Speak Up

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Worst Critic

Chefs are built to handle criticism. Well, at least they are trained to. Customers, Yelpers, bloggers, food critics and fellow chefs all have something to say about they food your chef prepares for them. On top of that, an infinite number of things can go wrong during a meal...the food is too hot...too cold...too salty...too bland...too old school...too modern...too rare...too well done...too complex...too simple...overwhelming...underwhelming...

I've heard and said them all, plus a few. But what happens when the food you are criticizing is that of your own chef? I hope I'm not alone in this one. I feel such relief when I find out that I'm not alone.

Erik is a great chef. He was trained by the best (CIA, school of Jean-Georges). He's been featured in various publications and has an ongoing professional relationship with the Gohan Society. All that said, sometimes I don't like what he makes at home. And I've made the terrible mistake of telling him. You would have thought I insulted his intelligence and come to think of it, he probably felt as if I did.

I've learned my lesson and I always keep my mouth shut, but not too long ago if Erik asked how I liked something he made, I would answer truthfully. What was I thinking? It's not as if I hated any of the meals he's made for me. But a few times, gasp...the food just wasn't to my liking. I told Erik a couple times that the dish was too salty and he always replied the same: "Well, I guess since you hate all my cooking, I'll never make anything for you again." OK, Woah.

Needless to say he has since cooked for me, but I was in shock. After all, he DID ask. Didn't he want to know? I didn't make a face when I tasted the meal. I didn't spit it out. I enjoyed it and ate it all, but just had that one, insignificant comment.

Please tell me your chefs are the same way. And if they are, how do you deal? Do you still provide honest feedback or do you do the fake "yum" smile that we so often see on TV?

Since the over salty experiences I've decided just to keep my thoughts to myself. It's really not worth it. Maybe it's worse for Erik since I'm not a food critic, patron, or chef....I'm his wife.

Food is Love,


Unknown said...

I think that question is akin to us when we ask a man if we look fat in an outfit. It's a question you shouldn't ask unless you really want to know the answer.

His reaction was a bit over the top, but he might just want to be supported no matter what. I would maybe cage it, like "It's great, but it's a tiny bit salty for me." The truth, but softened.

I haven't really had this experience with my chef too often. Once, he made an Asian soup that neither of us liked. He also throws scrap meat into soups, which can be annoying because I don't like gristle. For me, I say nothing (although I'm not typically a say-nothing kind of gal) and just pick out the parts I don't like.

Anonymous said...

My husband will ask, and I do answer truthfully. Sometimes he doesn't like the answer, and I get a response not unlike the one you received. But, he continues to cook for me, and overall- it is WONDERFUL. And he knows it!

ch said...

Great topic!
Being an artist, I understand criticism and I always appreciate it when it is constructive. Like Laura said, balancing it with a compliment is always helpful. I think constructive criticism can only help to make you better, as an artist or a chef.
I love most of what my chef makes for me, but occasionally I may not. One recent crit that I had was that sometimes it's too perfect! Everything is cut in perfectly even proportion, i.e. veges in a soup, and it makes it feel more manufactured than homemade. How's that for diplomacy?! Honey, it's too perfect!:)

DCW Jes said...

heh. I laughed out loud. I can honestly say that I DO tell my chef what I think of his cooking. He doesn't get angry. I am an overly honest person to begin with so its rather hard for me to lie. That and the fact that when I was younger, my family told me they can read my face like a book. So, kinda hard to hide my distates for something, especially when I don't try and hide my facial expressions from my husband. I can always tell when he doesn't like something of mine too, he doesn't have seconds. That isn't always the same for me, I am sometimes just starving and other times I am mediocrely hungry. However, upon asking my husband if I tell him the truth about his food, he replied "I would be mad if you didn't." I have flat out told him what I hated about his restaurant's new dish, not that it was his recipe, but I told him anyways. He cooked if for me. Also I tell him what I do like or what could be done differently. Thats just me.

DCW Amanda said...

I'm an incredibly blunt person so I'm always really honest about his food. The way I see it- if he serves me something and I say nothing then he serves the same thing at the restaurant and someone says something- then we're gonna have a problem! Depending on how excited he is about the dish... I may sugar coat it!

KaL.A. said...

I usually give my opinion about food if he is cooking for a party or for family. He usually doesn't mind my opinion because I quickly follow it up with "but it's delicious" & whatnot.
What I know about chefs is they are super emotional. Their emotions and passion goes right into their food, so giving critism in any way will make them a bit upset. My boyfriend likes my opinions and usually doesn't like when I go along with what he thinks. He takes my opinions to heart and always wants to know what I think which is good.

Hilary Battes said...

Laura, I understand what you mean about softening the truth, but I work very hard to be direct and avoid sugar coating things. I think when we sugar coat things (much deeper things than salty food) we can actually hurt ourselves more. But sometimes I forget that salty food really isn't a big deal and I should just relax and soften the "blow".

In the end, Erik gets upset when I criticize his salty food, because he knows he used to have a salty palate. Bad memories of a culinary school chef throwing a giant box of Mortons in his pot of soup...who knows.

I shouldn't talk either really, I HATE when Erik tells me how to teach. It doesn't happen often, thank goodness.