Thursday, March 26, 2009

On Salt and Pepper

Yesterday during lunch I had the opportunity to observe several tables as they received their food. At three different tables, one of the guests on receiving his food immediately grabbed the salt and pepper mills and even before tasting the food, ground salt and pepper all over it.

Why wouldn't a guest at least taste the food before seasoning it?

As a chef, shouldn't I feel slighted that customers assault the food in this manner?

Over the years, I've seen firsthand that we all have tastebuds that vary remarkably. And so to answer the question, I'm not slighted when customers do this. That's why there are salt and pepper grinders on the table in the first place. Although it is beyond me why people don't taste before seasoning.

This reminds me of the flap years ago when the late and quirky Jean-Louis Palladin at the Watergate Hotel in DC refused to put salt and pepper on the table and refused to let the servers bring salt and pepper to the customers. I liked the man, his food, talent, and passion, but not his resistance to letting customers season food at the table.

Sure, when I send food to the table, I've sent it out how I want it seasoned, but seriously, what is the big deal if customers reseason it? As long as they don't complain about my seasoning and as long as they are happy, I'm happy.

Because seasoning is so subjective and palates are so widely variable, there is no one correct seasoning level. Knowing this, the only thing that I can do is make food that tastes good to me. But over the years, I have also learned to trust my palate. If it tastes good to me, experience shows that it is going to taste good to the vast majority of my customers.

Young chefs everywhere, learn to trust your palate. And just look the other way if your customers add more seasoning. They're not questioning your ability, just making things to their liking.

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