famous chefs' restaurants

So let’s say I go to Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, or (heaven forfend) Emeril’s. Or Mario Batali’s, or, well, any famous chef’s. Would the famous chef who owns it have anything to do with the preparation of my actual meal? How much? I imagine much, if not all, of the work is done by sous-chefs… is the actual “name” chef even there during most of the operating hours of the restaurant? How does the whole thing work?

I would imagine that, if he only owns the one restaurant, he’s probably there. If he owns a chain, then probably not, except perhaps at the original. I once worked under a Japanese-Hawaiian chef who had once owned his own restaurant, which bore his name, and he was indeed the head chef there. Of course, he wasn’t a “famous” chef.

When a chef reaches celebrity status, he becomes more of a businessman than a cook. But he also has the vision, conceives the dishes, [and] imbues the whole restaurant with his/her personality. More concretely, superstar chef Daniel Boulud explains:

Emeril Lagasse has a companion restaurant (to his original New Orleans location) in Orlando (at Universal Citywalk). According to a guidebook I read, Emeril does actually visit the restaurant from time to time. Most of what he does is give direction here and there, but he may actually prepare a guest’s meal if he has a mojo to do so.

Rocco D’ispirito (of The Restaurant) now has little to do with the actual preparation of the meals at his restaurant (this according to a TV Guide article about the subject) and spends most of his time in meetings and such (and apparently quite a bit of time in court). He does visit the restaurant itself from time to time and, like Emeril, generally give direction and criticism and whatnot.

I ate at NOLA (an Emeril restaurant) in New Orleans last time I was there. Dinner was about $70, and worth every penny. The server explained that my main course had been conceived of by Emeril; my appetizer had been conceived by one of his protéges, but tested and tweaked by Emeril and the staff. The dessert was created by his dessert chef, whom my server named (because apparently I was supposed to recognize the name).

At that level of culinary skill, I imagine adding new dishes to the menu is something akin to graduate seminar, where each week one of the “students” prepares a dish and gets critiqued first by the class, then by the Man Himself, but that’s just a WAG. I got the feeling that having your dish approved for the menu was a Big Deal™.

My appetizer, for the record, was a mirliton (sort of a squash cousin) stuffed with crawfish etoufée, with melted butter and sweet potato straws on top like a bird’s nest. It was about $10, and absolutely delicious.

I think my entrée was duck – but I remember every detail of that appetizer.

A coworker was treated by his wife to a birthday dinner at Morimoto’s in Philadelphia. They both had the omakase (tasting) menu, and Morimoto himself prepared some of the dishes and came out to the table to talk to them. If he opens the planned restaurant in NYC, then I’m sure he won’t be in Phillie as often, but for now, if you want to meet a famous chef, then Morimoto’s is a good bet.

It doesn’t even seem like a great chef is necessarily a great cook. I have no problem if the guy who can chop perfectly and grill elegantly is the one making my $50 a plate food, as long as he’s following a recipe from the guy with the great imagination.

Another one at the Royal Pacific Hotel - Tschoup Chop (Chinese/Cajun cuisine). Very good (from what I’m told), and just like Emeril’s, very difficult to get a reservation there. Emeril’s has been voted locally as the “Best Place to Eat at the Bar”: very good food, but that’s about the only place available if you just walk in for a meal without a reservation. Forget even trying to get in on a holiday.

And again, if he is in town, forget even getting near the restaurant. From the times I’ve been by there, I’ve found you needed to get a ticket to stand in line to get a cookbook signed. Billions and billions of people screaming “BAM!”. Scary but true.