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: New York City chef Leah Cohen.
Whether you recognize her from her days as a contestant on TV’s Top Chef or from her tireless work in the kitchen of her colorful Southeast Asian restaurant Pig & Khao, you likely know Leah Cohen as one of the country’s most innovative chefs. Opening a restaurant in the Big Apple is no easy feat — let alone doing so before your 30th birthday. The half Russian–Romanian Jewish, half Filipina chef has certainly learned a lot of things in her three-plus years at the helm of her first restaurant, which she opened after extensive research trips to Southeast Asia. She’s also come to hate a lot of things. Well, ten things in particular. Take it away, Leah!
1. The chronic lack of skilled cooks
I am tired of not being able to get good cooks, keep good cooks or even get people to show up for trials. I am even more tired of hearing, reading and talking about this problem. If you want to be a cook, then be a cook; show up — on time, with sharp knives — and cook. If you take a job, stay there for a year. Don’t whine; just do your job. The industry does not owe young cooks anything except some knowledge, and they have to work to get it, just like every generation that has come before them.
2. The Health Department shakedowns
This agency has become nothing more than a city cash cow; it’s not about the public health or clean restaurants, just money. There are countless examples of great, superclean restaurants getting tons of fines and terrible grades while the dirty corner spot proudly displays its A.
3. Guests that “own” the place
While 98 percent of our guests are great and love what we do (that’s why they come here), there is a small portion of the population that come in expecting a completely customized experience, as if they are the boss for the time they are at the table. They want to control everything in the restaurant, including music, temperature, dish modifications, menu items, the order and pacing of their food, their table location and even create their own custom cocktail list.
If you make a reservation, either call and cancel or SHOW UP.
5. Under-salted food
I was always taught that the rudest thing you can do to another chef is to ask for salt, and it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I understand that salt tolerance can be subjective, but properly seasoned food is not.
6. Being considered a “female” chef
It really bothers me that I am constantly being asked what it’s like to be a female chef in NYC. Being a chef is a challenging, stressful job no matter your gender, especially in NYC. I don’t think it is easier — regardless of what’s in your pants, it just takes “big balls.”
7. The hype machine
It is crazy that in New York, so much of a restaurant’s success or failure is dependent upon how favorably the press views you. I hate going to a restaurant that has a ton of buzz and doesn’t live up to the hype; while on the flip side, there are so many great restaurants that no one is writing about.
8. Authenticity police
This is a problem across all cuisines. People who are from the countries where a restaurant’s food originated are constantly telling the chef that their grandmother didn’t make it that way. Being a chef is about being creative and interpreting a cuisine while staying true to its roots, not making carbon copies.
9. Dull knives
It is your most important tool, people — please take care of it!
10. Chef coats
I don’t wear a chef coat at my restaurant, but I understand the need for them in certain types of establishments. It is extremely hard to find a chef coat that is flattering to my body. The chef clothing industry has come a long way, but there are still few options that fit well.