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It’s Hard to Enjoy Going Out to Dinner When You’re a Chef

I don't think of myself as a demanding person, but since I work in a kitchen, I simply know the way certain things need to be prepared. If I don't think something tastes good at a restaurant, I’ll let them know. I’m paying for it, right?
August 4, 2015, 4:15pm
Foto von gdjvj via Flickr

Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this installment, we hear from a chef who can't enjoy dining at mediocre restaurants because he knows first-hand how a dish should be prepared.

I wasn't always finicky, but this has changed over the last few years. Then again, back in the day, I was always overly critical about my mother's cooking.

I trained to become a chef in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. Over the years, I have worked in different establishments, but the restaurant where I worked before my current gig taught me most. We were recognized for the Best Veggie Restaurant of the year and made everything ourselves, which trained me how to really prepare things correctly. It was hard work: We would start at 10 AM and continue the drudgery until late in the evenings. After I finished my training, they wanted me to stick around, but I didn't. I think cooking is one of the most enjoyable things in life, but I do want to have a social life. This is why Michelin-starred restaurants are not for me.

I don't think of myself as a demanding person, but since I work in a kitchen, I simply know the way certain things need to be prepared. I really pay attention to that. If I don't think something tastes good at a restaurant, I'll let them know. I'm paying for it, right?

It also matters where you eat. Look, if I'm eating a kebab on the street for 8 euros, I won't have high expectations; but I do think that when you pay for food, it should always be enjoyable. Even when you order a fried egg sunny-side-up, you should be getting three nice eggs with intact yokes. If you ask for a dish that's medium-rare, you should expect it to arrive as medium-rare.

I was served a delicious ten-course meal at de Librije, a Michelin-starred restaurant, that was fantastic. Everything that was served was so special, and I kept asking myself how it was created. I was always surprised.

But my visit to de Leest—an establishment that's well underway to a three-star Michelin ranking—I loathed. It was really easy to figure out how they were preparing each dish, and because of that, I might as well have made it myself at home.

I took my girlfriend to an Italian restaurant where they had fruit de mer on the menu. Before I ordered, I asked the waiter if the fish was fresh. His response was, "Yes it is." But upon the first bite, I could tell that this was clearly not the case. We had somewhat of an altercation; I know exactly what fresh fish is supposed to taste like, since I prepare it myself pretty often.

I can't stand when the staff has lame excuses. There was another recent instance when my girlfriend, some of my friends, and I went out to eat. I ordered a rib-eye but it was really leathery. I kept chewing, chewing, and chewing, but it was impossible to eat. I asked my girlfriend—because I thought it was my hypercritical outlook—but she agreed with me. When I told the staff, they told me that their butcher was on vacation, which was why they cut the meat "completely differently" this time around. That's complete bullshit, because good meat is good meat, regardless of how you slice it. I'm expecting a good rib-eye, so when you don't have it, you should take it off the menu. Don't feed your customers bullshit. It became a heated debate— my friends even pulled out their phones to film the incident—but I just wanted them to tell me that my claim was justified.

To ensure that customers who come to my restaurant can enjoy their food, I check everything in the kitchen and watch it like a hawk throughout the day. One of my colleagues is terrible at cooking. Quite frankly, I have no clue how he became a cook. That's why I make sure to taste everything he creates.

Every now and then, one on my guests has a complaint, but nine times out of ten, I'm not at fault. It might sound arrogant, but that's the way it is. I do always walk over to inquire about the problem. If someone orders a perfectly seared tuna steak and then tells me that he doesn't like fish, he shouldn't have ordered it to begin with. Most of the time, you'll hear stuff like this after the fact, so you can't really do anything about it. But if you report things like this in a timely manner, the problem can be solved. The customer is, after all, always king.

These days, I'm less nitpicky. I'm more composed. It got to the point where my girlfriend became ashamed of going out with me to dinner, and preferred to not dine with me at all. That's why I'm trying to be a little bit more nuanced now. Because I still enjoy going out for dinner.

I love tasting a good dish that was created without my help.

As told to Cristiana Terwilliger