Chefs' pet hates: From stale garlic to rude service and customer ailments, top cooks let off steam
Charlie Cooper is Health Correspondent for The Independent, i, and The Independent on Sunday, writing on the NHS, medical advances, and international health. Since joining the papers as an editorial assistant, he has been nominated for young journalist of the year at both the Press Awards and the British Journalism Awards.
Saturday 04 May 2013
Good chefs are people who know what they like. It's a job that makes constant demands on the critical faculties of taste – be it the balance of flavours in a baba ghanoush, the choice of dessert on the menu or the orientation of the dining-room chairs.
But to create world-class food and a five-star dining experience, you also have to know what you hate.
Chefs tend to be people who, to put it delicately, don't hold back when something is not to their liking. Anyone who has ever done a maiden shift as a waiter or pot-washer or – for the steely-hearted – sous chef, will attest to this.
Here, 12 of Britain's most successful chefs open up about the things they really, really hate.
For some, it is a loathed ingredient or a dish they cannot stomach; for others, fatal signs of sloppiness in the kitchen or the irrational behaviour of that fickle creature who – it turns out – is not "always right", the customer.
For a chef, hatred is just a stage in the quest for perfection, the force by which all that is not fit for final presentation is purged from the creative process. Yes, some might say that to 'hate' the misplacing of a salt pot (Michel Roux Jr) or the leaving out of garlic (Sam Clark) is a touch obsessive. But as any good chef will tell you, if standards slip among the small things, the big things soon begin to tumble.
Other hatreds have very deep roots. The boyhood trauma of Daniel Doherty, biting into a chocolate stolen from his parents and being punished by the bitter taste of brandy on his untried palette, is the reason why you will find no alcohol-based desserts at Duck & Waffle, one of London's finest restaurants, where he is now head chef.
But knowing what you are against is the most important part of knowing what you are for. Tom Kerridge hates fine dining – "hushed tones" and "overbearing waiters" – and has created a pub in Marlow, The Hand and Flowers, that is an antidote to all of that, while still earning two Michelin stars. Michael Caines hates "froth and style" and has risen to the top of the profession by eschewing gimmickry and focusing on flavour and atmosphere.
So in the spirit of perfectionism, passion and with a large helping of unadulterated bile, let's hear it for culinary hatred.
MICHEL ROUX JR
My pet hate in the kitchen is untidiness. I'm slightly OCD, as a lot of chefs are. I just can't stand chefs that work in an untidy way and don't put things away properly. It really annoys me. There's a salt pot in our kitchen and it's been in its particular corner since 1981, and if it's not there, I have a fit. I get very, very upset, and everybody knows that. If you want to piss me off at work, move that salt pot. There are many other little things like that. Everything should have its place. Sometimes it does take over my life – at least my wife says so.
Michel Roux Jr is appearing at Taste of London 2013, 20-23 June in Regent's Park; tickets are available from tastefestivals.com/london
It might be a bit controversial, but my pet hate is made-up customer ailments. Over the past five years the amount of ridiculous dietary requirements you get is mad. We've had someone who doesn't eat anything with four legs! Another who said they'd eat nothing that flies! I read that one in 10 special diets is a legitimate special diet. It's getting ridiculous. We bend over backwards for customers, it's important, but when you get people who don't eat shellfish, but eat lobsters and oysters – surprise, surprise, the most expensive thing on the menu – it can be a bit tiresome. You want to say: "Do you want to come in and write the menu?". We take allergies seriously, but sometimes people claim they're allergic when they just don't like something.
Michael Wignall is head chef at the two Michelin-starred The Latymer, Surrey
I don't like coriander – that's just a personal thing. I will eat it if I see it in certain dishes, but it's not my favourite thing by a long shot. I find it too pungent and overpowering. You see a lot of this senseless garnish. Sometimes you go to restaurants and it is all garnish, to make it look pretty. An experienced chef will appreciate that there shouldn't be anything superfluous on a plate. If it doesn't add flavour there isn't much point. I can't deny, I do put coriander in some of my dishes, it works with sea bream and scallops – not to my taste, but I can appreciate it.
Angela Hartnett MBE is the Michelin-starred chef patron at Murano, London
I hate crème caramel. It does nothing for me. In fact, it's like eating smooth frogspawn. And the egginess of the flavour – everything about it makes me shiver. It has never, ever gone on one of my menus. I once went to a friend's and they didn't tell us what we were having. Dessert came and there it was – crème caramel, oh no! I don't remember the first time I had it. I can't say where the dislike has come from. It must have been not long after I started cooking.
Matt Gillan is the Michelin-starred head chef at The Pass, West Sussex
My pet hate is being served before my wife or, if I am the host, before any of my guests. I find it totally inexcusable; in my mind it is the first rule we learnt at college and probably at home. Looking after the other guests, ladies first, is the correct approach. Hopefully it doesn't seem sexist in these modern times! I am flabbergasted by the number of waiters who serve me first when Jane and I eat out. We share a knowing smile and make a note but I rarely do more than that. If I saw it happening in my restaurant I would probably remind the waiter of his mother or girlfriend and ask what they would expect. I may not be too gentle in my question.
Marcus Wareing is the Michelin-starred chef patron of Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley
Micro greens: I hate them. You see them everywhere, from your local pub to fine-dining restaurants (another term I hate). I just don't see the point: nothing to crunch on. They are just a glorified version of picked chervil or dill which blows off when the plate leaves the kitchen. You can't use them as a salad ingredient because you can't get dressing on them. And they're everywhere. It's just an easy option, when people could be sourcing some really tasty salad leaves. They're bloody expensive as well!
Chef and restaurateur Mark Hix owns five restaurants, including Tramshed in east London, and Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis. Turn to page 50 for his cuttlefish recipes
I hate chocolate with alcohol in any form. Alcohol should not go anywhere near desserts. When you think you've got a nice chocolate truffle with a caramel centre and you bite into it and brandy comes oozing out, it is awful. I must have been about 10 years old, stealing my mum and dad's chocolates when I first discovered that – taught me a lesson I'd never forget. Now you won't find alcohol in my puddings. I might cook out the alcohol, reduce it down in a Champagne sorbet or something – but the thought of a chocolate mousse with a brandy fondant makes me want to self-harm. All you can taste is raw alcohol.
Daniel Doherty is head chef at Duck & Waffle, London
Something I can't abide is customers who come in with hoards of shopping wares and want to keep them around the table. That's what we have cloakrooms for. Coats as well – it's not as if anyone is going to walk off with them, it's a Michelin-starred restaurant! It makes the restaurant look unruly. I'm a cook, and cooks being courteous doesn't go together, that's why they keep me in the kitchen, but I do ask our restaurant manager to politely ask customers to take their bags to the cloakroom. People even come from Heathrow with luggage and you think: "Christ, what's so valuable in there that you can't part with it?". They might as well be handcuffed to them. I can't stand it.
Anthony Demetre is the co-founder of London restaurants Arbutus, Wild Honey and Les Deux Salons
I have never liked Coca-Cola. I have always found it rather unattractive. I think I was probably influenced by all of those stories, whether they're true or not, about leaving a tooth in a glass of Coca-Cola and seeing it dissolve [Coca-Cola says they are not true]. The only time I drank it was in 1998 when I was in Chengdu in China. Nato had just accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and there were these violent demonstrations against foreigners. There was a rowdy protest outside the American Consulate in Chengdu and I, a bit foolishly, went down there out of curiosity. The atmosphere started getting a bit ugly and I was the only foreigner there. I was rescued by this young waiter who very swiftly led me to his restaurant. He gave me a glass of Coca-Cola – I was so grateful to him and in no position to argue that I drank it down.
Fuchsia Dunlop is a chef and food writer specialising in Chinese cuisine
I don't hate many things but one thing that you will never find in dishes at Kaspar's is white truffle oil. I don't think it is necessarily a bad ingredient but is so overused. It has such a rich flavour that if you use too much it completely takes over a dish, wiping out any other flavour that might be in there. It is used in a lot of pasta sauces.
James Pare is head chef at Kaspar's Seafood Bar and Grill, a new restaurant, which opened on Thursday at the Savoy, London
The thing I hate at the moment is chefs' obsessive use of froth and style over substance of food. There's a balance to be had between great technique that improves flavour with the need for an individual to show they are clever. There's quite a dangerous trend among young chefs to look at gimmickry more than the actual technical ability to cook. It's a fine balancing act. Those that do it well do it really well. The problem is when people do it without really having the depth of knowledge. They are missing the point of what people go out to eat for. A lot of young people are coming up thinking they are going to be the next Heston.
Michael Caines MBE is the two Michelin-starred executive chef at Gidleigh Park, Devon and a director of ABode Hotels
I hate hushed dining rooms. It's that term 'fine dining'. The idea of sitting in a country-house hotel, where all you hear is the clink of cutlery and chinking of glasses and everyone – including the overbearing waiters – speaking in hushed tones, is my worst nightmare. Eating out is surely about having fun and being able to talk to each other, rather than worrying about using the wrong knife and fork. But that is changing. You only have to look at Pollen Street Social. It's a Michelin-starred restaurant, but it's also fun and buzzy. Of course, there are still places doing the full-on starched tablecloth thing. But it shouldn't be about the dining room's own ego.
Tom Kerridge is the owner and head chef of The Hand and Flowers, Marlow, the first pub in the UK to be awarded two Michelin stars
SAM & SAM CLARK
Sam (right): I just hate stale garlic. The minute you put a knife into garlic or crush it, its flavour starts to change, and there’s nothing worse than a dish that has that stale-garlic flavour. We use a lot of garlic in our yogurt sauces or for flavouring baba ghanoush, so we have pestles and mortars dotted around the kitchen – I’m constantly going round to chefs saying, “Don’t use that garlic! It’s too old”. We always crush garlic with salt and also, to keep that freshness, we use a few drops of fresh lemon juice. I won’t leave it out – not even for five or 10 minutes.
Sam and Sam Clark’s Lebanese-inspired dishes will feature in Moro's lunch and dinner menus from 7-31 May. See moro.co.uk
There are three things. First of all, Fernet-Branca. This is difficult for me because in Argentina it’s like a national drink. The other is – no offence to Italian restaurants – but when you are eating and the waiter comes in with a pepper mill – I hate that! I just don’t like the ceremony of it. The last one is figs. I remember one summer in Patagonia when I was nine years old, we ate too many. Since that day I can’t have them. I can cook with them but I don’t think I will ever eat one again. My father loves them though. Every time we get together I have to sit at the table while he gets through three or four kilos of figs.
Diego Jacquet is chef patron at London’s Argentinian restaurants, Casa Malevo and Zoilo
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