Aug 3rd 2016 by sm0l • 31 Questions • 180 Points
Hi there Reddit -- my hour is up and I've had a good time. Thanks for having me and for all the great Qs. Cheers, SJD
I write books (mostly "Freakonomics" related) and make podcasts ("Freakonomics Radio," and, soon, a new one with the N.Y. Times called "Tell Me Something I Don't Know." It's a game show where we get the audience to -- well, tell us stuff we don't know.
Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air?
I try and try to make Chinese food at home and it's never as good as the worst Chinese takeout. What's the secret?
Has there ever been an incident in your restaurant similar to one you'd expect at a Waffle House and if so how'd that go?
What is the new hot in thing in economics now?
I can guarantee you the main reason is the sauce. The recipes you find online dont use the same ingredients we have in stores. The sauces in restaurants usually mix a variety of seasoning and sauces togethers to achieve the correct taste.
Also the ability to flash cook in a wok makes a big difference believe it or not.
Edit: You should try to ask your local chinese takeout that you order from and see if they will sell you some sauce. I dont see any reason for them to decline.
Guest rolled up in his wheel chair to a table, pulled out his two pistols, set them on the table and proceeded to order an iced tea. He wasn't threatening, he wasn't doing anything but pretending putting two guns on a table on a Friday night was a totally normal thing.
It was surreal.
Also had a lady very clearly throw up into her purse next to her, close the purse and proceed with her meal like she didn't just do exactly that.
Behavioral economics -- and the applications thereof -- went from being a neat intellectual sideshow 10 or 15 years ago to being the absolute latest thing that every private firm and government agency wants to harness. Also: development economics is huge, and fascinating.
What do you feel is the single most damaging misconception people have when it comes to the American economic system?
Maybe that the Prez runs the thing?
What is the "contribution" required to get a table at 8:30pm on a busy Saturday?
Have you ever thought about writing about the insane things happening in Venezuela right now?
1 - Fuel cost is so low that up to a week ago you could literally fuel up your car for about 10 years with $1 (at the black market price). This made smuggling fuel to other countries a huuuge activity that also took a huge toll on the country's finances. Even fisherman would exchange fuel for fish in other islands instead of fishing themselves. 2 - Basic goods prices being fixed for years making them have an enormous demand destroying all companies that make them and creating a huge black market for the product. 3 - And by far the most insane example of all - foreign currency - for well over a decade the government has controlled the $ price and it has created the biggest distortions imaginable in the economy. The difference between what the government says it's worth vs what the black market says is over 100/1
I could go on and on all day about this but I'm at work and have a lot to do right now, but I think you guys would find it fascinating.
Big fan, I've read all your books!
Depends how nice the restaurant is, honestly.
99% of the time for 99% of restaurants, if there is a table available you'll get it. That 80's America Psycho-esque way of projecting importance from restaurants is gone. Dollars count, butts in seats put dollars in pockets.
That being said though, higher end places that do tickets (Alinea) or fixed menus, often can't accommodate late reservations/walk ins because their menus are composed with limited ingredients and specific prep. Basically, they have no more food to give than what they've scheduled for.
For high end places that are more traditional à la carte dining, there may be a manager hold on one or two tables on popular nights if some a regular face walks in, but most of the time that is used on late reservations as well.
That is a great topic, thanks. It is painful to watch what's happening there.
What role do you see craft beer and the position of cicerone playing in the future of fine dining?
What do you look for when choosing a topic for a Freakonomics episode?
Big fan of the whole suite of books and podcasts btw!
Probably the best question so far. So cicerone is interesting. A lot of people thought sommelier certification was bunk 10 years ago, now it's very clearly not. I think cicerone is in that place too. Craft beer's explosion into the market has led to a lot of specialization...... That includes the sales side of things.
Beer pairings are a lot of fun and I think as time moves forward and people become more and more engaged with what beer can do in, and with, a meal other than just "having one", they'll start seeking out more in-depth uses for it. Cicerone knowledge will certainly help there.
As you know if you've listened to more than a handful of episodes, I am curious about just about anything -- including why we wear belts instead of suspenders even though belts are so suboptimal. The things I generally shy away from are: macroeconomics; mainstream politics; trends; the culture wars; identity politics; anything else that strikes me as boring or overexposed.
What are some of your most memorable celebrity experiences from work?
How can you explain "economics" to a five year old?
The time I almost waited on Al Pacino. I didn't. He didn't come in. It was heart breaking..... but I was kind of relieved. I mean.... it's not Tom Hanks where I'd feel comfortable. It's Al Pacino, that is oddly terrifying.
More substantially though, I once had an 8 top I took care of. They were chatting about TV shows and were clearly in the entertainment industry, though I didn't recognize any of them. I sent out complimentary desserts because they were very enjoyable people and I made the joke "I know you guys are in the industry, so if any of you have the power to make Deadwood come back, I brought you free desserts......" And one of the guys who I didn't really recgonize started profusely thanking me. Turns out he was the actor who played Dan Dorety(sp?), Al Swearingen's henchman in Deadwood. Incredibly nice guy and it was awesome meet him. He's not as big in person though.
It's how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing.
I assume you get very good tips if you are fine dining. How are they distributed?
Is there anyone you've interviewed that you would refuse to ever interview again? If yes, then why?
It really depends. At the higher levels, tip pool is most common. As I worked my way up, I hated that idea. It was counter to me. I built regulars, I built clientele who came to see me, who knew my name and I knew their preferences. It was their money for me, I earned it why should I share it with coworkers I didn't feel were as good at their job? The reality is though, that breeds obviously selfish thinking. After settling in at a place that does tip pool, I love it. It makes it a much more communal work environment and since the industry kind of sticks together, it just reinforces those bonds. The only downside is the potential for abuse from money distribution.
As far as that is concerned, there are many ways to do it. The most common is divided by hours worked, but that isn't always fair. The best I've seen is distributed amount is weighted by what position you work and how much you get is determined by the length of your shift. Less than 2 hours, cut early: 0%. 2-4 hours, early night: 50%. 4+ hours, considered a full shift so full tipshare.
I believe Danny Meyer in New York is experimenting with averaging out the hours across the week so everyone makes the same regardless of shift. I don't like that or the policies he is pushing though.
Edited in a sentence for clarification.
Hmm, interesting question. I occasionally turn down interviews these days on the grounds primarily that I don't want to play a part in rehabilitating the reputation of people who did stupid things in public but still want to be public figures. It's not a moral thing for me; I just don't want to participate in their media strategy. After Brexit, some people wrote and said I should be ashamed for having ever interviewed Boris Johnson. It takes a lot more than that to shame me, and I think that kind of thinking goes against what free speech and journalism and humankind are all about.
I like Red wine, I like French wine, can you recommend a good French red pairing with pizza bagels?
My favorite aspect of what you do in your podcast is trying to find ways to objectively measure things that seem abstract.
What was your most interesting or challenging topic to try to objectively define and measure?
Gimme a price range here. Are we talking "I just want a nice bottle of wine, the food is irrelevant" or are we talking "I want to pair my French red to my pizza bagel in every way possible, including price."
To me, the big one is happiness/satisfaction/whatever you want to call it. Measures have gotten a little better but I feel that the science is still way behind.
What's with the hats? My nan used to say it was to act as a crumple zone Incase someone dropped a brick on you. She also said cod liver oil would taste nice if I ate it quick though...
What's the actual way to pronounce Tso? Some people say general so or taos or chows
They are built to the same safety standard as a hard had which you might find on a building site. So yeah your nan was pretty much right. Always trust your nan.
It's usually "so's" or "sao's." Please dont try to sound out the "T."
Hey Stephen, thank you for doing this.
When I listened to the very first episodes of Freakonomics podcast, I saw that there is clearly an improvement in how you talk, intonation etc. Did you exercise or get any kind of help, at least googled how to do it? Thank you again, I can't wait for the next episode.
For a real suggestion anything Sicilian, Frappato especially. Light, dirty, bright raspberries... so good. And it's kind of meant to go with the flavors that make up pizza.... even pizza bagels. Occhipinti is one of the largest producers along with COS. Both delicious and reasonably affordable.
For the bottom end though, I've said it elsewhere here... Bota Box Red has a place in the world.
Thanks! I really appreciate your saying this. In the beginning, I was told that I should try to sound more "radio," which affected how I asked questions, how I read narration, just about everything. It felt unnatural (and kind of gross) but I was the newbie so I did as I was told. I think what's evolved is a mostly natural (while still curated to some degree) voice and tone in which I try to represent the average listener, talking to a smart and/or interesting person and trying to ask the questions that anyone would want to know. And not trying to be too formal, or sound smarter than I am, or being afraid of interrupting or being irreverent. What you hear on "Freakonomics Radio" (and, probably this is even more true for the forthcoming "Tell Me Something I Don't Know") is very very close to how I really think and talk.
Also this. From the Tank (fancy-ish box wine) does a killer Cote du Rhone that you can usually find at Whole Foods.
What are your thoughts on the potential impact of behavioral economics on healthcare?
I love your podcast by the way! You blew my mind when you shared statistics showing you're more likely to survive a heart attack during a cardiologist conference.
I almost suggested From The Tank, but when they originally started distributing they were restaurant only? I suppose that changed now!
I don't know about behavioral economics per se but I am excited about the fact that "evidence-based medicine" is finally a standard expectation. We're currently working on a three-part Freakonomics Radio series called "Bad Medicine," which shows just how far we've come (and how far we still have to go).
Obviously you can't say which celebs who've yelled at you, but can you dish on the nice ones?
Stephen, love all the books and podcasts. My question is this: what are some of the best techniques you've come across to get someone to at least 'entertain the idea' of a differing view than their own? This could extend to some of the emotionally charged topics like religion, politics, etc.
The fuck I can't. Throwaway and anonymous proof for a reason.
Jared Leto is either a piece of shit or were in a really bad mood from being starved while filming Dallas Buyers Club. Either way, fuck you Jared, I know that salad's lettuce wasn't super perfect looking, I can't argue with my boss when he sends it out.
As for nice ones..... Gordon Ramsay was incredibly nice, Seth Rogen and Johnny Depp are both laid back, easy going. Almost every celebrity I have met has actually been incredibly nice. Rupert Gint is a lot stockier than you realize. I think of a tall gangly redhead, not a short stocky guy. Ron Howard is really down to earth, good sense of humor. Michael Johnson (worlds fastest man) is an incredibly good tipper.
We wrote a chapter about this very problem in "Think Like a Freak." It's called "How to Persuade People Who Don't Want to Be Persuaded." Here's a little piece from it: "Our best advice would be to simply smile and change the subject. As hard as it is to think creatively about problems and come up with solutions, in our experience it is even harder to persuade people who do not wish to be persuaded." That said, we do then get into some practical solutions: don't pretend your solution is perfect; try to really listen to their counterargument; show your homework; be humble.
Lots of Jard Leto hate in this thread too- https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1sto1d/whats_your_best_i_met_a_celebrity_and_heshe_was/
How do you feel regarding the increasing of behavioral economics use in the big data/social media sphere? Does surveillance capitalism worry you? Should we all get off social media, or is mood enhancement worth sacrificing our privacy and forfeiting our ability to self-actualize and instead trade information for our identity?
The thing that surprises me is that everyone is so surprised that the data they voluntarily turn over to these big companies offering a valuable product for free are ... USED for something. A lot of the discussions about online privacy are to me a kind of noise that obscures harder and more compelling issues.
I used to work in Traffic (admin) for the Met and I will always recall a training video relating to an incident down my road where an officer was using his blues and twos at high speed on a personal errand, killing a pedestrian. link
I've always wanted to know......does the command centre/borough HQ know when an officer is driving with blues and twos, in real time? Do they need to have permission to use them (ie confirmation that they're attending a crime scene/chase)?
Edit: link to news article for anyone interested.
What's the best seller ?
Are we currently in the middle of any sort of financial / housing bubble right now (again)? If so, how / when do you expect it to pop?
There isn't an active monitoring system. All police vehicles in my force area are fitted with black box recorders which are only downloaded if an incident has occurred or a complaint has been received. The new vehicles coming into the fleet are fitted with external and internal cameras which are activated when the blue lights are on. Driving under blue lights is incredibly dangerous, and you'd be amazed at some of the stupid things people do when they see us in their mirror. I don't know of any officers who would willingly abuse that legal exemption, at the end of the day it's your neck on the line.
General Tso Chicken and its variations.
At this rate, once a decade. Somehow both too much and not enough.
- I have no idea.
- If I did, you think I'd tell you.
- I think we are approaching Peak Podcast, since there are about 100 new podcasts launching for every listener. I don't know where this is going to end up (and yet I am in the process of launching a couple new ones myself).
Why do so many celebrity chefs come off as abusive and constantly angry? I could name a few, but I'm sure everyone has some in mind. I would think that kind of attitude would be entirely negative for the working environment, especially a high-price kitchen.
Are the people you work with/for anything like this? Or is that mainly a television thing?
What is going to be the biggest economic impact of self driving cars?
Almost all of my chefs can tell you horror stories of their previous bosses. From verbal to physical abuse (intentional burning for example), belittlement and just otherwise atrocious work conditions.
The kitchen has always been a rough and tumble place, though that is changing slowly. The higher echelons have no room for error. Every plate is the only plate you get to present that guest. That kind of intensity tends to come out in rough ways. Plus, it's a hard job. My chef easily works 14 hour days 6 days a week with little respite or acknowledgement. They chain smoke, drink coffee like crazy, get shit faced every night and come back to do it all the next day. Needless to say..... that doesn't lead to an even keel.
Ultimately though, that portrayal that is a byproduct of TV. The day-to-days of the kitchen will involve a lot of swearing and cursing, but mercurial explosions of a diva tend to be a problem that isn't tolerated (unless they own the place, which is a whole other discussion).
As far as the WHY on TV, well it sells. People like drama and "reality" TV that is anything but real.
Edited few words and format.
The biggest economic impact will likely start with the fact that the 1 million-plus people who currently die from car accidents each year (think about the magnitude of that -- and we're not even counting injuries, expense, etc.) won't die, and will instead live to work, play, have kids, maybe steal a loaf of bread, whatever. That's a pretty big number right off the bat before you start even factoring in all the other potential upsides of autonomous travel. (And there will be downsides too, of course -- but I'll leave those details to the scaremongers.)
Is it true that every top-notch sommelier/chef has a guilty gustatory pleasure? (Example: Mountain Dew for a sommelier or Fritos for a chef.)
Hi, huge fan of both the podcast and the book series. I was wondering which, if any, of the ideas on last week's podcast episode "Ten Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten" do you think is most likely to be implemented into our current political system?
Every one I met has. When an associate of mine got their MS certification, I bought them a bunch of Pabst.
Almost certainly NOT quadratic voting, although I find that idea pretty compelling. I wouldn't be shocked if we start moving (in some places, we already are) toward mandatory (well, "mandatory") voting, though the upside of that isn't so clear. One easy change from our podcast would be to eliminate live audiences at debates.
I was very intrigued by the abortion and crime rate study. it started a wonderful argument at thanksgiving a few years back.
Which one of your studies received the most backlash?
No. Some places do, but I've never worked at one. Many states don't allow that (legal/tax issues), it can be a nightmare for the restaurant and ends up being pushy.
If I'm recommending a more expensive bottle I either really like it or think it is super cool. I want the guest happy, nothing changes that quicker than pushy service and overpriced wine.
Some people didn't like our solutions to fight climate change (last chapter of "SuperFreakonomics"). Also, some Realtors didn't like us comparing them to the KKK (in "Freakonomics") or to pimps (in "Freakonomics") and especially arguing that pimps get their clients a better ROI than Realtors. But hey: the numbers is the numbers.
Not a massively popular choice, but you could do a lot worse.
Congratulations, you now have a waifu that will make you tea and cosplay.
Thank you and your parents for having the dedication to run a restaurant. I've been buying from the same family owned place for 20 years and haven't found anything like it wherever I go.
How important is the family business to you, or other generations of family?
Hey, thanks for doing this. My family chooses not to drink alcohol. Is it weird or considered odd when someone comes to a high end restaurant and just orders Coke?
Hey Steven, huge fan of your books and podcasts! Speaking of which, in a recent QOTD, you mentioned (and I'm paraphrasing here) that you really like podcasting as a creative outlet because of the convenience as lower risk as compared to hiding away for a few months to write a book.
Do you think we'll continue to see a shift over to podcasts? Will the podcast boom eventually bust?
The restaurant is important because it is usually the only source of income for a first generation family in the US. Usually the second generation looks for more of a professional career!
Sort of. I won't lie, I notice it. Not because of the choice, but because I spend all night talking to people who do want to drink and it's such a glaring difference when someone (or a group of someones) don't drink.
That said, that is more just the rhythm of the job than the actual care. I assume you're pregnant, in recovery or just not a big drinker. I don't give it much thought. Half my non-drinking guests ask if we even have coke, as if we wouldn't do such a thing. Which is funny because we drink sodas just like anyone else.
Right now, the growth in the supply of podcasts seems to be outstripping the growth in demand by a long shot. That could of course change (esp. as new cars all come equipped with a podcast app in the dash). I have no idea how the medium will evolve, creatively or financially. All I know is that right now while I have the appetite (and some leverage) I am going to keep going hard at it -- mostly because I totally love it.
I've been serving for about a decade now, working my way up from casual to fine dining restaurants. If I were to look to get into a really fine dining place, what advice would you give me that could help land at a position serving at a top end restaurant?
When are you going to write a biography/autobiography with James Altucher where the two of you just share interesting little stories about your lives in no particular order? The podcast version is very catchy but I am excited for a long form version (and less ads)
Know someone or expect to not serve immediately. That isn't uncommon. It is easier to teach people properly than correct old bad habits. I know people with NO experience that were hired into support positions at places like The French Laundry.
Otherwise, knowing people helps. Or make it clear you want to learn how they do it and will start in a support position to establish yourself.
Are you kidding me?! You want more of James and I just shooting the crap? I think there's probably about 10x too much of that in the world.
I'm surprised you're getting so few questions about food. So two questions from a foodie.
I want your best dish, what is the easiest way to ask your server for it? I'll eat anything that is great. All I tend to get is 'What are you thinking about?', getting the specials reeled off to me again, or 'This basic dish is the most popular.'
What is the best thing that a restaurant has served you?
What is the most cost-effective sandwich that I could eat right now?
"So I'm open to anything, I don't want the special and I don't want your most popular dish. I want what you would get if you were sitting in my shoes and having a meal". You'll probably get an honest answer. If they stick to script, well they are a shit server anyways.
I'm honestly not sure about a particular dish that stands out.
Depends how you're defining cost-effective (i.e., short- or long-term; financially only or including health benefits, etc.)? Personally I don't eat a lot of carbs so I'm not a big sandwich guy (although I like burgers, so I same my carb budget for them). Sardines are great -- cheap, full of good stuff, tasty if you like them (I know many people don't). No reason you couldn't make yourself a wonderful sardine sandwich but they also work without the bread.
Who the fuck do you think you are claiming that Waffle House isn't a fine dining establishment?
What role do you see behavioral economics playing in terms of policy development in the next 10 years?
It's not as big now as one might like, or even think, based on the coverage it gets (from people like me included) but I do think it's catching on. The Nudge Unit in the U.K. has been very influential (and successful). For whatever reason, the U.S. version has had much less traction.
What's the biggest large format bottle you've poured from?
If you had to hide a million dollars how would you do it?
Salmanazar, but it wasn't anything special. Just a giant format for a large catering.
A Reddit bitcoin thread? Of maybe sew some diamonds into my small dog's tummy.
I saw in one of your answers you worked your way up to your position. Did you have to pass a test of some sort to be a sommelier?
Have you ever seduced a famousish customer?
What is your favorite Freakonomics episode you have done?
What is the most valuable bit of information you have learned?
What is the one you'd suggest everyone to listen to?
You da man, Stephen.
No, I was hired into my position. I basically just worked as a server at a crappy restaurant, then at a nicer restaurant, then at a nicer restaurant and so on.
Carla Gugino knows my name, I'd like to think she has a crush on me.
My favorite is usually the one we're working on at the moment, seriously. It's really fun.
Most valuable info I've learned? Oof, I'd need much longer to think of that.
One that I'd suggest everyone listen to? Probably "The Upside of Quitting." Even though there's nothing radical or revolutionary about the argument in it, many people have just never been encouraged to think about quitting in this way.
Any stories from the days before you were introducing yourself as Stephen "Freakonomics" Dubner that might help an aspiring journalist? Mistakes made, lessons learned?
For celebrities? Jared Leto.
Otherwise? The guy who wanted a discount on a $900 bottle of wine because "thats just what nice restaurants do you, you asshole"
Oh my goodness, so many. I made many, many mistakes. But then I did what smart people tell you to do which is learn from them -- not just learning to not do the thing again, but learn exactly why it was a mistake. I find journalism to be one of those fields in which mentoring and apprenticing are still really important and valuable -- though I will say this: I probably learned more from watching older people's screwups and foibles than from watching their great triumphs. I remember when I was starting out this one accomplished writer turned in a magazine piece that began with "It was a TK night." And I thought: if I can't go to the trouble to find out what the weather was on the night of the thing that I'm writing about, then I shouldn't turn in the piece.
(Serious question) in your opinion what is the best cheap box wine?
Would you give me $3,500.00 if I promised to put it toward a good cause?
...Is this a question? Seriously?
It's obviously Bota Box.
Mom, I told you to leave me alone!
I guess this is kind of a two part question. What in your experience has been the biggest cross-restaurant issue, and what do you think would be the easiest/most effective way to deal with?
What would cost more in upkeep: One horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?
Getting guests to understand what happens at one place doesn't happen at another and each establishment is a business.
This applies to food, drinks, procedures, etc. Every place tries to find and maintain it's own identity. This makes it tough to put your foot down for requests that compromise that. Even simple ones, it is less about the request and more about the precedent it sets.
Dress code is an example that pops to mind. We don't have one where I work and it often surprises people. We try not to be stuffy or formal and we feel enforcing a dress code would come off that way. However, it is awkward when you have someone who saved for a while, is celebrating their 25 anniversary, put on their suit and dresses to come have a nice night and a nice meal... and they're seated next to a tech entrepreneur who is wearing sandals and a t-shirt. Both of them are completely in the right in their own way... and both have the possibility to affect the mood for each others night in their own way. Which side do you choose when you make these decisions?
This is usually a hard question to answer but if we're talking upkeep -- definitely the tiny horses cost more. Just think of getting all those custom-made harnesses and saddles!
Employee turnover has to decrease as the dining experience gets finer and finer... How long does the average employee last where you're at now, how long has the most tenured employee been there? The newest?
Why is it that running shoes tend to be white but soccer cleats tend to be black?
I'm the most tenured employee. Now I'd say the average departure from my position is every year or two. Newest is about 8 months. We had some management transitions, but now they have stabilized in a very positive way and turnover is dramatically dropping.
When's the last time you were in a shoe store? It's a rainbow out there, brother.
I have absolutely no idea about ordering wine. When I go to a restaurant with an extensive wine list, I feel embarrassed to ask the server about recommendations since anything he says would fly over my head. In the end I would usually get the house red or white. Any tips on how to order wine? Or at least how to ask for recommendations?
Definitely easier. It's a really useful tool. People often have misconceptions about S&S and think we use it for 'fishing'. In reality it's a tool which allows us to prevent making unnecessary arrests. To perform a stop/search we need to have similar grounds to what we would need to arrest someone. So if someone matches the description of a shoplifter, or someone who has been seen selling drugs, it's far easier to search them at the side of the road and then let them go than it is to arrest them on suspicion of those offences, take them into custody and then search them at a police station to find that they really were telling the truth. It's designed to make the public's lives easier to be honest.
I am not surprised from this stereotype, but it is usually dependent upon the area. I have been two a few places that i felt were not clean, but most are usually sanitary. All stores have health inspectors come by, so they have to meet some sort of standard.
If you live in a nice neighborhood, the store will be clean, if you really want to make sure, just go to the store and ask to use the bathroom.
The reason behind the negative stereotype comes from china. They probably work in a store in china and what worked over there might not work over here. I dont have any personal experience with this so I can not elaborate further.
Ask! Give a price range, be honest and blunt.
"I don't know a ton about wine, but I want to explore a little in the $75-100 range. Do you have any recommendations or something different you'd steer me towards?"
As a captain of the floor, are there any nautical terms that you use? Are most people super into having to know every aspect of why their food is amazing, or are people just "humm... yum... taste good?
It's not their fault. They have policies and procedures just like us. I feel for them sometimes. They often get to incidents first and they don't have stab vests or protective equipment.
We do cook authentic chinese food for ourselves and we do make it by special request to the customers!
You just have to know the name and how the dish is like and then ask if they know what you are talking about and if they have the ability to make it! Some authentic dishes require a lot of prep so they wont be able to.
I'd say 75% is "yum it is amazing" and 25% is super into knowing every detail.
Also, I don't use nautical terms but I really should. Suggestions?
(Half) Chinese here! My mother owned a Korean restaurant during my youth-teen years that I helped out at. Not sure why but I couldn't ever eat at other Korean restaurants (used to eating at my mom's place, free food vs paying,etc.) until well into my college years.
How often, if at all, do you eat at other Chinese restaurants? Can you just enjoy the food or do you compare/critique it?
Thanks for doing this ama! I've worked my way from hostess to foh manager, and I love everything about my job.
What's one of your most memorable guests/ services?
I actually eat at other chinese takeouts pretty often when I am out an about.
Its fun trying out different places and comparing them to your own. So I do critique it but it doesnt mean I dont enjoy it when I do.
I had a couple once celebrate their 30th anniversary in my section, apparently she had been denied a liver transplant and that was likely to be their last anniversary together.
Really drove home how much you can affect important memories for people.
Oh no... I'm waiting to be put on the liver transplant list and this broke my heart.
MONGOLIAN STYLE DISHES!
It's a sweet, spicy, peppery dish!
You'll be fine if I'm never your server.
Good luck though.
What is the number one thing you would never order from a Chinese take-out restaurant?
I once ate at an insanely expensive steak place in Las Vegas where we basically had a private waiter wearing white gloves, carefully watching from a respectful distance, then almost telepathically swooping in when we needed something, yet, never making anyone feel watched or crowded. It was an amazing performance. Is this what you do?
Probably french fries if they offer it. We dont but i know some places that do.
Yes. Without the gloves and the depression that comes with living in Las Vegas.
Okay a few questions:
Every Chinese place near me has the exact same egg rolls. I mean like they look and taste EXACTLY the same. Same thing with a few other dishes like lo mein noodles, sesame chicken, etc. I assume there's some food supplier in the area that they all get their stuff from. Any thoughts on this / how widespread is this? How much of typical Chinese food is made from scratch vs made from prepackaged ingredients?
You mentioned food coloring. How much food coloring is typically added to a dish you make? Do colored dishes sell better than the same uncolored dishes (which presumably taste exactly the same)?
Also thanks for the clean bathroom tip, I'll have to check that out :)
What sort of restaurant do you want to open? Upper-echelon like the one you work for currently, or something different?
There are usually 2-3 competing suppliers for every location, but all those suppliers stock the same products and its just the price that is different. Now to answer your question, there are premade egg rolls and I am sure places order those egg rolls because they don't want to make their own. However, I am not sure how widespread it is. Even places that dont order the premade egg roll still have to order the veges to put in the egg rolls and that is the same regardless of where you go. And becauses egg rolls are so lightly seasoned and the veges are usually the same, rolls premade or not usually look and taste the same. There are small differences if you pay close attention, but usually people put such an abundance of extra sauce on it that they cant even taste the difference anyways.
Most chinese food dishes are made from scratch and rarely are they ever prepackaged. the most common thing that is prepackaged are probably dumplings.
There are two food coloring that most stores use. one is egg yellow and the other is red. The yellow one is usually to lightly color the wonton soup base. And the red one is for everything else. I am sure you noticed that pork is normally grey put in chinese food it is red. A hint of red usually makes it more appealing to the eye.
I cant say much about the selling stance as I havent done a controlled comparison, but it wouldnt surprised me if it did.
Around $45 per person average, not anything like I'm doing right now. This would be fun to revisit down the road, but to quote Bourdain... if you want to open up a restaurant, burn a pile of money in a driveway.
As a captain and a Somalian, has your vessel ever been attacked by pirates? Alternatively, how has piracy near Somalia affected your life?
One of the most common sayings you hear in the food service industry is that "The customer is always right." I wish you didnt have to follow this rule, but no matter how much you hate it, there is a reason for it.
Because of this mindset, you get these customer sometimes that believe they can do whatever they want.
One time, this individual comes in with an already eaten dish. I mean like, the dish was already almost done; only a couple pieces of veges left on the plate. he claims that the dish is not what he order and ask for a refund and starts throwing a fit while there were tons of other people around. he throws the food on the ground and then leaves. We end up with a mess and dead silent waiting room. What an asshole
Well piracy really negatively impacted the Somalian wine export market.
Why do some places not run air conditioning and leave the front and back doors open?
I'm not much of a wine guy, but I have a few "regular bottles" that I'll have on hand for when people come over and they want a glass of something. My personal favorite is Wild Horse Pinot Noir. Out of curiosity, have you had this wine and what do you think of it for a ~$15 bottle? I have 3 bottles of 2014 in the cupboard. Also, have you ever had Fighter Pilot Red? It's another personal favorite.
What other bottles should I try in this price range? Wine sections intimidate me so I just kinda buy the same stuff.
The truthful answer: We are cheap people trying to save some money here and there
The usual answer: Its because we expect the customer to be in and out as it is a take out store and the A/C doesnt work in the kitchen because the ventilation keeps if from staying cool.
My personal favorite is Wild Horse Pinot Noir. Out of curiosity, have you had this wine and what do you think of it for a ~$15 bottle?
I've worked in places that sold it and I think it's the perfect wine for what it is. It's good, simple Central Coast pinot noir. It's not meant to be aged, it's meant to be opened and drank. No ceremony, no complication. It's hard to keep context on wine. One wines strong point isn't always a person's need. Sometimes you just want to open a wine and like it without giving it much thought.
I haven't thought about Wild Horse in years though.
I don't have any recommendations but I'm a list person. You put me in a section, I'll have plenty. You give me a blank board to write stuff down and I draw blanks. Responsive memory I suppose?
Regardless, don't be intimidated, what is the worst that happens? You grab a bottle you know nothing about, buy it with a cashier who has no clue you know nothing about, you go home and open it without anyone ever having a clue and you drink and hate it without anyone being around? It's a win-only game. You buy wine, you find something new you like. If you don't like it, well at least you get to get drunk.
Chinese takeout varies around the world. Is it chef's knowledge or business that restricts? In Australia every takeout will offer a 'Honey Chicken' - have you ever heard of it?
It's a win-only game. You buy wine, you find something new you like. If you don't like it, well at least you get to get drunk.
Seriously, stop being so damn quotable, it's making me jealous.
Yes I have seen and have had it in the US. But not every place has it. The variety comes not from the chef, but what the customer want. If it isnt popular and it isnt being served, there is no point in having it on the menu.
I personally like honey chicken, but people dont like trying new things :O
It's easy to sound quotable when you have time to answer.
One more question, are you offended if someone doesn't tip for take out? I tip most times but sometimes I think it's unnecessary.
What is your thought on the split between FoH and BoH? I'm a cook/chef and experiencing some of the ire between the two was never something I really took part in, I'm curious as to how you feel about the disparity.
Never! No one should be forced to tip. If you like us or the food then tip if you want, but dont tip because you think you have to! I would never go to a place that forces people to tip, especially take out!
I hate it. I don't use the terms Front and Back. It's Dining Room and Kitchen. We all have the same goal, the same team to work with and the same hope: to survive each shift with our sanity and enough happiness to make us come back to our next shift.
I've never understood it. Almost any BOH admits they are there because they don't want to deal with people.... but then plenty of them spend their time shitting on servers because they perceived the job easy. Each job sucks and rocks in a unique way, no reason to add in-house animosity.
Hey, I'm a chef / food scientist and I had a couple questions.
First off what types of vendors do you use for your primary suppliers? Do you use a vendor for a lot of the "chinese food place" stuff and then a separate vendor for your wholesale produce and meat or do you buy from one company?
I read some of your other responses in regards to prep, particularly what you mentioned about bulk prep. Do you rely on tools as often as possible (mandoline, food processor w/ attachments) to speed things up or is everything done with a big ass chinese cleaver?
I've worked with commercial wok stations before, they use a ton of gas. What's your gas bill like usually?
Have you had any questionable issues with health and safety inspections? (On your part or theirs).
Do you experiment with cooking a lot outside of what you cook at your restaurant? Do you have any kind of desire to work in different types of kitchens or make different types of food?
Thanks for doing the AMA. I love cooking on a real wok burner btw, it's like cooking on a jet engine.
What are your thoughts on the divide that exists in regards to pay? I've seen servers walk away with what I make in a 55 hour week in one night. It bothered me but I'm in the kitchen because I enjoy it, it's a little disheartening to say the least.
Here we go, one by one!
We personally use there different suppliers. One supplier for the utensil and containers, one for produces and typical chinese food stuff, and one for meats.
Almost everything is done with a big ass cleaver! However, we have small knives for deboning and a big mixer for the marination and mixing process when we season the meats. We also have a deli slicers as well. And a meat grinder to make grounded pork and mix dough (works well).
I can really comment on gas bill, as I dont have any one hand and I dont usually do the gas bills, sorry.
Our places is usually clean but we alway have the mark were things are not covered. We cover everything daily, but it get so busy during the day that its hard to keep it covered when the health inspector arrives. We are talking about food in the fridge.
i dont really have time for cooking outside of the restaurant so I have not. I don't have any desires besides maybe learning some sushi :O a fine art!
It's unfair. There is no way around it.
There are flip sides to though, in the context of servers.
A lot of kitchen guys are building a craft, a trade skill they can hopefully turn into their own place or food truck or whatever. They work 10 years in 10 different jobs, they expand their skill set. A server works 10 years in 10 different jobs, they learned how to operated in 10 different places.
No one opens a restaurant because they were a very talented server.
Either way though, the wage divide is a tough reality and certainly not fair. However, kitchen staff chose to be there. Nothing ever stops them from coming up front.
Whats the key to a solid Crab Rangoon?? I just can NOT replicate the stuffing!
Are there any good wines under $15?
It would be, thoroughly mixing the season into the cream cheese.
Tons. Too many to name.
One thing I've learned is I never sneer at people's preferences as long as they aren't based in ignorance.
Price can determine perceived quality. Price can also be the result of actual quality. Price, however, does not determine taste.
One of the best wines I ever had was when I was younger and didn't really know much about wine. My colleagues would chuckle at it when I mention it, as it's a wine based on style and marketing (Prisoner, previously of Orin Swift. Note: I'm not referring to this as a wine under $15, just as a wine that doesn't have a strong repute with somms)... but fact is my dad really liked the wine and I remember having a very awesome meal with him and my girlfriend at the time and drinking that. It's not so much about the wine, but the memories I associate with it.
When and if you develop a palate, it's easy to move on from the basics. The simple stuff that people like, it's easy forget why they like it. Sometimes the cheap price is the attraction, sometimes it's the memories.
I have a box of wine in my fridge right now because... guess what? After 3 glasses my palate is shot, I'm feeling good and I don't want to remember to cork up a bottle and have to drink it in the next 3 or 4 days.
What's the most outrageous request you've been able to accommodate, by either a celebrity or an everyman?
quite often actually, maybe once a day? not because we take the wrong order, but because the chef sometimes gets orders mixed up because there are so many.
I've had this sitting on my queue for a while... I'm sorry to say I can't think of a great example for you. Celebrities never have weird requests, they just want private tables.
As a jew, I just want to say thank you for always being there for delivery on Christmas day (well, for the people in your line of work always being there). My favorite thing on that day is giving the driver a wrapped "Christmas" present. it's kind of a tradition now.
How busy are your Christmas days? Any good stories, or is it just extremely busy and stressful? I guess this depends entirely on the area you live.
Any recommendations for a wedding cocktail or two? We're getting married in the fall, and I'm Chinese, so we're looking for drinks related to one or both of those with minimal ingredients so we don't have to stock too much.
The caterer suggested a vodka-cranberry + lychee, which sounds fine if maybe a bit boring and sweet. I do realize my minimal ingredients stipulation makes it hard to be too exciting. Do you have any better ideas? I thought it would be nice to have a brown liquor cocktail as well.
We are actually fairly busy around Christmas time. I am trying to remember a good story that involves a customer but none is coming to mind right now. If I think of something I will let you know.
Yes! I'll PM you tomorrow after all this is done so I can answer more thoroughly.
Ive had two styles of crab rangoon, some on the sweeter side, and some more on the savory side. Why is that so? Is it regional or just a matter of preference?
Can you post your recommendation on the ama as well? I'm quite curious on your recommendation as well!
You are talking about the cream cheese crab rangoon right?
It is a regional preferences, they try what people like.
Okay, I'll try to remember.
Is there any way to make that delicious neon-red sweet and sour sauce at home? I've tried many recipes but they never come out like the restaurant.
I'm poor. Like, poverty-level poor. If I'm careful with my money, I can manage the occasional minor indulgence, comparatively speaking. Is there any way I could experience dining at a restaurant of your caliber and keep the price reasonable?
I am not familiar with home cook chinese takeout. So I dont know the secret to it. sorry.
I think the best idea is just to go to a chinese food takeout place and ask to buy some unheat sweet and and sour sauce. They definitely will sell it and it will be cheap!
Honestly, if you're that poor, probably not. Even if you could, I'd tell you not to. Why not go somewhere a little less fancy and ball out a little more? That is way more fun for me. I'd have less fun worrying about the total bill at my place than I would somewhere less expensive but not being as concerned.
That said, for being reasonable, if you don't drink wine and share with your date you could keep the cost approachable.
Can you name Top 5 wines we don't know about but should?
Probably not. It has little to do with the actual question and more what defines "know about" and what people like.
I'll name my Top 5, regardless of popularity, how about that?
Piedrasassi Syrah from Santa Barbera
"Vecchia Modena" Lambrusco di Modena (Sparkling Lambrusco)
Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Barboursville Cabernet Franc (Virginia Winery)
Massican "Gemina" Vineyard White Blend.
Also, if you want a winery you should keep an eye out for: Ryme from California. They do really cool stuff with fun grape varietals. They've started to get some good presence, so they aren't some huge secret but definitely not widely known yet.
The idea of going to an expensive restaurant is intimidating, yet still an experience my husband and I would like to have some time. We both grew up middle class and now, even though we are academics, we are upper middle class. We live modestly, and dress modestly, and spend our extra money on new experiences. Is there any advice you could give us on how to conduct ourselves (dress, mannerisms, basically just how to navigate this minefield)?
Remember it's not a minefield. That hostess? Banging the valet. That bartender? Builds motorcycles in his spare time and has a roommate for his duplex. That server? Is a personal trainer as his other job.
We make good money, but we're not wealthy. We're literally middle class. We're the exact person you are... the only difference is, we go to work at 5 pm.
Despite dealing with the obscenely rich, our most regular guests are people celebrating birthdays, anniversary dinners, etc, that won't be back for another year. Nothing is expected of them except trying to have a good time and understand we're trying to do the same.
Did you take or do you know anyone who took the Master Sommelier exam? Is it as hard as it is portrayed to be in the Somm documentary?
No I didn't take it, but I know several who have and yes it is that difficult. Harder in some ways.
What led you to this career path? And how'd you know you wanted to be a sommelier?
Accident and I still don't want to be one.
I was 18, fucking off around lower end restaurants when I realized you made more money with less work at nicer places.... so I started trying to constantly advance. Somewhere along the way, I realized I really liked what I did and decided to stick with it for a career.
As for the sommelier part, it's more the end result of my job progression than anything I sought out.