Learning from Feedback

As the head chef of a new 5-Star restaurant, you are anxiously preparing for the opening in three months. Your menu is mostly set, and you’ve talked about your ideas with your food industry friends and they’re excited. You want to try out some of your dishes on people who aren’t in the industry, so you invite over a friend that you haven’t seen in a while.. Your guest arrives about 5 minutes before the dish is done and sits at the table in your kitchen. You make small talk as you fill his plate with some noodles and chunks of shrimp and some sauce except it’s all cooler than that because you’re a bad-ass chef and this writer isn’t. You put the plate in front of him, and pass him a fork and knife. You lean against the counter still wearing your apron, a little too antsy to sit, but make sure you don’t stare him down as he eats.

[Guest eats for a couple minutes]

Guest: Huh

Chef: Pardon?

Guest: Yeah, it’s good!

Chef: Great! Thanks!

Guest: It’s just that…

Chef: What?

Guest: Usually, at least this is how I think it is in fancy restaurants, but I think I’m supposed to get a spoon.

Chef: Oh no, is the sauce too runny? [You turn to grab a spoon from a drawer].

Guest: Oh, the sauce is fine. I just think you probably will want to give the guests a spoon at your restaurant. I don’t need a spoon for this dish, but you probably want to have spoons available.

Chef: Oh [You put the spoon down next to his plate.] Sure. Well, obviously.

Guest: As for the food, I really like it.

Chef: Good. Can you tell me what you like? How’s the arrangement? Does the shrimp go well with the sauce?

Guest: Yeah, all that works. I think the plate is a little banged up though. If I came to a fancy restaurant and was served on a plate like this, I would think it wasn’t that great of a place.

[The plate you’ve given him the dish on is a large circular white ceramic plate. It’s generic – we all have one. You have a couple mismatched plates of this size scavenged from other housemates you’ve lived with over the years. This might be one of the older ones. It’s definitely clean and safe to eat on, but there are some chips around the edge.]

Chef:Oh. For the restaurant, we’re actually ordering these gorgeous new plates that match the interior decoration. Can you tell me about the food?

Guest: Hm…[he takes another mouthful of food and slowly chews it as he looks down at this dish. Finally, he swallows again.] I’m just really distracted by this plate.

Chef: Should I…put it on another one?

Guest: Yeah, that would be good.

[You look through your cupboards for a nice, new plate you got as a present from your grandmother. You find it in the back: pristine, but dusty. You spend a few minutes rinsing it off and drying it while your guest sits there, arms crossed, waiting for you. Finally, you transfer the dish from his original plate to your grandma’s by tilting the first plate to one side and letting it slide from one to the other. You put the original, dejectedly chipped plate in the sink and turn back to face him.]

Guest: Hmm, the presentation of the food isn’t so good now.

Chef: I’d really like to hear how the tastes go together. I can spend lots of time on presentation later, but for now I just want to know if it tastes good. I’m just trying things out.

Guest: Oh. Well…the noodles were a little hard. You probably need to cook them for longer.

[You actually used a type of noodle that is supposed to be a little hard, and gets harder when boiled for longer. If anything, you might have over-cooked them because you’re not used to them. It’s some new gluten whatever thing. I’m obviously making this up.]

Chef: [consider explaining new noodle type, decide not to.] Noted.

Guest: I mean, when I cook noodles, usually I pull one out every few minutes and test it. You probably just cooked it for the amount of time it said on the package and then took it off boil. That’s a common mistake.

Chef: Right.

Guest: How long did you cook them for?

Chef: Actually, it’s a little different. Don’t worry about it. Tell me what you think about the sauce.

Guest: I feel like you’re ignoring me though. Cooking noodles right is really important, and honestly not that hard. They’re, like, carbs. It’s the foundation of the food pyramid. Right now, they’re much chewier than I’m used to.

Chef: It’s a new type of noodle. You have to cook them a different way. I’m still learning with them.

Guest: Yeah, you definitely screwed up by not cooking them long enough.

Chef: Right.

Guest: The sauce needs more cayenne pepper, I think.

[The dish is pretty spice as-is. Definitely on the upper-bound of white people tolerance.]

Chef: Oh really? Man, I thought it was pretty spicy.

Guest: Oh no, the spicyness is perfect right now. It just needs more cayenne pepper.

Chef: Why do you say that?

Guest: Hm. It… it just doesn’t seem right.

Chef: Can you tell me what doesn’t seem right?

Guest: For something like this, it kind of reminds me of Pad Thai. Pad Thai comes with that sauce sometimes on the side. I really like that sauce. This sauce just doesn’t look right.

Chef: Oh, you mean chile paste?

Guest: Yeah, the red sauce! This sauce should be more red. Cayenne pepper is red, you could use some of that.

Chef: Oh. Yes. Thanks.

[Mostly silence, with some more small talk as the guest finishes up his food. When he finishes, he gets up and shakes your hand, which turns into a hug. He wishes you luck with the restaurant and heads out while you clean up the kitchen.]