This link to an article in the NYT is exactly what I’m talking/thinking about as a chef. The author writes about this growing trend of NY/American restaurants taking a more hardline approach when it comes to food. This could be for reasons of self convenience or quality issues but what they’re doing is saying no to customers and not allowing for them to change all the itty bitty things they don’t like or claim to have an allergy to.

We live in the age of over customisation, particularly in the realm of food. Take coffee for instance, with it’s choice of milks, skim/full/soy/none or decaf or no, number of spoonfuls of sugar/equal, in/out, amount of milk, type of espresso. Every mofo has their own personalised drink. It’s me. I’m a double shot soy decaf mocha latte. How can this ever be badong?

Well it is. A double shot soy decaf mocha latte is a terrible albeit extreme example. The problem with it is it’s confusing, in poor taste and not coffee. 2 shots but decaf? Its also rude to ask for extras/changes but not pay a single dime more or even proffer a word of thanks for doing so. Customers tend to be think establishments owe it to them to make their coffee or muffin or steak insanely amazing everytime plus remember their names, pet, baby, particular dislikes, time of day and that they are hypochondriac gluten/lactose/caffeine/chilli/garlic/salt/oil intolerant lepers and their mom just had her nails polished at this salon in god knows where because the other one was closed and their car had run out of gas.

Complex, fully customised orders are what chefs tend to raise an eyebrow at. We tend to do the same thing every time, such that we can perfect the craft, be it a barista pulling the perfect shot or a chef flipping an omelette. Perfection = consistency = a good restaurant. You don’t ask too much at the best places because that’s how they do it. When a custom comes it, it annoys this equilibrium and creates the possibility that the chef can fuck up. Not advisable. There’s already a million things in our heads that we think of constantly. The level of multitasking for an average chef is bewildering. Sauce? Heat? Pan? Meat? Fridge? Next order? Pie? Oven? Spoon? Salt? Time? That’s just the tip. Throwing a curve ball is annoying.

Consumers are also over informed and mostly with bad information. Some people might’ve watched a single episode of masterchef and suddenly they’ve become gourmands or expert chefs. Dude, if you was so expert, you’d do it at home. This over indulgent know it all attitude forgets that cheffing is a profession much like every other. Chefs make food our job. We try to learn as much about it as we can, from the source or from experiencing and touching it everyday. We’re not watching masterchef. We’re using the pacojets and thermomixes because we’re for real and we know what we’re doing. Would you try to tell your doctor how to solve your heart bypass? No. But you’d definitely not have any qualms telling the chef to swop out something you don’t like for something you do. Because the job appears so trivial, you refuse to have complete faith.

Quality is a huge issue as well. In some high end patisseries in Japan, they will never let you buy something from the fridge unless you were going to consume near immediately. No amount of dry ice and packing material will let them sell it to you. They just don’t want you to experience a diminished product and have that devalue their brand. This sort of dedication and commitment to quality is what sets them apart but also sets the same top notch restaurants apart. But of course, people wouldn’t mind a shit product because they don’t care and want it their way until they get home and the frosting’s all over the packaging on that log cake they just shelled out $50 for.

Menus used to be simple, with like 3 entrees, 3 mains and 3 desserts. You could pick what you liked. Then we started learning about food “intolerance” and suddenly, there has to be an extra gluten free option or a lactose free option or a vegan option or a halal option or a kosher option or a whatever. The problem with this is trying to cram it into a menu limits the ingredients you can use simply to satisfy a small percentage of the population. Another issue is if you expanded the menu, you’d need to expand your staff, equipment, cost… People just think restaurants offering the world should be de rigueur. In truth only like 5-10% of customers need something special whether because they truely need it or just because they like it that way.

I understand life can be hard for people with all these allergies and shit but honestly, the restaurant didn’t give you such a raw deal. All they’re trying to do, paraphrasing Careme, is to tempt your taste buds not give you the shits. There are plenty of places that cater for people with problems. It’s really hard and costly for smaller restaurants to make specialised, all encompassing menus with superb quality and consistency all the time every time AND stay in profit. Dealing with a minority that could probably cause headaches is just not worth it sometimes.

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