Paul’s Caul – how to compliment a chef

How to compliment a chef

I’ve noticed, and I’m quite sure I’m not the only one, that the world is now full of food experts, bloggers and critics all relishing their moment in the social media sunshine. Perhaps it is just way to easy to tap tap tapety on your keyboard or screen then click share. Maybe if this was coupled with a short test of integrity we would be seeing a lot less reviews, comments and sometimes short stories entailing peoples seemingly life threatening experiences.

As a chef and someone who does write for a blog every now and again I’m far from throwing hatred at the entire web of seemingly endless food chatter that is digitally zooming around the world. Quite the contrary, I do love reading people thoughts and reviews of restaurants, cafes and to be fair anything food orientated. I don’t think we ever go to a place without quickly checking trip advisor beforehand, but here is the difference between me and a million other blinker wearing, band wagon riding sheep… I DO NOT TAKE EVERY WORD AS GOSPEL!!!!

I recall checking out the top listed restaurant in Rio and it came up as ‘Subway’ I instantly thought this must be a bunch of effing hipsters being ironic (as is their want) and calling a uber cool restaurant after a chain of sandwich artists. But after a small hike around an unfamiliar city we finally found it was actually a bloody Subway store in all of its glory. My point is these sites are useful but also filled with content from anyone and everyone. No one has been background checked, these people may have voted for Trump and now you are taking their advice on which burger joint does the best jalapeño poppers. This is insane when you think about it; the person with a nickel back t-shirt, is married to his own sister, is dead proud that he is 24 and still has one of his own teeth he has lovingly called Derek junior.

This guy just helped you make a decision on which place you book for your wedding anniversary.

So I feel by now you are slightly getting on board with the basic and simple concept that all that glitters isn’t gold and all that is shit on the internet doesn’t smell in real life. Now we have taken this huge step forward into a world where we must all think for ourselves I feel confortable touching on my next closely tied in subject. The do’s and don’ts of complimenting or even reviewing a meal made by a chef, this may also relate to meals made by non chefs but as I’m qualifying all paid professionals as chefs for this exercise we should be fine.

In further thought if you were reviewing non-paid professionals, this would in essence be you reviewing someone who has fed you for free!

So please in this case follow these simple steps…

1. Arrive on time and perhaps bring a gift (smiles are good gifts, so is wine)
2. Whilst eating, shut your mouth except for non-food chatter unless it’s something along the lines of… “Fuck me this is good”
3. When finished eating, shut your mouth except for non-food chatter unless once again it’s something along the lines of… “Holy fucking hell that was magnificent you crazy food genius sent from the gods”
4. Say thank you for the incredible gesture of feeding you which isn’t just kind but also helps keep you alive (depending on you this can be a good or bad point)
5. Offer to do the dishes so the beautiful soul that made you food can rest and bask in the glory of your kind words
6. I want to clarify there isn’t one single mitigating circumstance that would allow you to tell them anything negative about your experience… if in doubt shut your mouth!! It even rhymes for all of you peeps that need help to remember, this can be your life creed.

With that well locked into your minds let’s take a journey, I’m going to write as if we just finished a meal together… this isn’t real! We haven’t met and to my knowledge we haven’t just finished a meal at a generic made up eatery and with all my heart I hope never for these scribbling’s to take form and in some sort of coming to life Jumaji like experience. Making me live through your what I would imagine to be painful conversation skills and down right stupid opinions about food and cuisine in all of it many guises.

Scenario number 1- just finished a meal at a generic made up eatery, and enjoyed it.

What a massive fucking win, members of the public have come along and paid for food, eaten said food and then rationalised the entire experience and came out the other side with a positive ending.

Many variables have helped to make this equation to work… price point, staff attitudes, parking, weather, menu choice, menu spelling, temperature of venue, temperature of food, temperature of guests, tables stability, artwork on walls, amount of tattoos the chef has, water having ice in it, water not having ice in it, butter instead of oil for bread, oil instead of butter for bread, no bread given for free, no gf bread being offered, sustainability of the fish used, sustainability of fish in general, not enough vegan food on menu, too much wanky chef words confusing everyone including staff on menu… I feel you are seeing what I’m eluding too here? The parameters that make a happy customer are so vast I could go on for pages and pages.

Lets not forget in this imaginary scenario we have finished up and are well happy with all of the above, or at least enough to allow your massive heart to pour out accolades to the amazing staff of this humble yet made up establishment. Here are my points on what to do with your newfound want to shower praise upon your subservient minions…

1. When asked “did you enjoy your meal?” answer “yes I bloody well did my fine friend, please pass on my compliments to the chef and whilst you are at it please pat yourself on the back, as your part was just as satisfying and important”. Under no effing circumstance do you say anything like this… “Yes I bloody well did my fine friend, please tell the chef it was incredible but I’m not quite sure why he felt the dish needed the spinach” WHY??? Why do people feel the need to add sub sections to compliments, its either good or it bad (we will get the bad later) please for the love of any factious god you choice why would you think the chef needs your opinion on his usage of leafy matter?
2. Don’t add extra bits to nice comments. Only two weeks ago someone told me a donut I made them was in their top 5. Top 5??? Where the fuck did you get these other magical donuts from, as I want to try them. This was meant as a compliment but it messed with my mind. Less is more with a compliment.
3. Wait staff or front of house staff or the people that carry food, what ever you wish to label them, are angels in my opinion. Night in night out they have to deal with you and me literally taking it from both ends (behave). They have to smile whilst you make rubbish jokes they are sure to have heard several times already this evening then once they have leveraged your order from the mumblings of you entire family they then have to come deal with the chefs who take every single menu change as a personal attack on his or hers family name. So I recommend, no I insist you keep dad jokes to a minimum and thank them genuinely and whole heartily. If you are in a financial position to tip them that is also acceptably and remember in any place worth tipping the tips are shared between all staff from chefs to kitchen porters to bar staff.
4. Once all done you may of checked your self in on FB and then been asked if you recommend this place, take the time to write some kinds words about your experience allowing the venue to bask in the thought their hard work wasn’t all in vein.
5. The last step is of course to tell the world of your incredible dining experience this may come In the form of a casual chat at the water cooler the next day at work or perhaps during a game of football but people react so well to positive experiences and your experience will inevitably help make someone’s else experience better. As they will have already bought into the fact this venue is great making the entire ordeal so much easier to get to this point. If you choose to go down the trip advisor route please see point 1 of this section and follow it closely. Remember if it was good then all positive comments make sense as others reading will focus on your negative no matter how helpful you feel they were.

Scenario number 2 – you have not enjoyed your meal in the generic made up venue

No one wins with this scenario, all we want is to please guests and if you are a normal person with a heart and soul then all you wanted was a tasty feed that didn’t make you have to take out a second mortgage or sell one of your children’s kidneys.
This sentence is chockers with assumptions, the first is of course that the made up venue is ran by individuals that like me and G-bags that turn up each day wanting to make our customers happy and in most cases over whelmed with joy, a kind of joy that only surprisingly good food and service can elicit. This isn’t always the case and if the venue is ran by people that don’t care ignore this entire blog and do what you want to those horrible parasites of the hospitality world. The other assumption is that you are a kind hearted rational person, which lets face it you are because you are reading this, so congratulations on being nice.

1. There is such a massive difference between something you don’t like, that isn’t to your particle taste and terrible food… this is very important, if you get something with chilli and you hate chilli you may be angry because it didn’t state chilli, you have every right to send it back and let our made up venue rectify the situation. This is my first point, give venues a chance to rectify your grievance, don’t hold it in then go home and write a scathing review much to the surprise of the staff you thanked as you left.
2. Remember that long list of variables that can make and break a venue I wrote earlier on, of course you don’t because you skim read and only drift in and out of consciousness whilst reading stuff, but this is a bigger issue we should address another time… in the meantime go back and read the variables… Ok now you remember them it, many of these are out of the control of the people serving or cooking your food so to hinge your entire experience on one or several of these can be unfair. Also places do have bad nights so if you have followed point one written above, the staff may explain they are having a bad night and apologize for you experience. Take this apology and perhaps visit again before giving a place a terrible review.
3. If you have followed both points and still feel the venue deserves a bad review then I can only plead for you guys to show a sliver of empathy in your words. Reviews as much as we wish they didn’t can make or break businesses which inturn destroys families and people lives. Professional reviewers always go several times before giving bad reviews as their work could close a place down in a matter of weeks. Of course you are a no body and not even you friends care what you think, but that aside lets pretend you are liked and I know its laughable but even admired… be honest and perhaps throw in a few goods things about your experience like the cold main didn’t burn your hand or the at least the dish that was lacking in haloumi was great for the waist line. And if it was rude staff that ruined your experience be clear with that, as there is never an excuse for this but it stems from an individual not an entire workplace or venue. It would be like your work place being judged by that complete bellend that works in accounts or the racist twat from HR.
4. Final point is reviews are just that, reviews not blogs, stop writing short stories as no one cares what colour socks you wore to said restaurant we just want to know if the food was well crafted and in line with the price point you paid, then served in a timely fashion by someone wearing a smile and perhaps clothes (some venues this is optional).

All in all remember us lovely folks that work in the food service industry are continually trying to do our best in a very problematic world. I personally do loads of tasting menu evening where the entire room of 80 people get served 16 courses of playful dishes that I try to push the boundaries’ of style and substance. This inherently comes with many issues and number one is 80 people all wanting to eat the same thing, as you know from cooking at home this is hard with 4 people never mind 80. Then comes the question of strong bold dishes I want to be full on whilst some guests always just want easy assessable dishes that tow the line. Then finally comes price point which I have touched on briefly, this for me is everything as if I spend $2 on a burger I’d expect to get a shit burger. In fact if what I got was even close to a burger and edible I would be so happy I’d tell everyone about it, when if that same tiny morsel of meat served in a between two burger rings cost me $15 I’d be livid and loose my mind inturn telling the world just how ridiculous the burger ring burger was. So its all about expectation of both quality and cost, use all of these variables before making your decisions and then leave it for a day to allow your angry mind to settle before destroying someone livelihood and business… better still, just shut your mouth and don’t go back there again.

Job done.

Your friend, Paul.

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