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Keep that chef away from the food

August 12, 2009 | Frank Bonanno

In this month’s Bon Appetit, Andrew Knowlton says high-visibility chefs should stay off the line and work the dining room. There’s such truth in that statement, but I’m back there cooking every week anyway — tossing pizza one night, different station, different restaurant the next (and so on)–disrupting the flow and the camaraderie and subtlety tweaking dishes as they pass before me. Why?
I love to cook. When I meditate, I imagine a slightly flawed apple or onion, slowly turning it until my mind clears (or I fall asleep). My bathroom is lined with cookbooks sandwiching my own notebooks and personal recipes. I love to cook.
I like it better than working the floor (though I do that, too, because some really great people come through those doors). I have three venues with open lines, so clients can see me back there sweating and burning myself, and they seem to think the food is a little better when I’m back there. Whether it’s true or not is another thing entirely—but if it makes people feel better about the restaurants and makes me feel better about my cooking. . . well, that’s a good thing.
Now the cooks, I can’t say exactly how they feel about having me back there—but here’s what I like to imagine. Sometimes it’s a little awkward; I intrude on the ebb and flow of a well tuned line. But in my mind, they get used to my presence, and they remember that I can sweat and burn myself and make it through a crazy busy night—and they remember that I’m a really good cook. And it’s important to me that the really good cooks I work with think that about me. So they feel better about the skills of the man who trains them, and I feel better knowing I’m on top of things . . .and that’s a good thing, too.
So yes, I should stay out of the kitchen. But I can’t. Because I don’t think my chef whites should really be so white, and I’m slightly suspicious when others’ are (except Toshi).
Because I love to cook.