Why Professional Chefs Rarely Order Chicken At A Restaurant

Perusing a menu at a new restaurant, we often ask ourselves what a professional chef would order. After all, we trust the experts to teach us about trendy ingredients, culinary shortcuts, and cooking techniques. It's only logical to seek their advice before deciding on dinner.

One protein has risen to the top of the list as an instant no from the experts: chicken. The popular poultry, though a staple in kitchens worldwide, simply doesn't appeal. That's because the bird receives a high markup in restaurants and is often no better than what the chefs out for dinner could make themselves, with many assuming the dish will be boring or even dry. 

Of course, there are caveats. If a spot specializes in chicken or truly takes pride in the dish, a professional chef is more likely to order it. Non-industry diners can suss out an exciting chicken dish by gauging their waiter's opinion, checking the critical reception, and visiting establishments where the menu is thoughtfully curated.

Chicken's off the menu — usually

This aversion to restaurant chicken isn't new. In a 1999 article for The New Yorker, chef Anthony Bourdain railed against the bird when he exposed a handful of hospitality secrets. "Chicken — America's favorite food — goes bad quickly; handled carelessly, it infects other foods with salmonella; and it bores the hell out of chefs," wrote Bourdain. "It occupies its ubiquitous place on menus as an option for customers who can't decide what they want to eat."

More than 20 years later, some industry members still fear an undercooked bird and dread an overcooked one — and they don't just avoid roasted chicken. Breaded cutlets, used in chicken parmesan, inspire the same reaction. Chefs see the preparation as boring, fodder for picky diners, or inauthentic (and often frozen) compared to other menu items.

Before you argue that the bird has been unfairly maligned, poultry has also gained some defenders in high places. New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells almost always orders chicken and is at times surprised and delighted by the chef's creation.

Other dishes to avoid (and embrace)

According to professional chefs, pasta is another menu staple that doesn't offer much bang for your buck. The inexpensive combination of noodles and a basic sauce repels industry members, who believe this is another item they can make at home or is overpriced. Similarly, trendy tinned fish is beginning to turn off those in the know, who avoid ordering appetizers featuring the pantry item due to its markup. Another controversial order among chefs is soup. A restaurant's lengthy specials menu can be a red flag that food isn't fresh, and a soup or stew can serve as a dumping ground for the kitchen's leftovers. 

As for what you should order, restaurant critics suggest looking to the menu for clues. Keep in mind which ingredients are in season, as well as the dishes that sound creative or unexpected. No matter what you order, try following Anthony Bourdain's advice on the best day of the week to go to a restaurant to maximize your chances of a fantastic meal. Above all, use the experience to inspire your own cooking, just like the professionals do.