Would you like fresh pepper with that?

We go to a fine restaurant to taste the creations of the chef. Said chef has spent several years perfecting his/her craft, either in school or as an assistant to an experienced chef. (Hopefully), the chef has learned the delicate balance of flavors and seasonings that will make our meal come alive.
We sit down in the restaurant, prepared to have our taste buds dazzled. The dish is served, and immediately the waiter, holding a pepper grinder so large it is considered a deadly weapon in 37 states, asks, “Fresh pepper with that?”

How the hell do I know? Will the fresh pepper enchance or destroy the delicate balance of flavors the chef has created?

Finally, to the question: when a chef prepares a dish, does he expect the eater to add pepper (or, for that matter, salt) to the dish, and does he alter the recipe accordingly? Or am I messing with his culinary work of art by putting salt and pepper on it?


The Frugal Gourmet lamented this very practice on his TV show many years ago. His thoughts:

  1. The chef should have already seasoned this dish properly
  2. Since the food hasn’t been eaten yet, one cannot know if it is underseasoned with respect to pepper
  3. Once the “pepper guy” leaves, he never returns to give you the opportunity to adjust the seasoning again

Not that I’m answering your question, really, but the whole practice is silly. One of these days, if I’m feeling confrontational, I may ask “Doesn’t the chef know how to season food properly?”

Whenever I attended formal military events with my father (he’s now retired), salt and pepper were never put on the table.

It was assumed that the food was prepared as it was supposed to be eaten.

However, I have noticed the massive pepper grinder more and more lately - I think that one restaruant started it and others thought it would be trendy or something.

Personally, I just always say “No thank you.”

Al. :slight_smile:

[Gareth Blackstock voice]

“You want to put salt on the perfection I’ve created??? I HATE you with a passion you can only dream of!”

[/Gareth Blackstock voice]

I read an interview with Lenny Henry once where he claimed that the skit was based on an actual incident where a Prima Donna Chef evicted a diner from his restaurant for wanting to season their food before tasting it.

Ob TheWorldIsaVeryBigPlace: Actor/comedian Lenny Henry portrayed Chef Gareth Blackstock in the BBC comedy “Chef” that lasted 3 seasons (IIRC). Gareth is a high-strung perfectionist with a propensity for hilarious rants.

This happens in many of the Italian restaurants here; Black pepper is something that not everybody likes; personally, I love the stuff and always accept the offer; I consider pepper to be more of a condiment than a seasoning - an option rather than an addition (same goes for parmesan, which is similarly offered with almost anything containing cooked tomatoes).

You know how they say, “Say when!”? Sometimes I wonder how long they’d keep cranking away if I just never did say “stop.” Until the hunk of parmesan in the grater is exhausted? Until their arms get tired?


They don’t do that in the restaurants I’ve been in; they offer you some, then ask you would you like some more, then smile and walk away.

While excellent restaurants should abandon this practice, it surely has its place when eating the uninspired salads at Red Lobster or East Side Marios. Now, I’m not a big city lawyer. But I do like fresh pepper.

Take salt, although the story with pepper is similar. For many years I have been trying to reduce salt usage and I have got into the habit of using much less than most people. When food is oversalted, I do not enjoy it. On the other hand, when it is salted to perfection for me, most people find it insipid. So what is a poor chef to do? Maybe he is insulted if he undersalts it for me and someone else adds salt; maybe he is insulted if I complain it is oversalted. But damn it, he is there to please us, not vice versa and if he cannot realize that, then let him find a profession where prima donnas are in demand.

Back to the OP; it is of course idiotic to expect the customer to decide these things without tasting. I think it started because better restaurants wanted to use pepper grinders but when they used ordinary table models, the customers swiped them. So they created this system. I like a lot of pepper (partly to make up for the lack of salt) and so I always take some, but who knows when to stop?

My mother-in-law had this procrustean view that it was insulting to the chef to add salt and pepper, but she was just wrong. People are different. Someone on UMHO wanted to know what to eat with Kalbsbratwurst if you don’t like mustard. Now to me, mustard is the ideal accompaniement, but far be it from me to tell him he was wrong. Chacun a son gout!

Of course, a lot of places (even “fancy” ones) have a salt and pepper shaker on the table so you can do your own thang (Lenny Henry type hysterics notwithstanding). However, the pepper in particular in these situations is invariably the preground, fine, flavourless and stale is-it-pepper-or-is-it-fly-poop type of pepper. So why bother?

There is a Belgian restaurant in my neighborhood which has individual pepper grinders at each table. Wonder of wonders! No ICBM sized grinder being poked in your face, no opportunistic demand for pepper since you know the waiter won’t be back…

They also serve a duck confit which is making me drool just thinking about it. wipe wipe 'scuse me.

Consider tasting the food and then deciding for yourself whether or not you wish to add pepper.

Thanks, Sua, for bringing it up.

My usual responses* to the pepper thing:
[li]“I don’t know; I haven’t tasted it yet. Will you leave the pepper grinder, or come back in a minute, please?”[/li]
[li]“Why, isn’t it properly seasoned?” (If I’m feeling bitchy or the wait-person is annoying)[/li][/ul]
*Yes, it embarrasses some of my friends. No, I am not going to “cooperate.” It’s a stupid question.

To answer you real question, I think the situation varies from one restaurant to another. I imagine that the better chefs know that fresh pepper will be offered at the table (in fact, it’s likely their instruction to the wait staff), so they would under-pepper the dish in the final stages of preparation.

The benefit to the customer is that they get a bit more say over how much/little pepper is used, and they get the full aromatic blast of just-now-freshly-ground pepper, instead of the slightly weaker effect of the freshly-ground-two-minutes-ago-in-the-kitchen pepper…:rolleyes:

To be fair, there are times when the chef might think fresh pepper is a great idea, but wants to let the diner choose, as some may opt out. For instance, some people like it on salads, while others don’t.

Still, I think it’s just stoopid to ask anyone to make the pepper decision before they’ve tasted the food. Set it down, go away, come back in a minute with the big ol’ grinder, I say.**

I’ve always thought that the not-so-fancy places just do the pepper grinding thing to give the impression that they’re “classy.” Much harder to guess here whether the food really needs it or not.

**Same goes for the freshly-grated Parmesan. And if you can’t leave me the grater thingie because you think I’ll steal it, just bring me a bit of cheese already grated, and let me apply it as needed, willya? Or be prepared to come back with it again, because when I get past the top layer of pasta I’m definitely going to want more cheese!

Where in eastern Ontario? The last time I was there I visited a nature preserve not far from Cornwall and we went to a restaurant nearby for which the word “lousy” is a compliment.

I thought most restaurants didn’t have individual grinders at tables because sticky-fingered customers would walk off with them?