What a difference a few days make. A few of us recently attended a conversation for the New York Times restaurant series of panel discussions with Frank Bruni, the former Times restaurant critic. The panel included several of the city's most successful chefs talking about their restaurant careers and the empires that they have built. The chefs who participated were Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges Vongerichten and Michael White. Mr White is not as far down the career path as the other two chefs and acknowledged such in expressing his respect for the restaurateurs and their years of experience.
Mr. Bruni served as an affable host and attempted to not only extract information on business and management tactics but also anecdotes about mishaps and mayhem that had taken place in the dining rooms of these highly regarded chefs.
There was talk of regular customers and their likes and dislikes, menu changes, detailed orders, spilled drinks and of course how the chefs would know that Mr. Bruni was dining with companions for one of a series of meals to rate his dining experience for an upcoming review. As the talk ranged from Michelin stars and kitchen ingredients and trends Mr. Boulud emerged as the most chatty of the restaurant chefs when Mr. Bruni asked how they handled unruly customer requests or behavior. It seemed that once Mr. Boulud started recalling past dining incidents where he had to intervene the examples came rushing back to him as his French accent accelerated, the pitch of his voice rose and his hands fluttered in conversation before him.
Mr. Boulud spoke of world leaders dining at his restaurant and how one man in particular posessed a surprisingly limp handshake to which Frank Bruni joked that Daniel Boulud may need a police escort home. He would barely conclude one tale before another began as he launched into detailed recollections of customer requests or behavior. Most of the tales ended with the same response of how if Mr. Boulud did not think he could satisy a customer's expectations or if the customer had unwarranted demands, Mr Boulud demonstrated how he would just pull the white linen table out from in front of the diners and announce the experience was over. His philosophy was that you shouldn't keep any negative energy of a customer in his dining room only to send them out in the world to speak poorly of his restaurant. He wanted to maintain the dignity of his name and restaurant no matter how much money someone was about to spend. Finis. Au revoir.
Not even a fortnight later Daniel restaurant's received the most publicized patron they received to date in the form of a movie and television actor with a table that included an ex wife when the appetizers were served who then departed, a porn star who he took a shine to during the course of the meal and lots of expensive bottles of red wine. All the debauchery at the restaurant was just a prelude to the naked tantrum he would throw at the Plaza later that evening that included throwing furniture and pillows about as he trashed his hotel room. Antics that even Eloise would snicker at. Perhaps Mr. Boulud was at one of his other restaurants that evening.