Here’s a question for Ask the Critics: when and under what circumstances is it ever acceptable for a customer to enter a restaurant’s kitchen to request that the chef not loudly berate his staff?
If he recent experience of Times writer Ron Lieber is any indication, the answer is never, unless you don’t mind being kicked out of the restaurant for your trouble. That’s what happened to Lieber last Saturday night, when he was dining at Restaurant Marc Forgione.
Lieber writes on Diner’s Journal that shortly after he and his party were seated, “we heard yelling — loud, sustained, top-of-lungs yelling — coming from the kitchen. Mr. Forgione was dressing down a member of the staff, in full view of many of the customers. The dining room quieted as patrons exchanged uncomfortable glances.”
When the server reappeared at Lieber’s table, he was clearly shaken. After the server returned to the kitchen, Lieber writes, “the chef was at it again. Fifteen seconds. Another fifteen. And without much forethought, I pushed back my chair and walked through the open doorway of the kitchen….I told the chef that his behavior was making me and others uncomfortable. I let him know that I thought it was mean. And I asked him to cut it out. I don’t remember exactly what he said in response, but whatever it was, I found it irritating enough that I reminded him that I was paying to eat there and told him again to stop berating his staff at that volume.”
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Forgione didn’t appreciate Lieber’s intervention. So he kicked him out of his restaurant.
When Lieber called the chef to tell him he would be writing about the incident for the Times, Forgione remained unrepentant, telling the writer that “…you came into my kitchen and spoke to me very disrespectfully in front of my cooks…The kitchen is a sacred space…you waved a hand in my direction as if I was an annoying bug. Someone who acts like that in my restaurant, I would never serve.”
There are now 183 comments attached to the post, with opinion on Lieber’s behavior largely falling in the “good for you!”/”I wish I had your moral fortitude” camp. There are some dissenters who note that both Forgione and Lieber were wrong, and that while Forgione shouldn’t have been yelling, Lieber shouldn’t have “barged in” to his kitchen. “He’s a bully, you’re a busybody. Both wrong,” notes commenter BobC.
Putting aside the question of who is right or wrong, Lieber’s experience — and that of his fellow diners — was without question affected by the chef’s yelling, which by default made his behavior the business of anyone in the restaurant within earshot. Which is not a particularly wise move for a chef with an interest in promoting his work or being judged solely on the merits of his food. Regardless of what Forgione said to his hapless server or what Lieber said in the server’s defense, the whole incident leaves a pretty rancid aftertaste.