Who are we really cooking for?

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by jim berman, Apr 8, 2014.

  1. jim berman

    jim berman

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    For whom do we cook?

    Seriously. I am asking the question and I want somebody to tell me. Who are you cooking for? Is it for your own sense of satisfaction and pride? Or is it to make money? Or... for the respect of the other members of our ego-inflated industry?

    I run the kitchen of 20-person crew, doing 400+ covers on a Friday night. Our food is pretty good. Are there short-cut items? Yes, of course. And don't judge me for that. If there weren't some convenience items, my crew would be a staff of 50. So hold on to that before we go further. We have an open-hearth pizza oven and we pull our own dough. We roast whole chickens. We grill a few good steaks. We also use pre-made tartar sauce and blue cheese dressing that originate at our commissary that serves 9 other places in our hospitality group. Does it bother me? Sometimes. But not always. Sometimes, not having to deal with the knuckle-headed stuff is a relief. And by the way, we don't use forceps, tweezers or liquid nitrogen. No slam intended for those that do; quite the contrary. Instead, I don't expect the food we do to show up in print, photographed, Yelp-ed or otherwise starred/forked/Zagated.  The food is 'middle America,' as if such a thing existed. Would I service the needs of the pages on Bon Apetit, Plate or Food Arts? No. Doesn't that make me less of a culinary force?

    When I read about what is going on in some serious culinary-epicenters and metropolitan dynamos, I do get envious. And humbled. I feel less significant on the culinary forefront. Then I remember that most people don't that way or certainly don't do it very often. How do I know? Because Olive Garden is crowded. And so is Lonestar. And don't forget Chili's, Applebees and Famous Dave's. I would not relax my own standards or sense of pride to 'get by' with mediocre food and that's not what I am saying. I am saying, does a really good $16 bison burger measure up to $160 tasting menu? Should it?

    The new Chef movie is coming out and in the trailer the conflict arises that said Chef clashes with the owner and he sets sail for the open road with a food truck so he can do his own food. Is he feeding his customers or feeding his ego? For whom do we cook?

     
  2. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    I cook for me. I cook for the sirens in my cranium. Cooking operates like a release valve for the building creative pressure.

    Luckily for me, these days the need to create, explore, experiment is satisfied by cooking at home. That certainly wasn't always the case, for years the muses were running totally amok and I had to express myself through my profession to deal with the sheer volume and intensity of their demands. I HAD to have my own place in order to deal with it.

    I had a successful run and have no regrets. Having my own place allowed me the total creative freedom that I so long desired. Fifteen years of weekly changing menus in addition to a weekly changing 5 course degustation menu pairing food and wine helped to ease the call a bit.

    Expressing my creative self is a bit of a double edged sword though; "out of the box" and "mass appeal" don't generally appear in the same sentence. As a chef, I was an owner and businessman's worse nightmare.
    I can so relate on so many levels. At one job, one of our outlets was responsible for, among other things, soup and chili for 7,000 skiers a day. We made our own stocks before ever making soup, etc

    The quality of a chef is not measured by the price of his food. Many times I think the biggest and best challenges are found at the opposite end of the spectrum from haute.

    That is where my cooking is focused these days, at home doing something out of nothing. Don't get me wrong, I still cook for a paycheck and do so from the heart, but my real cooking is for me and at home.
     
    meezenplaz likes this.
  3. foodpump

    foodpump

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    This isn't my quote, but I'm using it:

    "What I cook is for the customer, how I cook is for me"....
     
    brandon odell likes this.
  4. soesje

    soesje

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    *deep sigh*

    maybe not the kind of input you are expecting here.

    this really is a topic I was discussing with  meezenplaz yesterday. 

    its interesting because there is so much into play.

    these days there is a movement going on, in netherlands its called nouvelle normal, in france its bistronomy.

    we see chefs staying closer to themselves and wanting to keep  the tradtition and share their passion through their food to the guests.

    what has that to do with who are we really cooking for?

    I think, a lot…..

    why does someone become a chef in first place? that is where it, according to me, starts.

    because you have something to share, to say, to express.

    something of yourself that you want to let out.

    well….that is what it should be like, according to me…sharing the passion for food that is inside you, with your guests.

    our views on food….our philosophy, if you like.

    nothing else.

    of course we do need to pay bills and make profit.

    but that is not what we should to it all for.

    so who are we cooking for?

    it once all started…..with ourselves…..because we had something to share.

    just my 2 cents.
     
    meezenplaz likes this.
  5. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    Perhaps we need a new term?
    • Chef = one who operates/manages a commercial food establishment to serve what the customer wants, a servant to the public
    • Culinary Artist = one who operates/manages a food establishment to serve what the Culinary Artist wants,
    Perhaps Culinary Artist could be UniqChef or Chef de Passion or Artiste culinaire
     
    kaneohegirlinaz likes this.
  6. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    I cook for my community, for my neighbors. I want them to eat as well as any 1%er in the west village, but pay less than Micky D's.
     
    soesje and lizrules like this.
  7. soesje

    soesje

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    Pete, shoot away but we don't need new terms……then you're missing my point ;)
     
  8. santona 1937

    santona 1937

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     I cook for me, to satisfy a need I have to create . That creation sometimes comes in the form of food cost.... does that make sense?

     I am very lucky in that the place I work is really three restaurants, we have a buffet that serves athletes, an outdoor grill  and a terrace ala carte bistronomy  place, plus a smoothie bar and a pizza shack, all on one site. I get as much pleasure from being able to produce the best burger in the region at a reasonable price for tourists as I do with a daily changing fusion menu ( our ala carte food is a Mediterranean/Asian fusion) or being able to feed 400 athletes at one sitting.

     I cook for me, I encourage my brigade to cook for themselves, and hopefully people enjoy it enough to pay some of their hard earned money for it, just like any other craftsman.
     
  9. allanmcpherson

    allanmcpherson

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    In a perfect world, you do both. If you are sacrificing one pole, self or customer, in a dramatic way, for the other there will be trouble. You need to put some of yourself in your cuisine just to keep motivated to do your best. Doing your best is most certainly in the customer's best interest.

    You cannot be totally selfless in this (or any) occupation. We are cooks, not monks. Looking after yourself doesn't mean ego stroking or hunting for praise. For me, personally, I absolutely need to have some sort of pride in the food I am putting up. High end or quick service, it doesn't matter to me as long as I know the food is made with some care and I would be happy to service it to my mom. If I would actually like to eat at the place on my day off, then its a source of pride.

    Let's not get hung up on customer here. If you are in business, you have customers. Cook for them. Don't worry about how busy Appleby's is (unless you are doing the same style of food). Don't get too hung up on the demographics. Hip hop sells more than Jazz, that doesn't mean you can't have a viable career as a Jazz musician. Serving the public is all well and good, but lets face facts, sometimes the public doesn't know what it wants until it gets the opprotunity to try it.

    What I am doing now would probably have me firmly in Pete's Culinary Artist camp. How I personally feel about his definition, eh, I won't argue with Pete!. To a point I am cooking what I want the customer to eat. But because I think they will like it. And I work my ass off to make sure that they will never have another meal like it. I don't do this for pats on the back (ask my wife, the proding she has go through to get me to take compliments is Herculean) but because I know that there is a small customer base that loves the emmersive dinning experience and that they are not serviced in this regard. I won't get rich, (any millionaires on the board?) but I am happy.

    Al
     
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  10. sirchefalot

    sirchefalot

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    I think we're cooking for the customer, but in that respect your putting your mark on the dish your serving. We're here to show the general public what can be done with a few simple ingredients on a plate to give them some thing that they may never have tried before.

    Sure you get the people that just want to eat the same thing but if you give it a twist or change it up a bit they may enjoy it. I personally cook with passion and flair and would never serve somebody something that I wouldn't try myself.
     
    lizrules likes this.
  11. jim berman

    jim berman

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    @AllanMcPherson really boiled it down.

    Do you compare yourself to others in the arena? I don't mean for the sake of business. I mean for the sake of pride/crazed bravado. Do you see what others are doing and it pushes you to do more or be reflective on what you do?
     
  12. allanmcpherson

    allanmcpherson

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    Jim,

    I do try to stay up on what my coleagues and competion are doing. Not so much to ape them, but to make sure that I am not treading too closely. Sometimes I come across that rings my bell so much that I have to riff on, however. I have a few close friends in town that are in the biz that aremgreat for just shooting the stuff with and that really helps keep you fresh and on your toes.
    Its hard not toget overtly competitive and just appreciate what other folks are up to for what it is.

    A sad part of this business is that we really ought to stay up on what others are doing, but its so hard to find the time and money to do so!

    Al
     
  13. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    Yeah, we're Chefinarians! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/biggrin.gif
     
  14. allanmcpherson

    allanmcpherson

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    Gastronaughts? I kinda like sauce monkey...
     
  15. chefross

    chefross

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    This is a great thread but it brings up a slew of other things to think about.

    Since food is subjective, how can a Chef be sure and know that the customer will like their food?

    Here's an example..........

    Recently I dined in what was supposed to be a German restaurant.

    It looked like a Bavarian Inn.

    Lots of beautiful cabinets filled with glass and china figurines.

    Wait staff wore period costumes, and German music played in the background.

    The menu had both German and American fare.

    Ok.....so, I can understand that not everyone likes German food, but....so why go to one if you are going to order American food?

    But I digress.

    I ordered Wiener Schnitzel with red cabbage and Spaetzle.

    What could be more German then that right?

    I cook German food myself and know what it all SHOULD be.

    So when the veal is too tough to chew, the cabbage more sweet than sour and the Spaetzle also chewy, I got to think that ok either....

    1) the food sits in a steam table during service.

    2) convenience foods.

    Just to see how the fare would be presented, I ordered Escargots (snails) Yes this is not a German dish, but I wanted to see what they would do.

    I serve Escargot at work at least once a month. What I got were the snails swimming in a butter olive oil mixture, with very little garlic, if any, and mozzarella cheese melted on top.

    This was served with small slices of toasted baguette.

    No this is not German fare....not really American either.....more French......

    My dining partner ordered a Medium Rare Veal chop but the server brought out lamb chops.

    Partner had to wait for the veal to be cooked for another 25 minutes.

    The overcooked baked potato and limp asparagus were taken from the first plate and simply reheated.

    Hollandaise on the menu for only $2.00 more. I told here not to bother, but she insisted on ordering it.

    Of course it was fake......What did you expect the real thing?

    Best part of the meal???????  Smoking Loon Pinto Noir for $26.00 a bottle.

    Dessert is always a favorite and German desserts especially.

    Black forest torte......(store bought with no cherries, no whipped cream, but chemical cream frosting, with a fudge center 

    Apple Strudel...........canned apple pie filling and puff pastry sheets,

    Now, all of that being said, I can not see how a Chef would be proud to serve this food, unless..........

    BAZZINGA!!!!!

    This is what this Chef calls "HIS" food. He is proud of this and thinks it's the best.

    And the place was busy....in the middle of the week.

    The place is popular and come to find out, is a chain with other similar restaurants scattered throughout the USA.

    Now what you say??????
     
  16. soesje

    soesje

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    this thread really has been proven to be an eyeopener for me, just by reading all your opinions.

    lots of stuff to think about, different points of view on just one question. 

    but generally spoken, we seem to agree that we are trying to express ourselves through food that we serve to our customers, and hoping they will like it.
     
  17. jim berman

    jim berman

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    @Chefross - exactly my point! Can you fault this particular chef for what he serves? There may be a million reasons why he is serving it this way (budget issues, skill of kitchen, etc) but if the place is busy and is profitable, does that make him less of a cook? Would I be happy with that type of preparation? No. But, if the public is buying it (hence, Olive Garden on a 2-hour wait!) does that make it ok?

    Thank you for sharing that!!

    @AllanMcPherson - you aren't joking.... finding the time is... well... hard! I think you are quite right, though, that appreciating what others are doing is high praise and, often, cause for pushing your own culinary envelope.
     
  18. chef0069

    chef0069

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    I work for a manager who is more concerned how the menu looks, than in giving the customers the food they want. He insists we must "teach" them what to eat, that they really do not know what they want. For years, I was proud of saying yes to all special requests, doing all that was possible, to please, and offering "favorite" menu choices, popular dishes. Since the advent of the food networks, and the "foodie" culture, I am at a loss for what is popular, and what is just shock value, per se. Trying new dishes is good, but when it's busy, I tend to fall back on the familiar ones. I read the trade mags, and try to stay "in" with the fads, but sometimes I don't know who I am cooking for. just rambling thoughts, after reading these here. thanks.
     
  19. guts

    guts

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    This.
     
  20. alaminute

    alaminute

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    Holy smokes, super amazing! I've never seen so many accolades in a forum.
    I cook to be better all the time. Food is so beautiful and dynamic and essential it makes me want to cry. I love it, and all I want to do all the time when I work with it is to do a better than the last time. Like an apron full of mirepoix or making beurre monte, I'm humbled to work with it and I just want to do justice to the sunlight and time to grow wheat to feed chx for me to French.