion at regular fine restaurant where they serve great food and they don’t chase michelin stars.

    Mr Forgioni’s frustration comes from someone who is really trying for perfection and Michelin status and pushing people a bit too harsh.

    Last night we celebrated my niece’s graduation at a fine restaurant and had a great time. Senator Ileana Ross and fam was in the establishment and there were no Michelin stars on display although I am sure it is a highly rank local establishment. The staff was happy and there was no yelling of any kind going on.

    If you want Michelin type pressure the way to get there is to find motivated people that do not require screaming to be motivated to push themselves to be the best.

    Running the place until everyone needs therapy including the dinners… is too much to ask of yourself. Besides its not about the chef… It’s just not. It’s all about your customers, the dinners which most of them can tell a good meal from a bad one but can’t tell you the difference between great olive oil and the stuff that passes for normal. Same with the wines.

  • Chris

    I have been a chef for about 15 years and I have worked for chefs that yell and scream over everything. These are chefs that do not belong in the position they are in. About 80% of my job as a chef is about teaching. If you can’t control yourself, how are you going to train anyone to do anything. There are people who do not belong in a kitchen and should be removed, but most of the aggressive chefs simply lack the patience to do the job. I have walked out of kitchens where chefs behave like animals, they seem to buy into the idea that the myth of the chef is more important then who they are. At the end of the day it is a job not an identity. Most chefs are very fragile egotists who define themselves by their profession. It is really sad to see, but they are being weeded out since more women are entering the kitchens and lawsuits and reports to the department of labor are on the rise. Soon these types of chefs will die out like the dinosaurs and good riddance to them.

    • Kanani

      “About 80% of my job as a chef is about teaching. If you can’t control yourself, how are you going to train anyone to do anything.”

      Amen, Chris. You inspire and you do the work.

  • Chuck Shaw

    The restaurant is like any other business with an organizational hierarchy. Lieber should have talked to the front of the house, not walked into the back of the house. A very bad move when tempers are at the highest levels and knives are within reach. ;-) Michael, you are so spot on with your comment that the chef had not sufficiently done his job because in the kitchen the buck stops with him or her. Period.

  • michael

    Ruhlman, you are a great writer and commentator, but you just don’t get it.

    When I dine, I don’t want to hear anyone being dressed down. It’s worse than a baby screaming next to me. Why? Because we presume the chef is working FOR US. He is in the SERVICE industry. Just as I would not want to listen to a general manager scream at a maid just outside my hotel room at 3 a.m., nor do I want to hear a chef humiliate (we can debate that term as it is applied here, but look it up in the dictionary) a worker so that everyone in the restaurant CEASES conversation, their meal ruined, as they are forced to PARTICIPATE in the discipline being dished out, so to speak. So disappointed you don’t get this. I can’t believe there could be worse service possible than being subjected to partake in this alpha-male chef’s insensitivity.

    Would I have confronted the chef? No — I would have immediately gotten up from the table and left, telling the maitre’d that I will not be a party to such a horrible lack of grace.

  • luis

    Three star michelin restaurants have a place… but getting there is not easy and pushing beyond your limits needs to be tempered with humor and patiente. If you reach the stage were you need therapy over it.. Maybe you need to rethink your game your team and which league you should play in. It’s not easy but please spare the customer of that violent embarrasing scene.

  • faustianbargain

    [...]michael pardus

    To paraphrase John Waters – which I’ve been doing a lot lately – There are two kinds of people in this world – Marc Forgione’s kind and ASS HOLES…I think you can intuit which camp I’m in…Stay the fuck out of my kitchen if you don’t like my heat. The End.[...]

    michael pardus, with his enlightening comment, has demonstrated to us how some people dont want to end the cycle of abuse. with an instructor like him, its likely that his students will perpetuate abuse where ever they go….

    for shame..

  • Fred Murphy

    As a Chef I can’t help but wonder what Mr. Lieber would have written if his appetizer had arrived before his amuse bouche. It probably would have been more damaging to Chef Forgione than being labeled as a “screamer”. I’ve been yelled at (in one of the best kitchens in the world by a very highly respected chef), I’ve been praised, I’ve been ignored, and much more by most of the chefs I’ve worked for. I don’t think it was ever to abuse me, or because of the ego, or being unprepared, it was always to provide the best dining experience to the guest. For me the worst incident was when the executive sous chef, a man I greatly respect and admire, told me he was disappointed in me for some screw up I made. Had he yelled at me, (and he did, on other occasions) I would have forgotten about it and wouldn’t be writing about it six years later, but he knew how to reach me and he helped make me what I am today. Chef Forgione has achieved his level of success, in part, because he knows how to get the best out of his brigade, which sometimes means you have to yell, sometimes means you have to praise, and sometimes means you have to hold your tongue and say nothing. The reality is, in all professions, there are those that respond to a pat on the back, and those that respond to a kick in the arse.

  • faustianbargain

    it beggars belief to suppose that the kitchen workforce is represented by people who clearly have the time(and equipment and inclination) to write and comment on blogs.

    obviously there is no other shadow world nor are there shadow people whose silent compliance of exploitation and abuse is completely justifiable by a privileged dick’s fair sense of ‘pass it forward’.

    its all a fable..a dickenesque fable, no doubt. yes, that must be it.

  • heydemann3

    Ya know, if the the dining room could hear this, so could the FoH staff. Yet the GM didn’t go and get the chef to quiet down. Perhaps he/she was worried about losing his/her job?
    And for all of you who scream “You NEVER walk into a chef’s kitchen!” Get over yourselves. The amazing pressures of the restaurant world are all self induced, by elevating the concept of dining out to full blown “art”. (When molecular gastronomists aren’t making it a false science)
    It’s food. It’s not, as they say all too often at the CIA, rocket science.
    It’s not the military or law enforcement, where one of the goals of training is to get people who will advance towards danger, when every instinct is screaming “flee”!
    Chefs who resort to this type of behavior would be assholes in any industry, but in the restaurant biz they get admired for it- the volume is assumed to be a direct translation of their passion for cooking and food. Mostly it’s an inability to work with a staff, instead of as a tyrant. In 18 years in the kitchen I suffered under way too many of this type of chef and the food did too.
    And walking into the pick-up side of a kitchen isn’t all that dangerous, or else we’d have FoH staff in the hospital all of the time.
    If I was berating an underling loudly enough that someone sitting in a room 20 feet away could hear me through a closed door I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked me to lower my volume.

    • Kanani

      Respectfully, that is NOT the goal of the military or law enforcement. I’ll keep it simple.
      The goal of the military is to form a cohesive unit, who together will reach the goal of intent after a carefully planned and rehearsed strategy. Each person commits to watch over and even die for the other. This includes the leader, who will often make the greatest sacrifice for his or her team.

  • Allison

    From what I’ve read, there’s a lot of drug use in professional kitchens. In my own experience in dealing with drug addicts, I’ve found that drug addicts often have violent tempers and are prone to outbursts of rage. I suspect that a lot of tantrums that go on in professional kitchens would just disappear if the use of recreational drugs was eliminated.

  • Randy

    We are missing the point of the posting. Michael made it very clear as to where he stood-it was the point that Chef’s are under a lot of strain and stress in their jobs worrying about everything that could occur in a kitchen. And maybe, the chef isn’t like this all of the time, just this one time, so the writer maybe should have sensed this and acted accordingly. So, the real question is whether anyone, because they might be having a bad day or everything is going wrong, is entitled to yell and scream at people. Yes, maybe the chef is normally a great guy and occasionally loses it. How many of us who are parents have ripped into our kids for something when we know it doesn’t do any good? That was my father’s way and I ended up hating him for years.
    I do think that the posting could be used as cover for any chef saying its my way or the highway. Being in the field of employment law, I believe that you don’t get improvement that way.

    I went back and read Michael’s books regarding Thomas Keller’s life and training as a chef. The one thing that really struck me was that Thomas talked about Roland Henin’s mentorship as a real rocket boost to his career. Roland taught him how to do many things that no one bothered to teach him. How many of us had that teacher, that coach, that parent, etc who instead of yelling at us or making us feel crappy for a mistake took the time and patience to point out the mistake, work with us to correct the mistake and then moved on? To me, that one part of Michael’s books captured to me the real meaning of being a chef and searching for perfection.

  • Carey

    Just yesterday I was at a trendy local french establishment asking how Mother’s day went. Several patrons were shocked that a 10am call for a lunch reservation could not be accommodated until 8:30pm that day. It’s a shame they didn’t think of their Mothers a little earlier or realize the work that goes into producing a mother’s day feast at a restaurant.

  • Cheffrey

    As a chef in charge of a staff of 25 line cooks, prep cooks, and dishwashers, I know the pressures of working in a high-profile kitchen environment. What is important to note is that we don’t know the context or subject matter to which Forgione drew ire. I am personally of the belief that “a sit-down in the principal’s office is more effective than being yelled at by the teacher,” so I don’t believe in dressing someone down in full view of the crew. I find that approach will, in the long run, cause your staff to lose respect in you both as a leader and as a boss. That being said, I find some instances where yelling may be an appropriate response. For example, if I see my cooks handling chicken with their bare hands, not washing said hands, then preparing a salad to be eaten in its raw form with “chicken-y” hands (after I’ve taught them on dozens of occasions to wear gloves and wash hands repeatedly), I might fly off my hinges a bit. If a cook shows me blatant disrespect and challenges my authority in front of the rest of the line, I might also lose my cool–then would likely fire him.

    In any event, how I lead, inspire, praise, and discipline my staff is at my discretion. The restaurant business is, by nature, at-will employment. But if a guest came into my work environment and challenged my authority in front of my crew, he or she would be unceremoniously asked to leave the premises. I once had a guest who felt that his bread service was taking too long enter the kitchen and begin making bread for himself. His bread was his final course. Unless invited, no guest should EVER enter a professional restaurant kitchen. The safety and liability issues alone make this a bad idea. If Lieber took issue with Forgione’s disciplinary methods, complaining to the general manager would have been the best approach. That way, the situation could have been resolved internally, and Lieber would have likely found himself the beneficiary of an extra course, another round of drinks, or a significantly discounted check, all at the expense of the restaurant. Instead, he entered a battle he had no chance of winning. Stay out of the kitchen!

    • Rhonda

      Cheffrey;

      I vowed to stay out of this but you have nailed it on the head.

      I wholeheartedly agree.

      Thank you for finding the right words!

  • john

    People need to get over their hero worship. You simply shouldn’t treat other people like this. There are all sorts of ways to rationalize it but they are just excuses at the end of the day. There are plenty of examples out their that demonstrate you don’t have to treat people like this to get things done.

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