20 Secrets Chefs Will Never Tell You
Chefs spill everything from why they don’t take sick days to what really happens when you send a dish back
The restaurant world might seem glitzy to the uninitiated, but what goes on behind the kitchen door isn't always so glamorous. For starters, while what we see from talk-show chefs might suggest otherwise, being a real-life chef is an incredibly demanding job, both physically and mentally.
In many cases, they're on their feet for twelve-plus hours per day, working hard in a hot kitchen alongside cooks and dishwashers to deliver the best possible finished product to your table. And even though most people are aware that chefs the head honchos in the kitchen, diners often have zero idea what actually goes on behind the scenes. Here's what you need to know, straight from chefs themselves, about how to pick the best item on the menu, when it's okay to send your food back to the kitchen, and how to make any dish you cook at home taste restaurant-quality. For more on restaurant facts, check out the 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won't Tell You.
TV Chefs Aren't All They're Cracked Up to Be
Just because they've got their own show doesn't necessarily mean they know what they're talking about, apparently. "Many chefs on TV don't even know how to hold a knife properly," says Reddit user and chef BookwormJane. "Also, some of them put oil in a pot of boiling water for pasta to prevent it from sticking together. IT DOES NOT prevent it from sticking together. What really prevents pasta from sticking together is boiling it in salty water." And for more on cooking tips, check out the 10 Best Foods for Your Heart.
If There's Something Wrong With Your Food, Send It Back
Yes, sending your dish back to the kitchen for a silly reason is rude, but if there's actually something wrong with your order or how the food is cooked? Chefs won't mind if you send it back.
"As a restaurant we only want one thing at the end of the day, for every single person who pays a check to leave feeling glad to have paid it," says chef and Reddit user Joshselbase." If something is not to your liking, at least in any decent-or-better restaurant, for God's sake, say something to your server. He or she needs your tip and therefore for you to be happy." Plus, they'd rather you say good things about the restaurant to friends and others in the neighborhood than bad things. "So don't be shy, any restaurant that's not a complete dump wants and needs happy customers." And for more facts about your favorite restaurant, here are 15 Secrets Your Bartender Won't Tell You.
In Some Restaurants, The Kitchen Never Closes
No, that doesn't mean you can put an order in after-hours, but it does mean you should probably cut the people making your food some slack, because they're often working crazy-long days. "The kitchen is 24 hours, people don't realize how much preparation goes into cooking en masse," Ashley Davis, chef and owner of Copper Pot Seddon in Melbourne, Australia told INSIDER. "We often cook food through the night to keep up, and chefs work 14-hour days." And for more on power foods, these are the 10 Best Foods for Over-40 Brains.
It's Very Rare for Something Gross to Happen to Your Food
Even if you've made a big stink about sending it back. But it does happen occasionally. When Food Network Magazine surveyed 100 chefs, only 13 percent said they'd witnessed a cook do something unsavory to a customer's dish. The worst that can happen? "Someone once ran a steak through a dishwasher after the diner sent it back twice," one chef told the mag. "Ironically, the customer was happy with it then." And for more on the world of fine dining, here's What the Best Chefs Really Think About Michelin Stars.
You're Better Off Ordering a Restaurant's Staple Dishes
If you're after an amazing meal, it's a good idea to stick with what the restaurant knows how to do well. "If it's a steakhouse, I don't order the pasta. If it's a burger joint, I'll probably order a burger, not a chicken wrap," says Reddit user Budgiejen. "Don't send the kitchen into a frenzy because they can't remember how to prepare your food. And order something they're good at making. Don't go for half-assed. You're paying for this. Get something that will be good." And know the 19 Fancy Menu Phrases Everyone Should Know.
Never Order Your Steak Well Done
Apparently, chefs find it incredibly offensive. Why? You can't taste the quality of the meat when you burn it to a crisp. For more on eating your best, This is What a Perfect Day of Eating Looks Like.
They Don't Like to Wait for Food, Either
If you find yourself getting peeved about how long your food is taking, know that chefs also prefer for food to be served quickly and efficiently. "Even myself, when I go into a restaurant and I'm waiting too long, I'm like 'Where's my food?'" chef Nina Clemente told INSIDER. "And then I remember my own job and I'm like 'Oh yeah, maybe they ran out of this particular ingredient.'"
Sick Days Aren't Really a Thing
Which means you've probably had food cooked by a sick chef before. "The thing about being a chef is that's pretty hard for somebody to just step in and take your place, especially if you're a head chef," says Niall Harbison, a former chef. "Seriously, I've seen chefs with everything from the flu right through to diarrhoea cooking away, serving hundreds of people while quietly dying." Yikes.
There Are Dishes They Hate When You Order
Every menu has those hard-to-prepare items, and sometimes kitchen staff are secretly praying no one orders them. One of the worst? A charcuterie board. "If you have 20 to 25 items on your menu, and your charcuterie board has 8 to 10 cheeses and 6 to 10 meats, it takes too much valuable time to prepare each board," explains Reddit user Dalebrower. "Times that by 20/30 boards a night, plus preparing other meals, and timing the food perfectly during dinner rush is a mess."
You Don't Have to Drop a Ton of Cash to Get Great Ingredients
Chefs are picky about what they spend money on. "A good rule of thumb for prioritizing what things are worth spending more on is how much you are going to process them before you eat them," says Reddit user CremeFraichePlz. "The less you do with an ingredient the more the outcome relies on its quality. You can make a lot of cheap/subpar stuff good with time, skill and flavoring."
High Quality Olive Oil Is a Game-Changer
Ever wonder what the difference between your homemade pasta and the pasta you get in a restaurant it? Sometimes, it's as simple as the oil you use to finish the plate off. "Invest in a bottle of high-quality olive oil," Osteria Mozza chef Nancy Silverton told the Food Network. "Just a small drizzle can really bring out the flavor of pizza, mozzarella, pasta, fish and meat."
They Pretty Much Always Have to Work Holidays
"Skipping holidays, family gatherings, weddings, and funerals to hump a shift on the line isn't always appreciated by family," Daniel Holzman, chef-owner of the Meatball Shop in New York City told Thrillist. "But your restaurant is your family and that's what makes working in a restaurant so special." So if you're eating out on a holiday, be extra nice.
There's Probably a Good Reason Your Food Is Taking So Long
"When I was a cook I used to hate making quesadillas," says Reddit user Dougdahead. "We made them in skillets and I only had six burners to cook everything in my part of the kitchen. When groups would come in and order four quesos and some other dishes and I would get yelled at because I took longer than the 15 minute window we were given. Drove me mad sometimes. Yes they are easy to make. Just they take up too much space and cause a backup of tickets when they come in bunches."
No, You Can't Pay for a Last-Minute Reservation
You might think that cash is the trick to getting a swanky reservation just a few days in advance, but only one out of 100 chefs in the Food Network Magazine survey said they'd accept money for an in-demand table. When in doubt, book ahead. And bone on up all our our great tips in The Sophisticated Man's Guide to Fine Dining.
They Eat Fast Food, Too
Chefs have food-related guilty pleasures. "I like Taco Bell's seven-layer burritos, I confess," says Reddit user and former chef, Trebuchetfight. "Even though most the time they don't get the layers properly lengthwise, and every ingredient is just a runny paste. I don't know why I like them, because if I made a burrito like that, please shoot me."
There Are Certain Items They Want You to Order
If it feels like your waiter is insisting you order a certain dish, it's probably not all in your head. In Food Network Magazine's survey, 95 percent of chefs said they ask their waitstaff to direct customers toward specific dishes on the menu.
Sometimes Less Is More
Complicated dishes aren't always better, and menus sometimes hide behind fancy seasonings or cooking processes to make their food seem better. "Sometimes you need to leave it alone," says chef and Reddit user dukeofbun. "That steak. That piece of fish. That stock. Just because you're constantly moving doesn't mean you're improving your food."
Specials Aren't Always So Special
Often, they're just what needs to be sold quickly before it goes bad. "As a chef, if you've ordered a bunch of chicken or fish and have way too much about to go off in the fridge, then the first place you think to put them is the specials board," explains Harbison.
Some Items on The Menu Are Very Overpriced
But it's generally done to cover the costs of essential expenses, not to rip you off. "We serve 'hot fresh baked pretzels' for $8.95," says Reddit user Kwyjino8. "We get 'em by the case frozen. Roughly $75 per box, 100 per box. We get 33 orders per box and one to eat while figuring out math. 33 orders X $8.95 = $295.35. So profit is $220.35 (minus the cost). So with that $220.35 we pay the electric, gas, rent, taxes, staff, equipment, etc."
They Often Cook Simply at Home
After a long week of work, chefs don't generally want to cook something elaborate on their day off. So what do they make for themselves? ""I cook very simply at home," Justin Bogle, chef at Gilt told Reader's Digest. "It is usually just pasta or a grilled steak with vegetables." Sounds pretty great to us.
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