Monthly Archives: September 2010

anything you’re allergic to? – the rise & rise of food snobbery !

One of the countless positives of getting a little older and hopefully wiser …is that you get a lot more comfortable speaking your mind and also being a lot less tolerant of nonsense. There are countless examples of this in daily life… but there is one particular aspect of life I feel has slowly been getting out of control…. namely Restaurants.

There has never been a bigger global focus on food as there is currently. The big name chefs are treated like rock stars and they no longer sit in noisy hot kitchens…they are out there in our faces. They have become brand names and they demand outrageous money for their services. The latest financial crisis aside… most of the big name restaurants are booked out months in advance. Not because their food is suddenly so outstanding … but the marketing of food and cooking in general has reached incredible levels. Suddenly even average chefs have an attitude (not that most chefs ever lost the attitude) and they basically dictate what we can or can’t enjoy on our plates. The bigger the chef name…the less choice the customer has. You eat what’s given to you…quite literally. No variations accepted by the “chef”. He “knows” what is the “best” way to serve the chosen meal… and THAT is the way you have to have it.

Then of course there is the “set” menu routine. Now… I can understand from a management perspective that the chef wants to have a set menu… its far more efficient and it gives the kitchen the opportunity to do a number of things well. There are also a number of other arguments put forward by chefs…most of which I can “sort of” understand. If the chef happens to be a boy or girl genius who wants us to taste his/her new creations then I am comfortable in trying a set menu which highlights his/her skills. I am also comfortable in having a set menu from a Michelin-star chef who has an outstanding repertoire and you know that no matter what he (or she) serves you… it will be sublime (read: Ferran Adrià…Heston Blumenthal). The idea is to let the “master” take you on a gastronomic magic carpet ride… to expose your taste buds to  the equivalent of a multiple orgasm experience. That’s not only acceptable… but you would be willing to totally forgive the three month waiting list that normally applies to such establishments. We are talking a Multi-O experience after all… albeit gastronomic.

The problem is that some smaller places… as in “much” smaller places…. with chef’s that are clearly delusional… also develop an attitude and they start to dictate what you can or can’t do with the meal that your hard-earned cash buys from them. They have set menus and they often try to tell you that there are no variations to the “way the chef recommends” the meal is presented.

On top of that you have waiters that can often make Manuel (Faulty Towers) seem like a child prodigy…. and you have a very ordinary dining experience. I realise that good staff are hard to find… but a lot of the blame has to go to the so called owners/managers/chefs that obviously have no  control or are clueless as to the training and performance of their service staff. It can and often does turn what is meant to be a very pleasant experience… into something similar to watching a very bad sitcom… except you’re IN it.

Then you get the theatrical waiter… the guy who thinks that every table is a chance to perform a Monty Python skit. They become animated…raise their voice to ridiculous levels given the intimacy of most restaurants… and they generally act as if they are in a vaudeville act. The really bad ones also throw in some “attempted” humour… and actually laugh at their own jokes… whilst staring into the perplexed faces of the poor diners. Throw in a fake accent or two…and you have an evening of terrible theatre…. and that’s before you even tasted the food.

On a night when you just feel like a nice quiet dinner with a loved one… some beautiful food and a nice drop of fine wine…. you get bozo the clown telling you what you can or can’t have…. and almost yelling at you as he explains his inexplicable menu. Often in a fake Italian/French accent of course….

Try and picture this if you please… a tiny restaurant with every table full. The Bozo (aka maitre d‘) is prancing around as if he has ants in his pants and making more awful noise than the Sex Pistols did on their hey day. He goes from table to table to supposedly “explain” the menu… which is a weird combo of part “set” and part a la carte. His voice is like a boom-box that echoes off the walls of the tiny restaurant… everyone looking irritated except for him – he of course is totally enamored with the sound of his own voice. He runs through a well-rehearsed routine while he waves his arms around and gives everyone on the table the sort of fake smile you get from a neighbour when he looks at you whilst your dog is pissing on his front lawn. He finally arrives at our table (caps denote LOUD voice):

– GOOD EVENINGGGGGGGGG (fake Italian accent in full force)

– hi…

(after several lines of complete and utter drivel…)

– NOW… I WOULD LIKE TO EXPLAIN OUR SPECIAL MENU TO YOU…WILL ONLY TAKE A FEW MINUTES

– well… as a matter of fact (at this point he cuts me off…..it’s Saturday night after a long week…I’m tired and thoroughly pissed off by this stage)

– BUT…FIRST THING IS FIRST…. ARE YOU ALLERGIC TO ANYTHING?  (looks down on us with the fake smile)

– yes …as a matter of fact I am (returning the fake smile). I’m allergic to bullshit…..

– (silence…..blank stare, hands together in front of his chest…looking at the table but NOT directly at me)

– now…. (looking up at him)  I would like the Sicilian grilled octopus and the lady would like “xyz”…. we would also like a bottle of  “abc” and IF we require you for anything else I will call you…. (more fake smile)…. capish?

His beady little eyes are now looking down… he has his hands together in front of him…. nods deeply and almost whispers “very well sir”…

He retreats quietly to his kitchen area. Wife looks at me and says…. “that was cruel…”

– oh pleaseeeee….

In all honesty I fully understand what the restaurant staff go through…. I have been in the business and I know that customers can be very very painful. But at the end of the day it’s the customer’s money… and it’s the customer’s night out… he/she/they should be able to enjoy what they want… the way they want it. Without the theatrics or rudeness of Bozo the clown and without the prima-donna in the kitchen telling us what to have and how to have it.

Time we took back control of our dining experience……. just saying   ; ~/

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The cool verse

Oia Santorini – Scenes of a Greek island summer

August in Greece… the islands buzzing with excitement. Most of Europe is on holidays and it seems a vast majority chose Greece as their destination of choice. The islands are a cauldron of nationalities… almost every imaginable language is heard as you casually walk through narrow streets and lanes… day or night. Santorini… as an island… walks to it’s own beat when it comes to tourism. There is no crisis here… there are no weekdays or weekends. It’s one long summer of lovers and lovers of the island… the two not being mutually exclusive. There is good reason of course… this is not just any island. Of all the Greek islands… this is the mother pearl… the crown jewel of the mythical Aegean Sea. The one they all dream about…

People enjoy waterside dining that can often be a surreal experience. From this
very spot at Dimitri’s (Ammoudi) you can not only watch the sunset and all of the old sailing boats… but after dark you may also/ see some of the largest cruise ships in the world sail quietly passed your table. There are thousands of
waterside taverna’s in Greece… but Ammoudi is in another class.

this is of course the place where your very own cave dweller has been known to enjoy the odd grilled octopus and perhaps…just perhaps… an ouzo or three.

as if that (grilled octopus & ouzo/wine) is not enough… there is a certain sunset that a few people talk about… which can also be seen from your table. Is it any wonder people lose their minds here…

summer is enjoyed in many ways… but lingering on a balmy night at a waterside taverna with good friends… fresh seafood and chilled wine… is not hard to take!

Meantime the village itself is filled with sunset visitors… each wanting the perfect photo… the perfect sunset experience… the desire to somehow capture the magic of the village… to create memories for the future.

my good friend and neighbour waits patiently for the passing sunsetters to buy
some of her home-made produce… she’s a gorgeous lady and I hope you
stop and buy something if you’re visiting Oia (speaking of gorgeous… the three
Italian kids being held by their mother could’ve made the cover of Italian Vogue on any day…beautiful family) !

when sunset is over and the nightly exodus starts you don’t want to be walking against the crowd… it’s like the end of a concert and people are pouring out of the venue just as you’re trying to go in.

but for me… none of that matters because my sunsets are usually spent at home…where the view is a lot more entertaining and I have it all to myself. When this photo was taken I didn’t realise the poignant message of the heading on the magazine page… until much later. A random moment in time that somehow captures the essence of it all ; )

PS: as there are more frequent (short) posts on Facebook than the blog…. you might like to join me there from time to time as well. The name is same as the blog (OiaSantorini)… so make yourself known as a blog reader and I can add you !