If you are one of the very lucky people like me who actually gets paid to do the thing you love; and is passionate about it, then this just comes with the territory. Unfortunately, it also comes with customer complaints. These don’t happen very often I must add. Usually it’s praise; which in a lot of ways I find harder to deal with than when you are being told you’re not good enough.
Everyone is different. They have different backgrounds and different tastes. Some things that blow some people’s minds, simply just disappoint or even enrage others. It is, and will always be my job to attempt to make everyone happy through the food we produce, but of course, this will rarely happen.
One of my old sous chefs, Holly and I once went to see Rene Redzepi hold a presentation on London following his debt book launch. At this point Noma, his restaurant in Copenhagen had just been named the best restaurant in the world. He opened his presentation not with a video montage of how great everything in his restaurant is; or running through his list of awards; or that thousands of chefs were lining up to work for free; or that he now had a 3 month waiting list, but with a letter of complaint.
A women and her husband travelled all the way to Copenhagen from Spain just to eat at his restaurant. After being disgusted by everything that she was served, she hand wrote him a letter to let him know how disappointed she was, and how his approach and pretty much everything he did, was wrong. The letter went into great detail describing his dishes as bland, mud tasting and vile. This was all read out to the audience with humour, but the message was very clear. Even if you are the best in the world in some people’s eyes, to others; you’re not.
This subject comes up quite a lot for me and my other chefs. Because we cook for such a large demographic of people, it is near impossible to get it right for everyone. Only this week, I have had customers in a new restaurant we have opened saying that the food was amazing! The best that they have ever had! And two minutes later someone else is telling me how vile it was and they will never eat there again.
If this situation came up in other occupations I am sure it would be quite upsetting for people. I have never kicked off at fella in the cinema because the seats were too firm, or told a lady working in Ikea, that this is rubbish and this was all because they changed the box size of some furniture I bought. Have you ever dumped your shopping trolley in Tesco’s because there was a queue at the checkout? Well I haven’t.
There is only one thing that gets me and the other chefs through this. The fact that we are right! Sat Baines, the two Michelin star chef once said, “I am an expert on my food, I am not an expert on food, but on my food; no one knows as much as me.”
It’s not arrogance or cockiness, it’s confidence. This is what we do! We have spent many years honing our skills and our pallet for this, we know what we are doing. I know that we are getting the best and most sustainable local products that we can. Cooking them with little fuss and presenting them simply with great customer service. And that’s enough for me.
My roast potatoes will never be as good as your mums, I am sure your wife makes a lovely hotpot and your nan’s flapjacks are better than mine. This is not due to skill or ingredients, but to nostalgia and unfortunately there isn’t much I can do about that. We won’t get it right every single time because as humans we need to fail. So we can get stronger and better for the next time, but I guarantee this: I won’t stop until we get it for every single person all the time.