The NYC Chefs Poll (Uncensored!)

When we asked 40 top toques to share their thoughts on the city's dining scene (and what goes on behind the scenes), we got a lot more than we bargained for. Here, all the rants, the raves and the juicy gossip that couldn't fit in-or wasn't fit for-the magazine.

What is the city’s best restaurant?

“I really love the simplicity of OTTO.”

“Too hard to pick one. Here are some of my favorites: Tabla, any of the Momofukus, Fatty Crab, Lupa, Al Di La, Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches

“Really depends on my/our mood/location.”

“Changes every meal.”

The city’s worst?

“TGIFriday’s. I ate there once. It’s atrocious and expensive, which is infuriating.”

“Any Steve Hanson other than Fiamma.”

“Subway or Da Silvano.”

“Anything by Steve Hanson or Jeffery Chodorow: Take your over priced fucking theme parks somewhere the fuck else.”

44 & X Hell’s Kitchen: The food is awful and you’ll wait 45 minutes."

“That’s tough one…. anything on St. Mark’s Place?”

“I wouldn’t know. Many are bad, but I don’t think there is an actual ‘worst.’ Everybody tries.”

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What’s the worst thing about New York restaurantgoers?

“Lack of trust in professionals.”

“The no show/no call ones.”

“They’re obnoxious. Can I say that?”

“Too many fake allergies.”

“All the allergies”

“Ridiculous sense of entitlement—and they always want a different table than the one you offer.”

“Well it’s only 2 or 3% or so of the overall New York diner demographic, but I hate the overreaching, obnoxious sense of entitlement that some people just have ingrained in them. Yes, you are the guest; yes, you are paying for our services; yes. it’s the hospitality business, but that does not mean that you can speak to me like I was a redheaded stepchild! And yes, we really, honestly don’t have room for you and eight of your friends tonight at 8pm, one of whom is a vegetarian, one of whom is vegan, one of whom has a gluten allergy and one of whom who is allergic to everything except for vodka, chocolate and sparkling water. And it doesn’t matter whose name you drop or how important you think you are. Be nice and respectful and you are more likely to score that table.”

“They are not nice.”

“That they eat in droves at restaurants by Steve Hanson & Jeffery Chodorow.....Fucking sheep.”

“They are sheep.”

“Picky, bridge and tunnel dinners who think they should order everything but what’s on the menu.”

“They bitch and moan on the blogs after they eat at your restaurant. They think they’re experts.”

“Bloggers—they all think they’re food critics.”

“Bloggers—they think they’re foodies.”


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What is the worst “best” restaurant you’ve eaten at?

The Modern. The menu reads beautifully but I wasn’t impressed.”

“Smoke Joint in Fort Greene gets rave reviews & I still can not figure out why.”

Waldorf Astoria. Their Sunday brunch is terrible.”

Corner Bistro: shitty service, great burger.”


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Do you frequent any chef hangs? Where are they?

“Not really. When I get out of work I want a stiff shot & a beer and to be left the fuck alone.”

“Chefs avoid restaurants during their time off.”

“No. Don’t have the time and don’t want to see other chefs after work.”

“Nah. I hate that term, ‘chef hangs.’ Fuck off already with your pretension. ‘Oh, Wylie and David Chang hang out there so it must be good.’ Uh, not always.”

“No. Spend most of my time with my beautiful wife.”

“Not on purpose—but if they have great food, chances are you’ll run into someone in the biz.”


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What’s the #1 reason why a dish gets sent back to the kitchen?

“Diner didn’t read menu.”

“Some waiter fucked up.”

“Because people are dimwitted dumb fucks. They order a chicken and send it back because it’s tender and juicy inside and not bone-white and dry like the fuckin’ McNuggets they had the night before.”

“It’s cold, people say ‘I want rare.’ Then they send it back because it’s too cold, but this is rare!”

“Patron’s sense of temperatures sometimes doesn’t jibe with the kitchen’s.”


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Which publication’s reviews do you think are on the money?

“Food is so subjective so unless you taste it…none of them work for me, it’s personal and you should write your own review and eat where you like, not where people tell you is ‘good’ in their opinion.”


“None, but Time Out is closer then most, usually.”

“None... Look, I have yet to read a review of either my own restaurant or another chefs that’s accurate about the facts. They misname the cut of steak they ate, they get the dish totally wrong and then spend two paragraphs praising it or slamming it. Narcissistic fucks. At the end of the day, the reviews are so subjective, it’s hard to pay much attention to it. If people want to experience or not experience a restaurant because of a review, then they’re fucking idiots letting someone else tell them what to do.”

“I used to like the Times but Bruni is a bore. Zagats is good for addresses and phone numbers, but that’s about it. Most of the other ones besides New York magazine let you know that they are coming so they can get a free meal. Most of the press is about who can afford a good PR agent and that is something that should change.”

“Most food reviewers don’t have a solid food background, or any food background other than they eat—Bruni being the classic example of this. It’s unfortunate that people put so much weight on these reviews rather than question a person’s qualifications to write about a subject matter that they don’t know shit about. Just because you really like food doesn’t mean you have valid insight on it. It makes me especially sick that chefs haven’t called any of them out and said, ‘Who the fuck are you and what do you really know about food/restaurants’ Many chefs buy into it and allow it to take over. I’ve worked at a restaurant where when Bruni came in, all other tables had to suffer because at that point nothing mattered other than Bruni’s table. I think chefs feel like they have to do this since reviewers like Bruni hold so much (undeserved) power. It would be nice if chefs, many of whom are constantly reminding you one way or another how big their balls are, actually had some balls and spoke out to say that they don’t care what the reviews say, they are confidant and proud of the food they are serving. Unfortunately, these chefs who display so much machismo are actually little bitches and whores.”

Which publication’s reviews do you think are truly terrible?

“Any publication where the reviewer only eats at a place once and is on a restricted budget.”

“The Onion.”

“Yelp sometimes gets out of hand. It’s too silly, like a gossip column.”


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Name one ingredient in your kitchen you wouldn’t want to admit using?

“Chefs don’t give away secrets like that.”

Have you ever nailed a hostess (or other FOH)? On the bar?

“Yep, but now we’re married so relax.”

“Yes: bar, office, walk-in.”

“Not a hostess nor FOH. Customers, yes... in the walk-in, party room, office, but never on the bar.”

“Does my wife count? On the bar? Tonight could be the night for that.”

“Yeah, of course. It’s a beautiful part about the business.”

“No, not even if it was a guy! I don’t date people in this industry.”

“Yes, and yes. More than once, but not in some time.”

“I need my lawyer to answer that.”

“Not as a chef, but as a bartender in the early days.”

“I married someone who worked in the front of the house. Where else are you going to meet people?”

“Are you kidding... I guess you never met me before. Yes, many a time!”

“Fuck yeah. That’s one of the perks of being the chef, as long as you’re not a pervert creepy guy. Look, chicks dig chefs, thank god, because I’m not that great looking.”


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David Chang: talent, or fluke?

“Don’t know him. Must be talented, though.”

“Talented douche bag with just enough luck on his side. But certainly not a fluke.”

“Talent, although I’m tired of hearing about him.”

“Talent. He bridges the gap between people who don’t know a lot about Asian Food. His Ssäm bar is spot-on.”

“Fluke. And an asshole.”


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Name one restaurant that should have closed by now:

“No comment. One DOH inspector told me he had to close his favorite noodle shop in Chinatown (he was Chinese). I only eat in spots where I know either a staff member or owner, or that is a neighborhood joint. I’m not a fan of megacorporate restaurants with apathetic staffs.”

“Every single Chinese restaurant in Sunnyside, Queens.”

“Bad karma; I’m not going there.”


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What is your most embarrassing guilty pleasure food?

“Oysters. That’s my heaven.”


“Kraft macaroni and cheese, Deluxe.”

“Hotdogs and tater tots from Crif Dogs.”

“Snowballs, and Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked.”

“There’s nothing I’m embarrassed to eat. I eat what I want, when I want and if anyone judges me they can go fuck themselves.”


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Who is the next legitimately up-and-coming chef?

“There are about 20 CIA trained cooks who have paid their dues, can really cook, and can deal with the reality of NYC restaurants. The rest will be opening restaurants from Sebastopol, California to Maine and you’ll never hear from them again. My personal favorite, young chef Phillip Kirschen Clark, currently whipping up snacks at Pegu Club.”

“Not sure...All of them are ego-maniacs that aren’t nearly as talented as they think.”

“Anne Burrell gets lots of ink & is one of the only ones who honestly deserves it. Her food is what food should be. Unpretentious, Simple & delicious.”

“I am.”


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What do you do to get the last table to leave?

“I don’t have sympathy for waiters who are standing around waiting, not busting their asses to get paid more than I do.  I’m not saying that they are insignificant or that there aren’t times when they’re really working, but the actual hours they work are less than cooks and they make ridiculously more money—good for them—but I don’t care if they have to wait around for the last table to leave.  Doesn’t their title say it all?”

“Nothing—currently more worried about getting tables in not out.  It’s a fucking economic nightmare out there dude!” 

“We like people to stay as long as possible (just please don't order the chicken).”


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What is the most tired dish that’s still on every menu in town?

Anything with buns in ‘Asian concept’ restaurants, but it is amazing at Buddakan.”

“All fusion dishes.”

“Micro mortherfucking anything. A plea to my fellow chefs: If you’re going to cop out and put that fucking vegetable pubic hair on top of my fish, put some kind of flavor on it!!! Everywhere I go I get these dry stupid pubes on top of my shit. A little olive oil, salt and pepper—something for the love of God!”

“Salmon, of any kind.”

“Everything Italian and French. And of that cappuccino shit—mushroom cappuccino, lobster cappuccino.”

“Anything that has truffles in it.”

“Tuna Tartare. And it’s on mine in the form of a crispy roll. Boring!”

“I like all food, regardless of trends.”

“Mac & cheese—but when it’s great, there’s nothing like it. Hey, it’s on my menu too.”

Could we catch you in a McDonald’s?

“15 yrs sober on mcd’s and 4yrs on all fast food this January 09.”

“Not! The last time I went (4 years ago) it was with my niece because that’s what she wanted.”

“Yes with kids or when I really need a fish sandwich.”

“Yeah, totally.”

“My first experience at McDonalds, at the age of 15, I broke out in hives.”


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What customer faux pas pisses you off the most?

“Saying you’re a vegetarian but you eat chicken/fish, or saying you don’t eat dairy (except for dessert).”

“People seating themselves even when they see a host.”

“When people order something and they are not fully aware of what they ordered and then they send it back because they claim there is a fly in it or a hair, instead of just asking for something else.”

“Sometimes professional people are too impatient. They say the other restaurant makes lasagna in five minutes, but the other restaurant is making the lasagna in the microwave. I cook my lasagna how it should be—in the oven.”

“Name dropping, people who say they’re friends with the owner and are just trying to get shit out of you.”

“Knocking their water or wine over into their entrees to get new ones, or to get a whole new bottle of wine.”

“I HATE VEGANS THAT DON’T CALL AHEAD! It’s so ridiculous! Vegetarians are covered, I offer lots on the menu for them, and even if I didn’t it’s not very disruptive. But vegans that just show up at 9pm on a Saturday night, who have had the reservation for a month and could have lobbed a call in so we could make a note and I could plan something for them (which I am happy to do), that PISSES ME OFF TO NO END.”

“Eating with just a fork.”

“Walking into the kitchen to chat.”

“Rudeness to the service staff.…I love throwing guests out.”

“Customers walking on checks. Rarely happens, but does occasionally. Once a bachelor party tried to walk on the check.”

“Nobody knows what medium rare means.”

“Thinking ‘medium’ means ‘brown all the way through.’”

“No-shows. People that don’t show up. They have no consideration for the fact that we lost a couple hundred dollars per turn.”

Is it okay to request substitutions?

“I do, but I wish customers didn’t.”

“If you don’t value your life.”

“I also don’t believe most people have food allergies. If you have a nut allergy and could die, that is legitimate, but if a food could make you fart or burp, like garlic or dairy—is that an allergy or a discomfort? Order something else.”

“We honor them but don’t like them. It defeats the purpose. New Yorkers try to rewrite every menu.”

“It better be, because I have been doing it for years. Also it depends what. No, you may not substitute your spinach for more foie gras!”


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What are the most unfair DOH regulations?

“Restrictions against serving low or no protein foods at room temp.”

“I wouldn’t call their regulations unfair. We in restaurants do have an important role to play in public health.”

“Most of them because they have nothing to do with food safety just making money.”

“None are unfair, but some are just silly.”

“Sous-vide legislation.”

“It’s just another local tax. Keep a clean place and they’re ok.”

“They change the rules and make little to no effort to inform restaurants.”

“No drinking in the kitchen, When it’s 130 degrees and you have been slaving at a stove for 6 hours straight, to say you cant drink a glass of water behind the line is ridiculous and dangerous to the cook.”

“Flies, how can you keep flies out? Each fly costs $100.”

“Cutting board—they don’t tell you how many scratches is too many so they get you if you’ve used it only once, if they want.”

What is your most common DOH violation?

“Flies (especially in the summer) in the bar.”

“Violation? What violation?”



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Name your favorite thing to eat?

“Whatever is in season.”

“A simple corn flour taco, with simple filling; my meat-based tomato sauce with spaghetti.”

“The olives on the bottom of a martini glass.”

“Anything from the ocean.”

“If I had to pick just one thing, it would be bacon.”

“All of the veg off the entremets at the end of the night.”

“Schiacciata d’uva from Sullivan Street Bakery. It’s seasonal…only for a few weeks every fall. (It’s their most delicious pizza: Champagne grapes and anise seed on their slightly salty pizza Bianca dough.) I had two pieces already this week.”


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Name a chef that should have gotten an award by now but hasn’t:

“Hung Huynh, Top Chef, season 3”

Name a chef that has too many:

“Emeril. This dude is cooking spring rolls, what’s he doing with spring rolls?”

“The ones on TV.”

“If they have one that is one too many. Fucking awards for cooking food, it’s ridiculous.”

Fill in the blank: New York chefs are ______

“egotistical and really think they are saving the world, guess what…you’re not.”

“incredible hardworking and supportive people”

“too diverse to sum up in one word or phrase.”

“talented, especially because our produce, fish and meat are not as good as some other areas in the States.”

“more competitive than chefs in (most) other cities because our audience is more critical and their palates are more refined and educated. There are many choices in this city, you rarely get a second chance.”


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Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“Thanks for including me. J”

“The best part of NYC restaurant industry: opportunity to go out every night, socialize, drink fabulous beer, wine, cocktails. It’s called ‘nightlife’ and it keeps NYC going.”

Time Out New York used to be good to us. What happened?”

“Did I mention the rainbow room sucks?”

“Tell the people out there to stop pissing on my bathroom floors and walls and to stop smudging my just-cleaned windows with their greasy noses and hands. Tell them that just because we are busy on a Saturday night doesn’t mean we are making bank. Tell them I don’t want to cook their family recipes and don’t want to hear their boring stories about having a picnic in fucking Tuscany.”

“We’re here for the love, and hopefully it shows in our food. You can’t understand it from the outside, no matter what you see on Hell’s Kitchen or Top Chef. It’s nothing like that. Think about that next time you send something back because it isn’t what you expected or post a nasty comment on MenuPages or Citysearch because you think it’s overpriced. A plumber makes $200 an hour when a line cook makes $10-$12. Think about it.”

“Eat food and have fun!!!!!!!!”

“If Time Out was less of a marketing rag, an ad whore, I’d trust it more.”


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