Life is filled with wonderful things and terrible things. During interviews, however, we pretty much only get to hear about the wonderful things. Ten Things I Hate is a chance for people in the food world to get things off their chest. We ask them what they hate, they give us a list. Next up: Andrew Zimmerman. Yes, you read that right.
Sometimes all you have in life is your name. When that name happens to be very similar to somebody else in your profession, things can get very dicey. Just ask Andrew Zimmerman, Executive Chef of Chicago's Sepia. Since coming onboard in 2009, the talented chef has garnered all sorts of awards including a Michelin Star and a James Beard “Best Chef: Great Lakes” nomination, yet people still get him confused with Bizarre Foods superstar Andrew Zimmern (who, coincidentally, did his own 10 Things I Hate back in July). That's not all that's bugging one of Chicago's best chefs, as you'll soon see in Andrew Zimmerman's version.
1. Seasons exist
I hate the fact that in pursuit of the very worthwhile goal of feeding large numbers of people, we lost sight of the importance of seasonality — eating what is grown locally and the merits of enjoying food at its best. I love that we are slowly getting back to it, though.
2. Back to bones
I hate that the American dining public prefers to live a fiction wherein none of the animals they eat ever had bones. Any cook knows that food cooked on the bone is better, but the diner doesn't want to have to deal with it. We made "boneless chicken wings" for cryin' out loud! The whole point of a chicken wing is it is the perfect meat/bone/skin ratio. Don't get me started on the McRib.
3. The problem with culinary school
I hate that culinary schools can't beat the students like some 1950s French chef archetype. On a certain level the schools are capitalizing on the recent explosion of the popularity of celebrity chefs and cooking. They are extremely expensive considering that an entry level cook in a fine dining restaurant makes comparatively low wages. The students get out with only a very basic foundation of knowledge but they often are saddled with so much debt that they can't afford to REALLY learn how to cook by working their way up slowly under the guidance of talented cooks and chefs. They have to believe that they are ready for sous chef positions and chef's positions that they really aren't ready for. Just because you broke down twenty pounds of fish yesterday doesn't mean you know what you're doing. It is a long, hard road of humility and repetition that makes great chefs. The 1950's French chef would have made that point by making you pluck ducks and chickens for a year before you ever even saw where the stove was. And then he'd only let you clean it.
4. Chef fake-out
I hate when people say they're allergic to something or that they are vegan, and they just aren't. We get notes on many of our guests. Often they will say someone in the party is vegan or has a particular allergy. We make sure to be prepared when the guest arrives, steps were taken, time was spent, resources allocated. And then the "vegan" orders…the fish? It happens. Makes me nuts. Same way when our servers ask if a guest has any allergies or restrictions and they say "no, no we're fine" and I send out their food and it comes back because they "remembered" their nut allergy in the interim.
5. Unpopular opinion
I hate oysters. I like them in theory but not in practice. I know this is heresy from a chef, but there it is. They are like oceanic snot. One time, a chef friend sent my wife and me two dozen very special oysters that he was super excited about. My wife (who isn't a big fan of 'em either) was newly pregnant and didn't want any. I had to eat all of them. And smile the whole time.
6. Avoid tpyos
I hate poorly written resumes. You are trying to get a job. Spellcheck it. Know that I read stupid ones aloud in funny voices. I keep the really amazing ones in a special folder. Everything we do as cooks is about executing many small steps to accomplish a bigger goal. Attention to detail is the whole game. If you can't apply that mindset to your resume, you won't apply it to my food either.
7. Stay sharp
I hate dull knives. Just weak sauce. Be a professional and learn how to sharpen that expensive Japanese chef's knife you just bought, please.
8. Not enough hours in the day
I hate the fact that every good idea I have seems to be super labor-intensive. I don’t try to do it, it’s just that good, honest and serious cooking is that way. I would kill though, for a couple of fast, easy, delicious and good-looking ideas.
9. Two different people, folks
I hate when guests confuse me with Andrew Zimmern. Don’t get me wrong, Andrew Zimmern is a super-nice guy — yes, we’ve met — and his show exposes people to amazing food. But when I’m asked to go to a table because the guests want to “meet the chef” and I walk up, and they stare at me, blankly at first, then a look that says “you’re not who we wanted to meet," well, it’s a bummer. I feel like I’ve let them down somehow by being…me. Sometimes I’ll just stand there at their table chewing on a bull’s testicle or crunching on fried grubs, but you can tell it just isn’t the same.
10. Can you define that?
I hate constantly being asked to define my cooking in two words or less. While I understand and appreciate the value of brevity, hopefully the food that we cook every day is nuanced enough to deserve a less reductionist moniker. That’s very possibly just my ego talking, but we’re not an Italian restaurant or French and what is “American” exactly? No one will accept that as an explanation because it’s too vague. But so are the others…all Italian food isn’t the same nor all French. The best I can do right now is that our food is a reflection of my ideas and tastes and those of a small cadre of my trusted staff…and we hope you like it, too.
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