Secrets of pro kitchens: What chefs really think
The down-and-dirty truths about roaches, revenge on customers and the markup on that bottle of wine.
More than half of all chefs say they have found customers making out — at least making out, if you catch my drift — in their restaurant restrooms.
This fact, which fascinates me far more than it really should, comes to us courtesy of the Food Network magazine. In a 2009 story that has recently resurfaced again on the Internet, the magazine surveyed about 100 chefs across the country and came up with a list of 25 things chefs never tell you.
For one, chefs can be picky eaters. Only 15 percent of the ones surveyed say they will eat absolutely anything. The foods they said most frequently that they will not eat are liver, sea urchin, and — this is a surprise, probably because I like them both — eggplant and oysters.
On the other hand, the chefs don’t like it when their customers are picky. You know how some people claim to be allergic to items when they aren’t really allergic to them? Chefs hate that (though it is unexplained how they can distinguish fake allergies from real ones).
And they like their customers to follow their own rules. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t tell them “a little chicken stock is OK.”
Cleanliness: One trend made unappetizingly clear from the survey is that restaurant kitchens are less sanitary than we, the dining public, may like to think.
Although 85 percent of the chefs rated their kitchens as very clean (at least an 8 on a scale from 1 to 10), it should come as no particular surprise that 75 percent of them also reported having seen roaches. Roaches go where there is food and water. Restaurants have food and water and kitchen doors that are open much of the time. Restaurants are going to get roaches; the trick lies in getting rid of them as quickly as possible.
Of more concern is the revelation that 25 percent of the chefs say they’ve served food that they had dropped on the floor, and three of them say they have taken uneaten bread out of one bread basket and sent it out to other customers in another bread basket.
Health inspectors tend to look at both of these practices with understandable consternation.
Tricked? Also alarming, at least for vegetarians, is that a minority of the chefs admitted to using meat products in the dishes they claim are vegetarian. About 15 percent of those surveyed said they do that.
Worst of all are the 13 percent of chefs surveyed who said they have seen cooks do terrible things to customers’ food. After one customer sent his steak back twice, a chef reported that “someone” (ahem) ran it through the dishwasher and then sent it back out to him.
Fifteen years ago, chef-turned-writer-turned-celebrity Anthony Bourdain revealed that he never orders fish on a Monday because it is usually several days old. “Several” of the chefs — there is no telling how many that is — agreed, saying they do not get fresh deliveries on Sundays.
You know: Some of the 25 things chefs don’t tell you they don’t have to tell you because you have probably figured them out for yourself.
More than 75 percent, for instance, say they get ideas from other restaurant menus (as the publication puts it, “there’s a reason so many restaurants serve molten chocolate cake”).
You have also probably realized that waiters are told to try to sell you on certain dishes (95 percent of the chefs say they tell the wait staff to do that), and it certainly cannot be a surprise that restaurants typically charge 21/2 times what a bottle of wine would cost at a retail store.
Nearly 60 percent of the responding chefs say they would like to have their own cooking show — a bigger surprise is that more than 40 percent claim they don’t — and they hate working on New Year’s Eve more than any other holiday.
Valentine’s Day is a close second, though 54 percent acknowledged they like it when couples get engaged in their restaurant.
Half of the chefs say they come into work when they’re sick — remember, they’re preparing food, or are at least around food when it is prepared — and many stay through their inevitable injuries. Nearly every surveyed chef said he has been injured in some way, with several missing fingers or parts of fingers.
For this dangerous and hard work — most of them work 60 to 80 hours a week, including holidays — 65 percent of them reported making less than $75,000 a year. When they go out to dinner, they typically leave about a 20 percent tip, unless they feel the service has been inadequate.
But what about when they go to a restaurant that has no tipping? What about fast food? Where do the chefs go most often when they want something fast and bad for them?
Survey says: Wendy’s.