25 Things Chefs Never Tell You

Do restaurants recycle the bread basket? Are most of us bad tippers? We surveyed chefs across the country — anonymously — to find out everything we’ve always wanted to know.

Chefs are pickier than you think.
Liver, sea urchin, tofu, eggplant and oysters, of all things, topped the list of foods chefs hate most. Only 15% of chefs surveyed said they’d eat absolutely anything.

Still, chefs hate picky eaters. 
More than 60% said requests for substitutions are annoying. Some of their biggest pet peeves: When customers pretend to be allergic to an ingredient, and when vegetarians make up rules, like “a little chicken stock is OK.”

When eating out in other restaurants, chefs say they avoid pasta and chicken. 
Why? These dishes are often the most overpriced (and least interesting) on the menu. Said one chef, “I won’t pay $24 for half a chicken breast.” Said another, “I want something I can’t make myself.”

Chefs have expensive taste.
The restaurant chefs most often cited as the best in the country was The French Laundry, in California’s Napa Valley. It ought to be — dinner there is $240 per person, before wine.

...and yet they like fast food.
Their favorite chain: Wendy’s. Culinary degrees aren’t necessarily the norm. Just half the chefs surveyed graduated from a cooking school. The rest got their training the old-fashioned way, by working their way up through the kitchen ranks.

Critics trump movie stars in the VIP pecking order.
A whopping 71% of chefs said they give special treatment to restaurant critics when they spot them; only 63% do the same for celebrities. Making out in the bathroom is old news. More than half of the chefs have found customers kissing — and much more — in the restaurant loo.

Roaches are more common than you think. 
Yes, 75% of chefs said they’ve seen roaches in the kitchen. And yet, chefs swear their kitchens are clean. On a scale of 1 to 10, 85% of chefs ranked their kitchens an 8 or higher for cleanliness.

Only 13% of chefs have seen a cook do unsavory things to a customer’s food.
The most unbelievable tale: “Someone once ran a steak through a dishwasher after the diner sent it back twice. Ironically, the customer was happy with it then.”

Your bread basket might be recycled.
Three chefs admitted that uneaten bread from one basket goes right into another one.

Chefs work hard for low pay. 
The chefs we surveyed work between 60 and 80 hours a week and almost all of them work holidays. Sixty-five percent reported making less than $75,000 a year. Waiters take home an average of $662 a week, often tax free.

“Vegetarian” is open to interpretation.
About 15% of chefs said their vegetarian dishes might not be completely vegetarian. Beware if you’re one of those super-picky vegan types: One chef reported seeing a cook pour lamb’s blood into a vegan’s primavera.

Paying for a last-minute reservation probably won’t work.
Only one chef said bribes will help you score a table when the restaurant is fully booked; he suggested “promising to buy a bottle of Dom Pérignon or Opus One.” A better bet: Being buddies with the chef.

Menu “specials” are often experimental dishes.
Contrary to popular belief — that specials are just a chef’s way of using up old ingredients — most chefs said they use specials to try out new ideas or serve seasonal ingredients. Only five chefs admitted that they try to empty out the fridge with their nightly specials.

The appropriate tip is 20%... 
That’s what chefs leave when they eat out, and it’s the amount they think is fair.

...unless the service is really poor.
An astounding 90% of chefs said it’s fair to penalize bad waiters with a smaller tip.

That rule about not ordering fish on Sunday might be worth following. 
Several chefs warned, “We don’t get fresh deliveries on Sunday.”

Chefs hate working on New Year’s Eve more than any other holiday.
Valentine’s Day was a close second, but don’t take that to mean chefs aren’t romantic: 54% of those surveyed said they like it when couples get engaged in their restaurant.

They secretly want to be Alton or Giada.
Nearly 60% of chefs said they’d want their own cooking show.

Chefs cook when they’re sick.
It’s a long-standing tradition in the restaurant industry: Cooks report to duty unless they’re practically hospitalized. Half of those we surveyed said they come to work sick, and they stay there through injuries, too. Many chefs have cut themselves on the job, gone to get stitches and returned to work to finish out the night. Accidents definitely happen: Almost every chef we surveyed has been injured on the job in some way, and several chefs said they’re missing parts of their fingers.

The five-second rule actually applies.
A quarter of the chefs surveyed said they’d pick up food that dropped on the floor and cook it.

Your waiter is trying to influence your order.
Almost every chef surveyed (95%) said he or she urges servers to steer customers toward specific dishes on the menu each night.

Restaurants mark up wine by a lot more than you might expect.
Most chefs said that a bottle on their wine list costs 2 1/2 times what the same one would cost in a wine store.

There’s a reason so many restaurants serve molten chocolate cake.
More than 75% of chefs said they take inspiration from other restaurant menus.