When you go out to eat, you usually only have face-to-face interactions with the front-of-house staff — your server, and maybe a hostess. They’re basically the diplomats of the food world, charged with creating a welcoming environment for you, the customer. The chef, on the other hand, is back in the kitchen, toiling away to create beautiful and delicious meals for everyone in the restaurant. And while many tweaks and alterations can easily be made, there are a few special orders that will make your chef hate you — and not for the reasons you might think. Of course, they won’t be able to say anything to your face, but just know you are getting some major side-eye.
Cooking in a commercial kitchen is all about rhythm. Like a drummer or an orchestra conductor, the chef delegates and evaluates over and over throughout a dinner shift, keeping all of the sous chefs and line cooks on pace to serve customers the most delicious food possible in a timely manner. It’s basically instantaneous art. You commission a piece by your favorite artist (the chef), and within 20 minutes, it’s done and in front of you, ready to be enjoyed.
Keep your chef happy — don’t disrupt that finely tuned flow. What are the things that bug your chef the most? I asked a few of my chef friends in Los Angeles to hear what they had to say, and their responses may surprise you. Here are a few things that qualify.
1. Swapping out sides that come with your meal
You want fries instead of the salad your order is supposed to come with? I totally hear you — but many meals on restaurant menus are designed with specific sides to maximize productivity. I’m completely guilty of this one, because French fries are my favorite. If the menu gives you side options, then by all means go wild. But, if a meal is specifically described as coming with mashed potatoes, maybe we should all just eat the mashed potatoes. Avoid being that girl.
2. Ordering child-sized portions of meals that aren’t on the kids’ menu
So your kid is a veritable culinary Dora The Explorer, hmm? If your son or daughter really wants to eat a shrimp fettuccine with capers and fried shallots on top, go ahead and order it, but don’t expect your chef to downsize portions — or price, for that matter. There’s not a chance your server is going to give you a discount just because you’re dining with a miniature human.
3. Confusing dietary requests
Unless you actually have gluten sensitivity, you are just making things harder on everyone by asking that parts of your meal be gluten-free. Seriously, ordering a sandwich protein-style (no bread) with a soup that’s thickened with flour is going to get you a major eye-roll in the kitchen. Chefs are very attuned to the presentation of your meal, and ordering a slab of meat with nothing to soak up the juices is not going to be as attractive as the original recipe.
4. Asking for meat substitutions
With the exception of swapping out burger patties, asking for the braised lamb with chicken instead of lamb is going to give your chef grey hair. Usually, a server will be versed enough in the goings-on of the kitchen to respond with a reluctant, “I’ll ask.” If the chef, for some reason, says yes to this absurd request, consider it your lucky day, because the answer will almost always be no.
5. The “pecan pie, no nuts” phenomenon
If you are allergic to bell peppers, maybe ordering the chili isn’t the greatest idea in the world. Asking the chef to just whip up a new batch of something that’s made ahead of time is inconsiderate, and slows everyone down while they attempt to re-chop and recreate their existing recipe to accommodate your request. C’mon, guys. Just don’t do it.