Happens to the best of us.
Happens to the best of us.
- By Megan Leon
- | Mar 19, 2019
No holidays, no sleep and customers who are always right, let’s admit that chefs don’t have it easy. While it’s the goal of any chef to have a perfectly smooth service, anything from cooking fails to unexpected guests can put a spanner in the works. Life isn’t perfect and you can’t please everyone, and nowhere is that truer than in the kitchen. In part one of our Kitchen Diaries series, some of Bangkok's top chefs regale us with their funniest and craziest memories on the job.
Chef Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn, Saawaan
“I used to work in a hotel and one day during busy high season, there were a couple of guests who ordered a salad. The manager came in the kitchen returning the salad and asked about the engagement ring that somehow ended up in the dish. We were so confused, nobody knew whose ring it was. Then finally, there was one member of staff who said her ring was lost. The manager got quite angry—not only did the ring accidentally fall in the food, but the guest thought that her boyfriend surprised her by hiding the ring in the salad. Obviously, the man had no intention and was shocked. Then the woman guest said, ‘It would be nice if my boyfriend did surprise me that way.’ Fortunately, the couple were very kind and understanding. Since that day, the executive chef said no to any rings or jewelry for kitchen staff.”
Chef Chudaree “Tam” Debhakam, Top Chef Thailand winner
“I was working the line with another cook on garde manger [the area where cold dishes are prepared] and sunchoke [Jerusalem artichoke] salad was on the menu. Every single plate of sunchoke salad that was served had to be seasoned to order, so we had to taste every single one of them. I’m sure we did about 200 covers that day. If anyone has had a lot of sunchoke, they will know it can have a certain effect on your stomach—some call it “fartichoke!” So during that service my friend and I had to take turns running in and out of the kitchen for the whole 14 hours of service! We were dead after that one. Luckily I got to move stations after it came back on to the menu.”
Chef Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn, Le Du
“I had a couple request one vegetarian option, so we prepared it for them. The husband ordered the normal set menu. The wife insisted she couldn’t eat fish sauce, shrimp paste and so on. After the first course finished, here came our signature river prawn and mountain rice. The wife looked at her husband’s plate and called my waiter. ‘Could I have that too please?’ My waiter was in shock and said this is not vegetarian and there is pork in it. She then answered “It’s OK now, I can have seafood and some meats. This dish looks very good.”
Chef Jamie Wakeford, Olta
“My wife Helen and I were working for a luxury hotel company in the Middle East. As was pretty standard there, we would get notice of a presidential delegation an hour before they were due to come and have to pull out a dinner for 50 VIPs at a moment's notice. On this occasion, the restaurant they were dining in had guests booked in already so we were ordered to make a human wall of 30 staff around the party for the whole meal so they could get drunk without being seen! It was pretty weird.”
“So in the early days Bo and I used to have some pretty epic 'discussions' about the direction of the restaurant and the food. Mostly we agreed, if not we agreed to disagree. Well, one service we were having a particularly heated and prolonged 'discussion' to the point a customer asked to be moved away from the kitchen (there were two full brick walls between them and us) as they didn't feel the language was appropriate for their teenage child to hear. Anyway, we moved them. Our "discussion" got a bit more heated. One of us—can't really say who as the details are blurry—decided that they should throw something at the other in order to shut them up; it was piece of fruit or vegetable, nothing too dangerous. It soon escalated into a slinging and yelling match of such epic proportions the entire kitchen team ran and hid in the staff area. It got to the point that Bo grabbed a large roll of cling film and started slamming it into my bench full of seafood prep that I was packing down... She hit the tray of squid right in the sweet spot causing it to somersault onto the floor... I in turn picked up several pieces of the now soiled squid and started rubbing it not so gently into her face. She in turn went apeshit at me and then we parted ways. I had to run out the back and apologize to the staff and ask their forgiveness and help in cleaning the now destroyed kitchen. Bo and I didn't speak for about two weeks.”
Chef Chalee Kader, 100 Mahaseth
“Splitting dishes has always been a relatively normal issue in restaurants—until I had a request to split a glass of wine.
Customer: ‘We would like to order a glass of your house red. Thank you.’
Customer: ‘Could you please split that into two glasses?’
Staff: ‘Sure’ (the customer is always right).”