Here is a direct quote from the late Peter Michael, Certified Master Chef \ Certified Culinary Educator \ Certified Master Chef Exam Judge: "My wife & I always get invited over to friends' homes for after dinner drinks. Guess why that is? But, I like a burger off the grill just as much as the next guy."
Well, everyone knew the answer...this man wasn't "just" a chef; his credentials were impressively intimidating. However, we ran into him and his wife one day at local fair and he was munching on a hot dog. Yet, his friends were too intimidated to cook for him. Kinda funny, isn't it. The man is happy with a fair food hotdog. Think the hot dog guy knew he was one of the most highly decorated chefs of the late 20th century?? I'd bet Chef Michael couldn't have cared less.
So, what is this all about?For me, culinary words & wisdom to live by. Chef Michael didn't just teach the culinary arts; he taught life. He was by far the most influential instructor I had at the CIA....and he taught us how to dice onions and make stock :) And the above quote has a far deeper connotation. I only had one friend who would cook for me when I graduated from the CIA. She knew that I was there to enjoy, not to critique. My mother who had cooked for me all my life, even felt intimidated. Why? I don't know. I don't pass judgement in those cases. It is all about enjoyment and appreciation. And you have to let your friends & family know that. Conversely, I also tell them not to ask for my professional opinion. I'm at your home enjoying food, wine, company, etc. I don't want to "work". I don't want to critique. I don't want to take a chance at hurting someone's feelings because something may not be technically correct and then cause an awkward situation. If I enjoyed it, I say so, much like anyone else would. But you never hear me say negative (because I'm sure it would be taken wrong) or overly positive (because once again, it may sound like I'm critiquing) because I feel either extreme would make me sound judgemental. Now, even if (insert the name of the best chef in the world in your opinion here) made a cauliflower-pea-sweetbread salad with pickled beet dressing, I wouldn't eat it. Four things I do not like. However, it doesn't mean I'm not eating it because it sucks: it is because I hate the main ingredients & nothing to do with anyone's cooking ability. God, I just want to relax and enjoy just like anyone else!!!! Believe me, critiquing is the last thing I want to do!
At restaurants it is the same thing. I ask if I'm not familiar with something. If the menu doesn't specify how a particular fish is cooked, I will ask as I'm not that big of a "fried fish in Peoria" fan (I've seen fish come out that looked entombed in crust; I prefer a "just barely breaded" fried fish). But after that, it is expectation and enjoyment. If I go to Captian Rons, I have certain expectations. I don't expect to have elaborate table settings, heavily reduced sauces and Art Culinare designed food. At French Toast, I do. I enjoy both for what they are and the experience they are trying to create. I pick the place to enhance the mood. Casual bite to eat with friends; Captain Ron's. Romantic evening out; French Toast. I seriously doubt the type of tomato is going to change those things much. So, when I post about restaurants here, I write about how they faired to my expectations. I will be a little more critical about the upscale white tablecloth places versus the mom & pop sandwich joint.
As the main thing is enjoyment, when I do my little reviews, I don't try to get too in depth. What I enjoyed, and didn't, and why. And yes, I do use a little "restaurant knowledge" when I write them, but not to sound like I'm from Zagats. Which brings me to a point: I've never understood those "star" ratings anyway. Two stars...is that two stars in comparison to what you expected, two stars compared to all the other meals you've ever eaten in your life or two stars compared to all of the exact same items you've eaten elsewhere? It may be the best meatloaf a critic has ever eaten and gives it 5 stars, but is it better than a perfectly prepared 10 oz. USDA Prime filet mignon from St. Elmo's in Indianapolis (it's probably CHEAPER)? I just don't get "stars".
Unfortunately, as Chef Michael suggested, we are in a profession that is vital to sustain life. People need to eat. Granted, not everyone needs or has to eat in a restaurant, etc. But as it is our profession, people sometimes rely on us for varied information about the betterment a life sustaining necessity. It is our obligation to provide them, to the best of our ability, with that information. (Doesn't mean I have to give you my secret BBQ sauce recipe, though....nice try :))
I think if you become a culinary militant on either side of the kitchen, you are going to have a hard life. In the kitchen, people won't want to work with you. At the table, people won't want to dine with you.
Eat and dine well, my friends. And don't forget to have your favorite Chef over for a burger.
See you around the table.....