The horror of the open kitchen
Every time Sarah looked up, she could feel the chef ’s beady eye on her, assessing her reaction to his food. Really, she thought, it was pretty disconcerting. He was only about 10 paces away, although ostensibly cut off by a low countertop. But rather than feeling that the chef was on display, his art laid bare for them all to scrutinise, Sarah felt as if it were she that was exposed and judged.
Had she made the right noises of appreciation over the starter of beef tartare? Had he seen her reach for the salt to pep up a faintly lacklustre main course? Would he get cross when it became apparent that she wasn’t going to order either of the odd-sounding desserts? I mean, one of them had beetroot in it for God’s sake.
And thank goodness she hadn’t felt the need to complain about anything. In the old days, this could be done discreetly enough, to a waiter, to whom, she felt, one could speak frankly. After all, he or she hadn’t actually cooked the food. The waiter could then choose to relay whatever version of the complaint he or she saw fit to the actual hub of creation, the kitchen. It was a system of Chinese walls that, for Sarah, worked well. Now that every restaurant seemed to include a view into the mothership, quite as if it were a kind of aquarium, with a load of exotic, dangerous sharks swimming around in it, that bit of discreet distance had evaporated. Were Sarah to wish to find fault with something, she would be doing so literally under the chef ’s nose. And she’d seen the size of his cleaver.
Also, she decided, it took some of the fun out of the whole thing. Rather than add to the drama of eating out, a view into the kitchen subtracted. After all, what was there to see except a load of people in checked trousers calmly going about the business of chopping and sauteing things? When this side of the business was tucked away in the bowels of the building, one could imagine all sorts of excitement — furious rows, wild threats, flames leaping from an overzealous grill, passionate affairs conducted over the pastry station, smouldering looks between kitchen porters. Such imaginings kept the romance of restaurants alive. The reality — a bunch of almost silent people passing plates to each other — just wasn’t the same.