If you are like me, you probably enjoyed the recent Food TV program Top Chef. In the final episode of Season 1, Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos fame and owner of Bracco Wines, said that she didn't care about the drama behind the scenes, and that the back story really doesn't mean anything, that it is what she was served that counts. OK, if what she was served was flawless in every way, I couldn't disagree.
My experience, however, in cooking and in dining out is quite the contrary.
I recall one memorable meal at a restaurant in Regina, Saskatchewan, where chef and waitress were, as they say, having at it tooth and nail, yelling at each other. First, in terms of atmosphere, as a customer I was unsettled by the tension in the air. The waitress was far too stressed to be the least bit nice at the tableside.
The food was equally unsettled. Little attention had been paid to plating. Instead the food was lumped onto the plate. Flavors weren't balanced. The food was over-cooked. To me, it seemed that the chef was too distracted by what was happening outside of cooking to pay attention to the immediate task. The mood of the restaurant had invaded the food of the restaurant. The two were unavoidably bound together by the staff.
If matters get too out of hand in a restaurant, staff will start to sabotage each other, in subtle or direct ways, completely undermining the quality of the food and the restaurant itself.
When cooking, I find that if I am rushed, or upset, or fail to leave the office at the office, then the food I prepare suffers. Without thinking, I throw in a little too much of one herb and it overpowers the dish; my timing is off and one dish burns while I am working on another; I'm not focused and knock over the oil, making a mess of the kitchen.
Preparing good food requires in-the-moment attention to details, with complete focus, without outside distractions and without having to worry about figurative or literal knives that may be aimed your way.