Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bad Tempered Chef Spoils Dining Experience?

Our local Riverfront Times food blog is following a controversy in the New York Times Diner’s Journal Blog. Ron Lieber, the New York Times blogger writes that he went to Restaurant Marc Forgione in TriBeCa and got thrown out:

About ten minutes after my party of four sat down, we heard yelling — loud, sustained, top-of-lungs yelling — coming from the kitchen. Mr. Forgione was dressing down a member of the staff, in full view of many of the customers. The dining room quieted as patrons exchanged uncomfortable glances.

No one said a thing though. Soon the target of the chef’s harsh words delivered our amuse-bouche, and the poor guy was so rattled he could barely speak above a mumble.

A few minutes later, the chef was at it again. Fifteen seconds. Another fifteen. And without much forethought, I pushed back my chair and walked through the open doorway of the kitchen.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, though I did not raise my voice to the point beyond where people in the kitchen could hear it. I told the chef that his behavior was making me and others uncomfortable. I let him know that I thought it was mean. And I asked him to cut it out. I don’t remember exactly what he said in response, but whatever it was, I found it irritating enough that I reminded him that I was paying to eat there and told him again to stop berating his staff at that volume.

Maybe 20 seconds after I had returned to my seat, he approached the table. He apologized, barely, and then let me know that he thought it was incredibly rude of me to come into his kitchen and tell him how to do his job. I repeated the fact that he had been ruining my dinner. But his yelling was all in the interest of maintaining quality, he said.

“I think it’s time for you to go,” he said.

“Are you kicking me out?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

Ian Froeb at the Riverfront Times writes:

For all my restaurant meals, I've never experienced a situation such as this. Frankly, given my m.o. as a critic, I wouldn't say or do anything at the restaurant if something like this made me uncomfortable during a meal -- but I sure as hell would mention it in my review.

If I was dining as a civilian (that is, on my own dime, not the paper's, and not for a review) and the yelling was especially prolonged or abusive, I might mention my displeasure to a manager and/or resolve never to patronize the restaurant again. I certainly wouldn't have taken the extra step that Lieber did. Not that I don't understand his impulse, but I can't imagine how his action could lead to any other reaction than Forgione's.

(emphasis added by me.) Really? You can’t imagine how this could lead to any reaction other than the abusive chef abusing the dinner guests too? This doesn’t say a lot for the restaurants that Froeb patronizes. I can imagine other reactions. It isn’t that I can’t imagine what happened happening – I can imagine it all too well. But I can also imagine the chef coming out and apologizing and maybe even comping desert or doing something to make up for the fact that his own bad behavior potentially ruined a night out. A night out in the middle of a recession when people have many options on how to spend their money and it doesn’t have to be at your restaurant.

As far as my own reaction though, I agree with Froeb. I doubt that I would have walked into the kitchen and told him he was ruining my dining experience. I might have walked out of the restaurant, but probably not – at least not unless the rest of the table wanted to. I would have just been pissed off about it. I certainly would never have gone there again and would have told everyone about it and blogged about it. But, you know what? None of that is as good as telling an abuser to stop abusing. I think Lieber did the right thing and I give him credit for daring to do it.

What do you think?

Update: Mean Chef Responds to Criticism. I guess he thinks he's the Bobby Knight of restaurants. Does that mean he wants his patrons to also act like they are in an arena? Spilling things all over the floor? Shouting at the waitstaff "HEY! Move it, move it, move it"? Shouting at the maitre'd to question his choice of seating - "You need glasses! Can't you see those other people were here first?"