5 Ways To Make Chefs Hate You

Food & Wine: 5 Ways To Make Chefs Hate You
Photo courtesy of Honjo
By Josh Ozersky Posted October 30, 2013

Chefs are not, for the most part, happy people. Let's get that out of the way. They work long hours, they have hardly any home lives to speak of, and they spend their whole day being mad at people who hate them right back. It's a rough job. But it doesn't make it any easier when diners (in their minds, anyway) go out of their way to make them miserable. And while there are many ways diners can make chefs hate them, these five are surely near the top of the list.

The Refire. One of the circumstances that has conspired to make chefs unhappy is the lack of a consensus regarding what terms like "medium rare" mean. So some guy orders a medium-rare steak, thinking that medium-rare means pink; when he gets a steak that actually is medium-rare, which is to say, with a warm red center, he sends it back to get it cooked more. Argh! The chef's bowels churn with frustration, and it is all he can do not to burn the thing to a cinder in retribution. Even worse is the lady who orders a steak well-done and then complains that it's dry and chewy.

The Deconstructionist. Remember the scene in Five Easy Pieces when Jack Nicholson wants to get a chicken salad sandwich on whole-wheat toast, with tomatoes instead of potatoes? Though it's now considered a countercultural archetype for standing up to The Man, cooks have always been on the side of the waitress. They put together complicated dishes, which takes a lot of work; it takes even more work to make sure all the stuff is ready and the procedure for assembling it under heavy fire is down. Now some oaf wants to swap out the pomme puree for carrots, or wants the sauce in a little container on the side, or some other ludicrous request. It might be OK on a slow night, but on a busy one it just makes for pandemonium.

The Bubble Boy. A few years ago, even the most skeptical of chefs were ready to believe guests when they said a doctor had forbidden them to eat anything with lactic acid. Or glutens. Or wheat. Or whatever. That was believable enough at first; after all, there is always some portion of the populace troubled with rare and painful complaints. But once every other person started to demand special treatment, not a few chefs blew their tops. Kenny Shopsin, the famously irascible New York cook, claims that the tipping point came for him some years back when a lady who claimed to be lactose intolerant ordered a burrito and a side of pancakes, despite the fact that the latter is mostly milk. "[H]er need to make her burrito special was not about... being able to drink milk. It was her need for control." Shopsin kicked out the lady and her whole table; but most chefs don't have that luxury. They can only seethe.

The Inspector General. The Portlandia skit in which two annoying hipsters cross-examine a waitress about their chicken's provenance was a broad burlesque, but not made up from whole cloth. There really are customers who ask a million questions about the ingredients. Are they organic? Are they local? Where does the meat come from? Encouraged by some health-forum screed, or the idle chatter of their equally annoying peers, this bunch pretends that they aren't going to order whatever the answer is, and—like Kenny Shopsin's burrito lady—are seen by the kitchen as control freaks. To make matters worse, this bunch often overlaps with the food-intolerance crowd.

The Yelper. Of all the things that torment chefs, and send them into impotent rages, surely the most vexing are bad Yelp reviews, written with multiple capitals and plenty of exclamation marks, by some nameless and hateful mook who ate there once and had to wait five extra minutes for his chocolate milk.

Of course, this is just the short list. The long list is still being written, and will only end when the last restaurant goes out of business, or the last chef dies of aggravation.

Josh Ozersky has written on his carnivorous exploits for Time, Esquire and now Food & Wine; he has authored several books, including The Hamburger: A History; and he is the founder of the Meatopia food festival.

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