There are three things you should never say to a chef. I know because I’m married to one…a very good one.
Let me give you a little backstory about my husband. He was born and raised in Rome, Italy and moved to New York City when he was twenty-one to train under the tutelage of his uncle, a well renowned chef and restaurateur who owned upscale restaurants in Manhattan. He then moved to France where he received his formal training at le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Upon graduating with honors he worked at many upscale restaurants throughout Europe before returning to NYC to work as an executive chef. Over the years he has won numerous awards and been featured in many magazines.
My husband and I met in early 2000, the dawn of the celebrity chef, the era of Iron Chef and Bobby Flay jumping on cutting boards.
Chefs were it. Everyone wanted to date a chef. I on the other hand could give a shit less. As a former ballet dancer, I was highly skilled in the art of not eating and contentedly subsisted on cigarettes, coffee and martinis.
I think the fact that I was not a “foodie” is partly what attracted him to me. He was constantly pestered by chef groupies. With me however, it was never about food.
The whole chef scene was not and has never been for him. He is quiet and dignified. Forget the recent MarketWatch story claiming that personal chefs, a gig he also had for a while, are some of the most arrogant people out there. My husband is humble. Make no mistake though. He is a highly skilled artist.
We have been together for sixteen years now, and the way people speak to my husband never ceases to shock, irritate and amuse me. Over these years I have learned that people take a very different approach when speaking with chefs about their work than they do with other professionals. First of all, there seems to be an assumption that chefs want to constantly talk about their work and that anyone is free to approach them at any time to talk food. There also seems to be the notion that everyone can do what chefs do. I cannot tell you how often my husband gets cornered at the grocery store, the beach, on the sidewalk by people who want to talk food or, better yet, talk at him about food.
Of course my husband is very polite. He smiles. He nods. He gives up his time. But let’s be clear. He does not enjoy these conversations.
If you do want to talk to a chef about his work, here are three things you should never say:
You should watch insert name of Food Network star here. Really? Why? Would you recommend to your psychiatrist that she watch Dr. Phil? The thing about celebrity chefs, with the exception of few, is that they cannot do what real, working chefs do. Yes, they can whip a nice beurre blanc on television, but can they serve 250 dinners, perfect dinners, in two hours? Can they ensure that the temperature on each filet mignon is correct? That the rare order comes out rare and not medium rare? That the medium is not served medium well? Most probably cannot. Can they make art while managing the kitchen staff? Can they handle the business end…budget, ordering, inventory? What can the celebrity chef teach the chef of over twenty years? New techniques? Trends? Truly expert chefs do that already. They continue to read, study, eat out, travel and learn. They do not need a television star to teach them.
I make the best insert name of dish here. Really? What then are you implying? If your veal roast is the best, then what about the chef’s? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t think that yours is the best; in fact, I think my buttered popcorn is far superior to my husband’s. However, I don’t feel the need to tell him.
You must come to my house for dinner, so you can try my insert name of the dish that you implied is better than the chef’s. This happens. My husband has sat in homes and dined on many of the “best” dishes in the world. And guess what? He tells his lovely hosts and hostess that their dishes are, in fact, the best. Don’t delude yourselves. Your dishes are not the best. I have never heard my husband to claim that his dishes are the best. Your arrogance does not become you.
So before engaging in small talk with a chef, think for a moment. Ask yourself, “do I want to talk about my job right now?” Would I assume my attorney, my doctor or my child’s teacher would want to talk about work when she is on vacation? Please, this is not to say that chefs are antisocial. Speaking for my husband, I can say that he’d love to chat with you…about anything other than work. And please, do not hesitate to invite him over to your house for dinner, as long as what you’re serving is not the “best.” I can assure that it’s not… and that he would prefer to eat an overcooked burger and chips and enjoy honest conversation, as long as it’s not about food.