If you love great food and great restaurants you serve yourself well to remember that you are a guest. The shingle on the door invites you to dine. If you really don’t want the food on the menu, you should not accept the invitation.
It is one thing to ask for no onions on your salad or inquire what your options are because you have allergies or insurmountable distastes; it’s another to mix and match elements or simply write your own menu item because you think you can. If you need to rewrite the menu when you order, you have chosen the wrong restaurant.
Most of what we eat died for us, even the vegetables. Food is life and death at the same time, a serious matter. As a chef and restaurant owner, when I think food I am thinking of my own survival. I am using thoughts, feelings, knowledge, passion, love and ultimately a good deal of physical labor and technical skills to make my way in this world. My ultimate goal is to bring a bunch of elements together on a plate and in a room that will work with all of your senses to demonstrate my respect for the food itself as well as my respect and appreciation for you, my guest. Along the way I need to enlist an entire staff to adopt my vision and share my goals. If I can’t do this successfully a couple hundred times a day, then I fail and lose everything.
I think food. It is like a language without words. It is very pleasing to me. For me thinking food is an association of sensory recall and imagination where in my mind vision, touch, smell & taste all sing out together like keys on a keyboard played by my brain.
I wish I could share the smells or tastes that make this thought process so satisfying, but the process written out would look something like this:
Fresh boneless duck breasts … fruit no fruit spice, jerk, med-rare=red, green, ugh green, more, fresh, rich sweet!, ripe floral ripe peaches, mmmn, peaches and duck. Wow duck, duck peaches, duck peaches …ok coriander, cinnamon maybe, pepper, salt, no aromatics…. Ducks eat wild rice, hard, barley, home & barley duck peaches… ( hours/days/minutes?). Barley duck peaches, savory rich sweet, missing … WATERCRESS!!!!!! barley duck peaches watercress Ohhh … Parsnip.
When I translate those thoughts it comes out like this:
Seared Duck, fresh young duck breast, dusted with warm spices & pan seared to medium rare, served on pearl barley made with Vidalia onion, topped with flash cooked ripe peaches & garnished with watercress & spring parsnip which are tossed in rice wine vinegar with sea salt.
It’s the middle of a Saturday night. Sous chef is shouting calls down the brigade, hot food is flying over the slide, and people are waiting at the door. Server comes to me. I am washing dishes because the utility-prep guy is cleaning our outdoor BBQ cooker. She says “can this guy get the duck special with fries instead of barley and the peaches on the side?
“NO” I say, and I want to throw his ass out, but we sell him ribs instead. He enjoys them.
“If I like a good steak, you can serve that to me, and I’ll enjoy it. But it will never be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To create those experiences, you almost can’t listen to the customer.” Ferran Adrià