I was asked earlier last week about how best to go about ordering the perfect poached egg. The conversation quickly moved on to how to ensure you get what you want in a restaurant – and when it’s short of the mark, how to complain effectively to get a swift response in your favour, asked friend Steven. He was serious too.
This is one huge subject – could be, and probably is, a blog site on its own. I rarely complain because I make a point of making it clear, always with charm I hope, as to what it is I am expecting. An American management guru, Philip Crosby, back in the 80s, wrote about our ever changing role switch from being ‘supplier’ to ‘customer’ and back again.
Expert meets Inexpert. Disaster follows.
Best scenario is an ’Expert’ Customer with an ’Expert’ Supplier – the customer makes it clear precisely what it is he’s looking for and the supplier provides, or makes it clear why he/she cannot meet the request.
It goes horridly wrong when an ‘Inexpert’ meets and ‘Expert’ – either way. Think of this in your own experiences and you’ll quickly grasp what Crosby is saying.
Crosby’s seminal ‘Quality is Free’ was published 25 years ago – sadly now out of print. Google it and you’ll get some pithy extracts – for example: “……..there is no substitute for the words ‘Zero Defects’. They are absolutely clear.”
His mantra was all about ‘getting it right first time’. Anywhere serving the public should take note – it not only saves money and pain, but goes much of the way to ensure the customer enjoys their experience. Only idiots like complaining.
‘Fresh’ should mean just that – Fresh – and it often does not
Back to Steven’s poached eggs. To poach an egg perfectly the egg must be fresh – meaning no more than three days old. Already you can feel the pressure mounting – eggs are safe to eat for a good month after lay - and what’s worse – can be sold as ‘fresh’.
See photo of an egg laid this morning – supplied at a moment’s notice by family friend Louise who has just begun keeping chickens and bantams, so we know it’s fresh. This one’s a bantam’s.
For perfect poached eggs, the water has to be just off the boil and circling – I like slightly acidulated with white wine vinegar, others say no, not ever. The movement mantains the shape of the egg. Turn off the heat, lid on the pan, then leave for 3-4 minutes, depending on size, and it’s done. It must then be drained thoroughly on kitchen paper and served immediately. In this simple recipe there are at least six reasons it can go awry – and in truth several more besides.
If Steven asks whether the eggs are ‘fresh’, the answer will be affirmative. Actually not even the cook will know nor care unless it’s a place of highest repute and they know where the eggs come from and when they were laid.
Since childhood I’ve had a near obsession about ever ordering eggs cooked any way away from home, so scared am I of disappointment. Only if I feel certain they will be perfectly prepared, to my liking, will I include eggs. Strangely, it’s only eggs that get me this way. Scrambled eggs are a favourite – Joy reckons perfect eggs will only be cooked when the chef likes them precisely as you do – smart thinking.
If you have to complain, it is best to know precisely what it is you are complaining about and to recognise that, most times, you are complaining to someone who won’t understand what it is you are talking about. Keep it charming and simple because it will be referred up – and in many restaurants, the traditional tension between kitchen and front-of-house continues.
Anyone reading this with kitchen experience will know what can happen when chef gets annoyed with a complaint – and it’s not nice. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the term ‘chef’, or even ‘cook’ – just that exciteable guy in the kitchen with the short temper.
With wine that’s short of the mark, never hesitate to ask the wine waiter – or the person that served the wine – to taste it with you. I always prefer to give wine a good sniff and swirl, rather than taste at the table – if the wine is short of the mark, you have little ground to complain – you chose it, you didn’t ask advice so learn for next time. However, if the wine is faulty – corked, sedimented or any way ‘off’ – then they have no option but to replace it without fuss. Be prepared for a second bottle from the same bin or case to be the same – so maybe a change of choice is a good idea.
“Ordering steak in France is one I have refined after many disappointments. I have an aversion to over-done meat from any beast, bird or fish – unless long-cooked is what we’ve ordered. For beef, I order ’saignant’ meaning bloody but not blue. Thinking, perhaps I am not French or Belgian, they will on occasion cook it to rare to medium – in French ‘ a point’ - because too many steaks have been returned as ‘under done’. I figured a charming way round this and now I order my steak ”Saignant, exactement comme le chef et vous preferez”. I have never been disappointed since – and it always raises a smile, even a chuckle.
The balance is between asking for food as you like it prepared and not treading on a chef’s toes who will have his or her own method of preparation – that’s why you are in their restaurant for goodness sake. Fine restaurants rarely if ever ask how you wish something cooked, just as they mostly do not have condiments on the table – they should be surplus to requirement.
Sorry Steven, but I haven’t resolved the perfect poached egg, but at least I’ve shared some experiences. As Crosby said: “The customer deserves to receive exactly what we have promised to produce.” Do as I suggest and Google ‘Quality is Free’.