Saturday, February 7, 2009

Just an Honest Word Please

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a bona fide chef groupie. I follow the careers of the tops chef with a passion. I know Mario Batalli's favorite band is Joy Division. Escoffier was a very devout Catholic and would rub his ear when he got angry. Marco-Pierre White doesn't like music played in his restaurants. Fernande Point loved Champagne so much he drank two bottles a day. Guy Savoy was portrayed as a customer in the French version of Ratatouille, and so forth. I can't get enough information about my favorite chefs. If there was a People magazine for chefs, you could bet I would have a life time subscription. I love finding out small details about those at the top. I get giddy when I discover so-and-so has a goldfish named Bob or some other ridiculous, insignificant detail. My groupie-ness sometimes can be taken to the extreme where I put on rose colored glasses when it comes to their food and believe these guys can do no wrong. I am also a devout restaurant review reader. There are a number of great websites and blogs who write brutally honest reviews of the top restaurants in the world, and I am a regular reader of these sites. What I like about these sites is the fact that the reviewers are not awe struck by the reputation of the chef or restaurant and will write their honest review of what they thought of the food. While most of the time the reviews do give praise for the greatness of the food and restaurant, there are times when the review does not find that particular meal all that wonderful. It is these reviews I enjoy reading most. It's not because I like dirt but because these reviews are learning experiences for me. I read them trying to see what the writer sees as great, good, and just plain bad, and because these sites are written by seasoned eaters, I generally trust their judgments. What I look for in a well written review is the writer's (read paying customer) honest take on the food and overall experience. I make it a habit to listen to the honest opinions of those who eat my food. Notice I say, "honest". There are those who are never happy, or find a demented pleasure in telling cooks their food was not so good, and I do not listen to these folks. But, to those who are honest I am thankful. Often times it difficult for us cooks to really tell how we are doing, and this is because of a couple reasons. Firstly there is the whole can't see the forest because of the trees. You see, we spend our days in the trenches and it is not easy to keep ones bearings straight and it takes a lot of concentration to keep standards up and consistent. Good, honest (read not mean spirited) feed back from the ones eating is always welcomed. Secondly there is ego. Chefs are an ego driven lot and some of us think we are gods and untouchable. Far to often a chef thinks his/her food is above critique. They often think they are so good that the guest should say nothing, sit there, and eat in gratitude and awe. Bullshit. It is for the guest we cook and it is the guest who has the final say as to the worthiness of a meal. A good, honest review of a meal that did not meet the grade is good for us on occasion. It keeps us on our toes. In the end, it is for you guys we chefs cook for, and in the end it is ultimately your opinion that matters.

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