This isn’t a funny anecdote. I wrote it quite a while ago and like so many of the things I write, I filed it away, almost forgotten. This week, I fortuitously encountered someone ranting on almost the same subject, yet with an inability to capture the essence of what was bothering about her.
In the book “Like Water for Chocolate” (Como Agua Para Chocolate), Tita lovingly shares her recipes and story. The principle point is that the cook’s emotions and aspirations merge with the food she prepares. Those consuming her food would cry her tears, feel her ecstasy, and experience her life through her food. When I read the book in Spanish the first time, I learned a few cooking points, but I also got a revelation into the content of human spirit – and yet another glimpse into the possible world I would enjoy living in.
By way of full disclosure, I’m unqualified to judge cuisine, as vittles are more aligned with my appetite. I am qualified to recognize the discomfort I have in the way some people decide to run their places of business, though. Charge more for your food if it is necessary and allow those working for you to enjoy a more human experience. I do not want to witness anyone being scolded, berated, or demeaned while I’m enjoying the great luxury of dining. (If I want that, I’ll invite my sister-in-law to eat with me.)
One particular local chef enjoys one of the best skill reputations in the kitchen. (He’s not the chef with an Italian name, either.) Unfortunately, he is also highly regarded as being a mean bastard to many people who’ve worked with him. Like the book (and movie) I mentioned, I don’t relish the idea of frequenting a restaurant owned or operated by someone who might contaminate the spirit of my food with his penchant for tirades. I’m frustrated frequently enough by my own mistakes and anger without ingesting those of another person.
I’ve had people over the years volunteer stories about this skilled chef. None of the stories originated from me inquiring – all of them extemporaneously emerged, so to speak. They all share the common theme of the chef being gifted, yet tormented by a lack of understanding of his inability to treat others as equal human beings. A few times, the stories have sprung forth with swift surprise. One of the most memorable came from a former chef working at Logan’s, opting to wait tables if it meant he could work in a place not dominated by anger and finger pointing. (PS: The food at Logan’s that day was exceptional.)
The last time I entered one of the chef’s restaurants, he was in my vicinity being loudly vicious to an employee who was clearly struggling. No matter how good the food could have been, all I could picture was the employee seriously considering giving the chef a knock to the head with a stack of plates. The chef focused solely on his own angry voice, oblivious to the human distress he was feeding. It diminished everyone witnessing it. That time, I saw and heard the anger – and felt the contempt personally. The stories became true to me. The chasm between allegation and confirmation becomes shallow when you witness the behavior, doesn’t it?
As for the employee receiving the public rant, I wish he would have taken the plates and hurled them like Olympic culinary Frisbees through the windows. It wouldn’t have helped him, but what a victory for decency it would have been. I would have stood and applauded his rashness.
I left with a bitter aftertaste that had nothing to do with the food served that day.
As I see or hear this chef receive praise, I remember that his success doesn’t affect me directly. It affects me as a person, however. I know that he must be screeching at those he hires, saucepans echoing as they clatter against stainless steel counters, plates cracking with the force of dropped velocity. Justifying behavior that diminishes people is indicative of a larger problem, in my opinion.
I would rather eat bologna or cheese sandwiches if it guarantees that no one preparing my food is subjected to the likes of this storied gourmand. Monetary success built on animosity is a hollow measure. I wonder to what great heights this chef might have reached had he chosen a light touch with his fellow human beings.
I never comment on the chef when I see him mentioned on social media. It seems appropriate for me to let it pass and hope that the stories accumulate to some critical mass at some undefined future time. Being human, I will admit that it pains me a little, though. I know that for every word of compliment he receives, he is dishing out an appetizer of avoidable reprimand to someone in his presence. I wonder if he knows in his heart of hearts how many stories are floating around, tarnishing his reputation as a human being. There’s no glaze or gastronomical flourish to remove that bitter taste.