The hor­ror of the open kitchen

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - NEWS - EMILY HOURICAN

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.

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