Omnivore - On chefs, screaming and customer comprehension

A New York Times writer stands up to a screaming chef and gets kicked out

Yesterday, on the New York Times Diner's Journal blog, writer Ron Lieber wrote about getting kicked out of a restaurant for coming to the defense of an employee. Or, more specifically, for marching into the kitchen and telling the chef that his screaming at a waiter was ruining the meal for those in the dining room, Lieber in particular. The chef, Marc Forgione, then promptly kicked Lieber out of the restaurant. The response in the comments section has been overwhelming, but is mainly predictable - some say "good for you," others say "you sound like a pompous ass." Reminds me of a post we had here once.

Over on Twitter, debate over the incident heated up between some well-known food personalities. Michael Ruhlman gives us the play by play in a thoughtful post about the "stark reminder of how little patrons understand of the unique powerful pressures of running a restaurant and the astonishing breadth of humanity represented by a restaurant’s staff." He makes the point that scream-feasts on TV such as "Hell's Kitchen" and more serious competition shows such as "Top Chef" do little to educate the public.

As a former waiter who took a fair amount of abuse, and as a former cook who took a certain amount of satisfaction from the kitchen's abuse of the floor staff, I have mixed feelings on the issue. I remember my first kitchen job learning early on the seemingly unfair rule that when faced with a red-faced tirade the ONLY appropriate response was "yes chef." Food has to be served. You can talk it out later. If you can't talk it out to your satisfaction, you can quit later.

I also worked at a tiny restaurant in Brooklyn as a server where the customers were constantly questioning the yelling coming from the kitchen. Sometimes the chef would stick his head out into the dining room or backyard patio and yell at us, usually to come run food. It upset some folks, but many took it to be part of the scenery. I enjoyed it, mostly. Kept things interesting. But I've also been in restaurants where there was true abuse. I've felt about jobs the way I imagine people in abusive relationships feel about their partners. "If I leave, how will I pay rent? Maybe I really am a worthless person and no one else would have me. Maybe it will be better tomorrow, next week, after the stress of the holidays..."

That shouldn't be the norm for restaurants. But is it up to the customer to try to change that?

(Photo from photos.com)