9

When going to Michelin three star French restaurant in Paris, should I first find out if the star chef is actually cooking or at least present? I have been visiting a French restaurant in Paris that is highly rated and I never questioned myself if the star chef is actually cooking. At my last visit and it was lunch time, I ordered from the grand menu, not express lunch menu. I thought something was different with food but was not sure what it was. Then I was invited (the first time, it was my birthday that day) to the kitchen and was greeted by the those who are responsible for different parts (dessert, sauces, bread, etc) and the chief chef, who was not the Chef I wanted to meet (I didn't say that). I go there because I like the food which is prepared by the Chef(at least that was I believed til then) but what is the point of spending the same money if the chef is not there and if the taste is not the same? Is it a damn question to ask if the chef will be there the day I will be visiting?

P.S. I read the first few. I'd like to thank each of you for taking time to reply my question. All answers are exactly what I wanted to know!

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jay, BaffledCook, rumtscho Aug 20 '15 at 14:17

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 17
    Since Michelin Guide reviewers are anonymous, the restaurant doesn't know when they're being reviewed and so can't arrange for the reviews to only occur when the chef de cuisine is present. This means you have a good of a chance of eating at the restaurant when the head chef is there as the reviewers. Or to put it another way, the stars are awarded to the restaurant, not its chef. – Ross Ridge Aug 19 '15 at 17:05
  • 15
    I can almost guarantee that the star chef is not cooking. Despite all of my other personal misgivings about Todd English, he gave the only appropriate answer to a reporter who asked him the question, "Who's cooking when you're not in the restaurant?" "The same people who're cooking when I'm there." – MikeTheLiar Aug 19 '15 at 20:13
  • 3
    I believe that reply actually originated from Paul Bocuse: articles.latimes.com/1987-03-22/entertainment/…, @mikeTheLiar. – Josh Caswell Aug 19 '15 at 20:14
  • 7
    It's not physically possible for one person to produce all the three-star food for more than perhaps fifty covers a night. Even with a completely fixed menu and set seatings, for anything more than six people at a time, you'd at least need help plating. The expectation that the person at the top of the kitchen hierarchy in a busy restaurant will personally prepare your individual plate is generally unrealistic. – Josh Caswell Aug 19 '15 at 20:40
  • 2
    The Chef has the same job as a conductor. You're there to listen to the orchestra (who've practiced enough with the conductor that they can play the same even without him around), not the conductor. – slebetman Aug 20 '15 at 3:23
14

3 star restaurants are a business (*); for (probably bad) example, if I was to buy a Tesla car, I would not expect Elon Musk to build my car or even be at the auto-dealer.

Chefs will rarely cook; they will create the dishes, they might cook the prototypes and do trial plating to show his staff how the dish should cooked and presented; and the team will do the cooking day-to-day.

Chefs do high-level business management (human resources, produce handling and buying, do PR,...) and that takes time, they are not superman, they need to sleep and rest.

If they have to cook or be in the kitchen, then they need to be there early in the day for lunch preparation, they need to be there in the evening up to late because client will usually leave dinner at around midnight-ish; it is impossible to keep that schedule.

They will even be traveling to their other restaurants or do special appearances at food festivals around the world.

For example Pascal Barbot of the 3 star L'Astrance in Paris will be in Montréal for the Omnivore festival this week-end, so he will not be in Paris to "cook" or handle vip clients (in that case, maybe the restaurant is closed in august, I don't know).

(*) All restaurants are business, but 3 star michelin are the top of the pyramid.

  • 9
    As Jean-Georges Vongerichten once said: 'People always ask, 'Who does the cooking when you're not here?' It's the same person who does it when I am here: the chef de cuisine.' – Dan C Aug 19 '15 at 19:07
9

It's not a bad question. You can always ask, you're a customer, no harm done in asking. Asking or assuming that he/she will personally cook your food would be an entirely different matter.

The Chef does not do Everything.

Just approach it from a different direction: If The Chef thinks his kitchen is in good hands while absent, why shouldn't you? He/she is (presumably) more qualified to judge than you.

  • 8
    In fact, the chef doesn't actually cook but supervises the cooking done by his staff. – BaffledCook Aug 19 '15 at 16:47
  • 1
    Hence the name "Chef" :p Although I assume that every once in a while he actually might touch some kitchen utensils during serving ;) – Willem van Rumpt Aug 19 '15 at 16:48
  • 3
    More accurately, the Chef is the kitchen manager. – MikeTheLiar Aug 19 '15 at 20:14
2

Quite simply,

"the chef is not there" ⇒ "the taste is not the same"

seems to be a logical fallacy.

I suppose that could be true – if the food you ordered required special skills that we assume could only be replicated by the head chef. But I think that's unlikely to reflect reality.

The quality of the restaurant as a whole is more likely to hinge on factors such as recipes, ingredients, freshness, and preparation, as opposed to the abilities of one all-star performer. A kitchen staff can be trained.

It's an interesting question, though, and I've thought of a few analogies: Is a Broadway musical quite the same on a night when an understudy replaces the lead actress? Would you enjoy a concert by The Black Keys as much if they played with a substitute drummer? Is watching the San Antonio Spurs the same on a night when Tony Parker is sidelined by an injury?

Interesting questions. Assuming the understudy can hit all the right notes, though – assuming the drummer can keep time and add fills, and assuming the rest of the Spurs play to win – you are still likely to have an A-1 experience.

Similarly, if we assume the kitchen is staffed by competent professionals, the absence of a head chef is unlikely to affect the taste of a single meal on his or her night off.

That said, if the actress was your favorite actress, or if your sister dated Patrick Carney back when he was in high school and you really wanted to watch him play on stage, or if Tony Parker has been your favorite point guard for some time, then I suppose there would be a tinge of disappointment that you didn't get to watch exactly what you were hoping to see. C'est la vie!

If you happen to know something about the chef and you want to eat there on a day when he is on duty, I suppose there's nothing wrong with calling the restaurant ahead of time, inquiring about the head chef's schedule, and planning accordingly.

  • 4
    Your analogies are generally replacing someone who actually has an active role in the actual ongoing performances; this isn't so drastic. The head chef being missing is more like a Broadway musical without the director there (but they were there for all the rehearsals and so on), or The Black Keys performing without someone who helped with the songwriting and tweaking for recording, or the Spurs playing without their general manager and personal trainers. – Cascabel Aug 19 '15 at 23:27
  • 2
    @Jefromi - Exactly my point. If the Black Keys played with a substitute drummer, or an understudy replaced the lead actress on Broadway, I probably wouldn't even notice. I don't know enough about Broadway or The Black Keys to even recognize the difference – just like I wouldn't notice if a chef was working in the kitchen or napping at home. But your modified analogy is a point well-taken. – J.R. Aug 20 '15 at 0:33
1

In a large restaurant with many staff the chef does not cook, they just tested, planned, and managed some stuff beforehand

You are buying their menu creations/themes, and their location, décor, and staff selection

Personally I would rather not have to work so hard (work less, earn less, spend less), and cook a nice meal for my family and friends at home with top quality ingredients

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.