20 Southwest Michigan chefs & restaurant owners talk about the good and the bad of dining out

Chefs can have a hard time eating out.

Their days off are usually Sundays and Mondays, when lots of restaurants are closed, so their selection of restaurants is limited.

But they like to eat out when they can, said 20 local chefs and restaurant owners.

They like to go to places they’ve never been before, get fresh ideas about styles of cooking and food presentation and stay familiar with what is happening in the local dining scene, the chefs said.

They especially like to sit back and let someone else sweat over a hot stove and do the cooking.

The Gazette asked 20 chefs several basic questions about eating out. Here’s some of what they had to say:

1. When eating out, what foods do you avoid?

Most of the chefs interviewed said they sometimes avoid chicken or steak when they eat out because they can cook those things at work or home easily.

“There’s nothing exciting about chicken,” said chef John Tsui of Chinn Chinn Asian Bistro in Mattawan, whose restaurant sells 900 pounds of chicken each week. That’s twice as much chicken than beef, or seafood.

But most of the surveyed chefs said they will eat anything that looks good on a menu because they want to try new things. Shawn Hagen of Bravo! sets out for the specialty of a restaurant — the dish that defines the place, whether the food is his favorite or not. He does that to get a feel for the restaurant.

Chef Roland Gomez, owner of Rasa Ria, which specializes in Indonesian and Asian fare, relishes trying food he thinks is typical of America, so he visits restaurants like Bob Evans and Old Country Buffet.

2. What is your favorite fast food restaurant?

Most chefs of those surveyed avoid fast food restaurants as much as they can and thus don’t have a favorite. Chef Al Worman of Mangia Mangia said the smell of grease at some of the fast food joints turns him off.

Chef Olinda Sanduval, co-owner of Just Good Foods, said she went to fast food restaurant once, bought a burger and hated it. She gave the burger to her dog and he wouldn’t eat it either.

But, there are exceptions. Chef John Korycki of Zazios believes Culver’s is a cut above the average fast food restaurant because the ingredients appear fresh. Chef Al Worman of Mangia Mangia likes Dairy Queen, partly because that’s where he had his first job.

Tsui grew up going to McDonald’s and Burger King and about once a month, likes to get a Coke from McDonald’s.

“Every so often I get a craving for a McDonald’s Coke, and I don’t know why,” Tsui said. “I’ll also get a cheese burger, extra pickle.”

3. What do you normally tip a server?

Most of the local chefs interviewed said they tip between 20 to 30 percent when the service is fair to good — a little higher than most people — and that drives their spouses nuts.

The chefs know that servers are often college students working their way through school and that tips are their bread and butter, they said.

The chefs interviewed also said that so many things can go wrong in a restaurant that it makes them appreciate when things go right.

“I know the struggle,” said Gomes.

Some chefs said they have tipped up to 30 to 50 percent of a bill when the service is excellent.

Wayne Wells, corporate executive chef of casual dining concepts and catering for Greenleaf Hospitality Group, sometimes tips a restaurant kitchen as well as a server.

After working in many kitchens in the past, he knows what it is like to feel forgotten. He received a tip from customers several times while he was a line cook and felt good for the rest of the day.

4. Do you order fish or seafood at a particular time during the week?

The idea to never order fish on Mondays at restaurants because fish isn’t delivered that day has merit, the chefs said.

Eateries can get fish orders any day of the week but many do not. Most restaurants get orders once a week, they said.

Most of the chefs interviewed remain leery of ordering fish since it is highly perishable.

If a chef of a restaurant cares about his or her seafood, the customer is OK, but you have to get to know a restaurant first before you can determine that, the surveyed chefs said.

It is especially encouraging when seafood is listed high on a menu, in a plentiful manner or is highlighted as a specialty of the house, they said.

“That’s a tough subject,” chef Shawn Hagen of Bravo! said. “You can examine the cleanliness of a restaurant, the style, how busy the restaurant might be. If they’re not advertising it as a fresh seafood product, I’ll pass on it.”

Some interviewed chefs ask those who serve them when the restaurant gets deliveries of seafood. Al Woreman of Mangia Mangia has driven to the rear of restaurants and checked containers to see where they get their fish from.

“If it is mostly frozen and not fresh, and you can taste the difference,” said Korycki about the seafood in Kalamazoo restaurants.

“There are restaurants that I would definitely enjoy fish at here, but I would put up reservations at most of the restaurants in Kalamazoo.”

Source: William R. Wood, mlive.com

Researcher: Ian

Filed Under: F&B


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