A Chef Too Big for His Britches

I just spent a wonderful week traveling through California starting in San Francisco and ending up in Napa Valley! The food and wine were amazing as were the people. At least most of them.

Among the wonderful restaurants that I ate in, one in particular, stood out. The food from the apps, bread, entrees and desserts were beautifully presented and delicious! Most people pay attention to this sort of thing, because we all eat with our eyes, but as a culinary teacher and chef I REALLY pay attention! So this place, I thought, would be etched in my brain as a most wonderful experience.

What I learned in that restaurant that evening was that the dining experience is only one aspect of going to a food establishment. How you treat the customer is tantamount to your business. After all the customers keep you in business by patronizing your establishment, right?

The  chef/owner of this restaurant is quite famous and was actually in the house on the night I was there. He actually was not working that night but he was present I was told. I was as giddy as a school girl. I asked the manager if Famous Chef would mind autographing a menu for me since the menus were to be taken by the customers if they so chose to do so. Of course, he would put in my request, but at the moment he was talking to some people on the patio. No biggie. I still hadn’t had my entrée or dessert and was thrilled at the possibility of getting a personalized autograph from him.

It should be an honor when another chef comes to your restaurant. After all, I chose this restaurant to eat in because of Famous Chef’s reputation. I am trusting him to prepare a marvelous dining experience for someone who understands what a meal like this entails. It’s sort of like being a doctor and trusting another colleague to care of you or a family member that you love and care about.

After waiting and waiting I realized Chef Too Big For His Britches was NOT ever going to sign a menu for me. His manager assured me he was very approachable. Well, after what I saw he seemed the opposite. The staff seemed quite cowed by him and intimidated. The manager even offered to deliver the autograph at another time to my hotel if and when the chef could find a few seconds to do it.

We finally paid the bill after being told to wait for an extended period of time. As we were leaving the manager came over to me and said that perhaps the chef was free now to sign my menu. I slowly approached his Chef Highness and the guy (no joke) skirted by me and started talking to another group of customers. This is even AFTER the manager had spoken to him about doing me, another customer, this small, itty, bitty favor. Such is life. I guess I was not worthy enough. Now I know that he does NOT owe me anything, but I was pretty taken aback by these events.

The staff, all the while, watching this happen pushed the envelope and helped to make an introduction. He finally signed my menu and shook my hand. He then asked if I was going to any other of his well known restaurants during my stay- one of which is $1000 a person. I thanked him and tried to be as gracious as I could. Hard to do. All I wanted to do was to leave.

My thoughts of him changed dramatically. I would NEVER treat another human being like that. I do demonstrations all the time for the public and teach and I would never blow off a student or anyone who had a question for me or wanted to talk. I have even signed some autographs for my first book although not nearly as many as Chef Fancy Pants, but never would I ignore a customer and fan. I would never want to bother a chef while he was working or disturb him in any way. I was not obnoxious in my request and waited patiently.

What disturbed me was that he was schmoozy with a few customers which is fine, but he chose to rudely ignore me. And who am I? I am just a chef, cookbook author, and teacher who happened to be a huge fan and one of his customers that evening who wished only for a quick acknowledgement, a handshake and a few kind words.