Chef Mil

Berkeley, CA

Female, 49

I have been working in restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years (two of the restaurants had been in the SF Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurants). I have cooked mostly Mediterranean food, but have some experience with Asian food. I went to cooking school, and worked my way up from being a prep cook (think--prepping 3 cases of artichokes, de-boning 100 quail, and juicing a case of lemons!) to being a chef at a well known restaurant in my area. And no, I am not the yelling type! :)

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93 Questions


Last Answer on March 14, 2013

Best Rated

Finally, a chef! Tell me, if a customer sends a dish back because they don't like it and explains why, do you get offended, or do you appreciate constructive criticism?

Asked by sara almost 12 years ago

Hi Sara, I appreciate constructive criticism. If they can tell me why they didn't like it, that is more helpful than "I don't like it" said in a nasty tone. For example, if a customer says that they think a dish is too sweet, and maybe something acid would offset that, I will listen. I usually enjoy conversations like this. The chefs I have worked with that mentored me were always looking to improve their dishes, so that's how I have always worked and have run my kitchen. Do you have a story that goes with this question?

How do you feel about services like Yelp? It can be tough to tell which reviews are legitimate when there are so many "best ever!" and "worst ever!" reviews for the same restaurant!

Asked by 1 man 1 bike almost 12 years ago

Hi 1 man, From what I've seen with Yelp, I think the reviews pretty much jibe with the goodness of the food. Of course, there will always be one or two naysayers, but if the reviews are gushinginly positive overall, I will go. I haven't had a bad experience yet with any restaurant that has gotten at least 4 1/2 stars yet. I don't mess with any restaurants that have less than that!

Assuming the chef is not the owner, how much say does the chef get in creating the menu?

Asked by jeff bx almost 12 years ago

Hi Jeff, That was my situation. I think it depends on how much the owner knows and trusts you, first. I would always discuss my ideas and/or let my boss taste something I'm testing. Since I had worked for them for several years and they trusted my palate, they pretty much let me do what I wanted within the parameters of the cuisine.

Is it true that you should never order the specials, because that's the stuff that's been sitting around awhile and the restaurant is trying to get rid of it?

Asked by D. Mouse almost 12 years ago

I would have to say there is some truth to that. We once had some leftover smoked duck breast and membrillo allioli. Someone got the bright idea to put it together in a sandwich with arugula. It was yummy! So I suppose there are varying degrees of how gross this could get. :)

Re criticism, I have a couple of times politely offered suggestions (e.g. "too sweet", "too salty", "too many unnecessary garnishes" etc), and every time I seem to get a terse "thanks" with an implied "F U" behind it. Now I just keep my mouth shut :(

Asked by sara almost 12 years ago

Sara, I'm sorry to hear that. I wish that hadn't happened to you as I know it could be intimidating. Has this happened at restaurants where you are a regular? I think if you are a regular and have a relationship with the kitchen, this is less likely to happen. If not, try this next time--compliment the cooks or the chef and talk about what you did like about the meal (or a former meal). You know, soften them up. The cooks and chefs, believe me, usually don't get tired of hearing compliments. And then, drop in a "what if" question. For example, "what do you think the dish would taste like if you pulled back on the sweet?" And then quickly follow up with another compliment. It's like making a sandwich. Compliment/criticism/compliment. If you do ever implement this plan, I'd love to hear how it goes.

Do you train your waiters how to describe dishes to customers? Are all your waiters required to have tried everything on the menu?

Asked by anthony almost 12 years ago

Hi Anthony, I always wanted the waitstaff to taste the food so they can describe for themselves the dishes rather than using some rote words I provided. I can always tell when I go into a restaurant when the description comes from experience or from memorization. The waitstaff I worked with were usually pretty knowledgeable, so I left it up to them to describe the dishes. I like hearing enthusiasm about a dish rather than some words the chef told them to say. But of course, I always let them know the ingredients in the dish. :)

Have you ever worked in a restaurant where they saved uneaten food from one customer and served it to the next one?

Asked by boris not natasha almost 12 years ago

Eww, yuck no. I wouldn't ever work in a place like that. The cooks and I might have a piece of meat that was sent back as overdone and not touched, but no. My dad told me story, when I was younger, about getting a toothpick in his food once, and how disgusting that was. It made quite an impression on me!