No matter how many stars, chef’s hats, blazons, Grammies, Oscars or Eat Out awards your establishment has garnered there will always be someone who walks in and decides they know better.
Oh, we all know them - they want a starter portion of the squid with the trout garnish but without the potatoes (they don’t do protein or starch). They also want the sauce from the mussels off the set menu but can it be made without butter and capers? And can the green olives be substituted for black? And can they have a Greek side salad instead of the asparagus... dressing on the side of course… Unless! Unless you have spinach, which in that case can they rather have the side salad sautéed in a hint of olive oil with some chopped garlic... but not too much mind you.
And the allergy brigade...
Don’t get me started on the myriad of allergies – if you are allergic to wheat, garlic, animal protein, dairy products, alcohol, raisins, nuts, seeds, clowns, spiders, midgets with red shoes, left-handed golf clubs or cracks in the pavement, rather stay at home and eat some quinoa and alfalfa sprouts.
It’s as if chefs have nothing better to do than to bend to your every whim and fad. What do we even need a menu for? Why not just send out a list of ingredients and you can tell us what sort of mood you’re in – perhaps a tarot reading with pre-dinner drinks will help us to foresee what you might fancy this evening. And please bring along your feng shui master to help us with the plating.
It sometimes astounds me a how little people know about professional food preparation. I’m not sure what people think chefs do all day (apart from drink heavily and swear a lot). An awful lot of prep goes in before service – while the principal protein may only be cooked to order, the rest of the dish, some of the garnish and the sauce or dressing will have been made before the restaurant opens.
In an average 10-hour day; seven hours are spent preparing and only 3 hours on actual service.
So you can understand that chefs may get a little hot under the collar when the f*#k-knuckle on table 5 wants chili on his dish – we have a container of fermenting minced habanero chilies akin to molten lava just for such occasions.
The next time you feel the need to stray from the menu always be mindful of how far you push it – bear in mind that a lot of work and thought have gone into the meals, their ingredients and the layout. And that perhaps your every whim and fetish cannot always be catered for. If you ask nicely though, and your demands are reasonable – there shouldn’t be too many plates flying over the pass.
Pete Goffe-Wood is one of South Africa's best known chefs and is the owner of Wild Woods in Hout Bay.