Eat This, Not That

Tthe Soup Nazi

Recently, The New York Times ran a piece about the reluctance of certain chefs and restaurant owners to change their dishes in the interests of accommodating customers.

This is really a New York thing, and some of the refusals are understandable. The owner of Murray’s Bagels, having conducted a fanatical quest for many years to create a perfect product, will not toast a bagel in his shop (I grew up in New York, and if someone asks me if I want my bagel toasted, my usual response is: “Only if it’s stale.”). Café Grumpy refuses to grind more than one pound of coffee for customers at a time, nor will they sell espresso to go.

This flies in the face of the trend to “have it your way,” but what makes these quirks seem logical is the quality issues underlining them. We can imagine a consumer saying something like this: “I went to Café Grumpy because they were supposed to have the best coffee in the city, but it turned out to be ordinary.” If you bought three pounds of ground coffee and let it sit around for months, odds are it wouldn’t be very good at all.

Then there are chefs who fancy themselves to be the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci, and will not even accommodate the dietary restrictions of customers. A case in point is David Chang, proprietor of the Michelin-starred Momofuku Ko in lower Manhattan. “The customer is not always right,” proclaims Mr. Chang, who serves a set menu to no more than one dozen diners each night. “My personal opinion is that a lot of people say they have a special allergy or they don’t like something so they can get better service.”

This is nonsense, and Mr. Chang could prove it by visiting a number of restaurants and asking for menu changes—the result is almost always a dish that lacks the harmony and vibrancy of the original. Allergies, however, are another matter (unless you’re at Momofuku Ko, that is). Perhaps Mr. Chang is a physician as well as a chef, and can diagnose allergies by sight. Perhaps he’s just incapable of telling the truth: I’m a control freak, and I know better than you what you should put into your mouth. Some diners find this charming, and at least 12 every night are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because his talent is apparently as large as his ego.



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