[Interview] Real Talk – The Chef Series, part 2

….continuing the Real Talk – The Chef Series, with part 2.

THD: Here’s a question that’s kind of along the lines of what we have been talking about. We talked about getting a dish that wasn’t what you expected, what about when you get a dish that you don’t think is prepared the way it should be.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Like order a medium rare steak and it comes out medium well or–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: A rare steak.

THD: Right. Let’s start with that one. You order medium rare, it comes out—you think, “This isn’t medium rare to me.”


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I was going to say, under or over? I mean, to me it depends–


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s two-fold. Like, “How drunk am I?”

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Okay. “Am I in the moment.”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: “How much am I paying?” you know. Say, if I go to Boodles, and I’m getting Steak Diane and it’s burnt when I ordered rare.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: You’re like, “Whatever.”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to eat! We’re probably double-dating and, getting drunk and paying the piano guy to play anything but Billy Joel. So, like, who cares?


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Now, if I go to your restaurant, I’m paying 45 bucks for fucking surf and turf, dude, hell, yeah, I’m sending that back because he would want me to.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Exactly. Yeah. We would want it to be the perfect experience.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: If I order it medium rare and it came out like blood–like raw, I’d be like, “Hey, Jeremy, your guy missed his mark. Please just take it up.” I know he’s going to give me a new veg, you know, butter that tail back to life, you know.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: And that’s even if we’re drinking.


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It doesn’t matter, either way.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Exactly. You know that I’m going to get nurtured back to where I want to be.

THD: So that goes to another question too. So you said you’re going to get a new veg. So if I get a dish back and my dish has the same potatoes that I had and…

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s not professional.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO:   When you send a protein back, it depends on how it comes. If you sell your steak with a starch and veg, then every time we get a steak sent back, a new starch, a new veg–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right. That’s protocol.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: If they already sent back something, you don’t want to take the chance. You don’t want to send them back out something that they’re not going to like. “Oh, the steaks perfect this time, but the potatoes suck.”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: When you have a customer walk in the door, you need to treat them, like, “Okay, thank you for coming in. I’m going to be responsible with your choice to eat here.”


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: When they point out a mistake, it’s ten-fold. It’s like, “Okay, now I need to prove that you did not make a mistake in coming here.”




THD: So what does the customer do when they get it back and now the steak’s cooked right but now they have all the same sides on it from before?

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: You should probably have re-sat the whole set.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: You’ve got to re-fire the whole set.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And if they didn’t–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s a standard. That should be a standard everywhere.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –but it’s not.



CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It should be.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s the difference between a professional and a hack chef.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: It’s the job to fire the steak. I don’t even care if there’s one little bite out of it.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You’ll fire a whole steak for–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Immediately. It’s a must.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: –for an up-cook?

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: For an up-cook?

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: It depends, if it’s over medium–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: If it’s over medium I will punish them.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: All I’m saying, if I order it medium rare and they bring it out bloody rare–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: If it’s rare going to mid-rare I’ll fire a new one.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You’re fucking crazy.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Dude, that’s crazy.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: It’s the integrity–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No way, that’s just crazy. A little butter base, nurture it–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I only have–I only have fillet so it’s not that big, you know, so I’m not–I’m not dealing with a rib eye like you are, you know, rib eye or a scallop or…

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I was just going to say, what kind of a steak are we talking about?

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Exactly. I only got this little thing I can’t redo it


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Dude, but if they want medium and they cut into it once and it’s mid-rare and all that it needs is like two minutes in a butter base.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I’m not going to fire a whole new steak. Plus it takes too long, you know what I’m saying? Like, they want it, like, now.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Thank god for the fillet. That’s the thing. That’s the difference between you and I.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I think–I like where you’re at–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Nothing re-comes to the table.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I like where you’re at but, I think it will pull the rent.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Unless they’re under and they want to be higher than medium, then I will punish them.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: What do you think? What do you do? You just–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I’m with you on that.


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Just because if it’s enough time, it could be them, it could be us. There’s no ego. We’re just going to fix it, we’re going to base it of course.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: How do you honestly do that? Like if they think it’s mid-rare and they wanted medium–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I’ll butter, medium oven.

THD: Okay. What’s the boundary for this? Is it “I cut into it and saw it wasn’t cooked right?” Is it “I cut into it and took a bite?” Is it “I cut into it and ate half of it?”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if it’s a 4-ounce piece, if you want it up a little bit, like I said, we’ll just baby it.

THD: No, no, I’m talking about sending it back.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, send it back. You’re sending back a 4-ounce chunk.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: If it’s an ounce of steak back sometimes because the center’s not cooked well, that’s what they want. So we’ll bring it up.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I can’t do that.

THD: So one of my favorite things to order at a restaurant is short ribs. I think that if you can cook short ribs well, I can pretty much guarantee that most things will be cooked properly.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s a good basic cooking technique.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: That’s–it’s 101.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I love you for that because it’s just like set it and forget it.

THD: Let’s say when you get it, your short ribs are dry. Do I send it back right away?


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Dude, if your short ribs are dry–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That should never happen.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No, if your short ribs are dry, though, they’re braised in, like, batches, like, 20 to 40 orders, so if you have a bad batch of short ribs, you fucking…

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: You hammered them.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, you cancel. You bombed.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: They’re way overcooked.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You pull your parachute. You order something else. You leave or you order something else. That’s like a bad slice of cake. The whole fucking cake is bad.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: “I’m going to send this back.”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You just bail. You say, “This sucks, I want something else.”

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: You better get a salad.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: If I’m in a quality restaurant, and I get bad short ribs, maybe the sous chef or lower minion fucking burnt the back…overcooked them. Then I’m going to get something else because I know it’s a quality restaurant. I’m just going to get the fucking salmon special, whatever, and have a good meal. But when you get a braised item that does not taste right, that’s in a batch form. Steaks aren’t in a batch, they’re á la minute. Short ribs – batch. If you get a bad batch of short ribs you blow your parachute. You lost.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: You’re not going to get another good one.

THD: But we still say that the answer is to immediately tell the server?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, any time something’s not right, it should be a universal standard. If it doesn’t taste right or it’s not to your liking, tell the server, get rid it. Fucking throw it. Get it out of your face. Any chef wants to know that. If you come into my restaurant and Jeremy orders the pork belly and loves it, and you order the pork belly and hate it, neither one of you are right or wrong.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Like, it’s gone. “What do you want instead?” If I hate your fucking chorizo tacos, you know, I mean, you’re not going to stop buying that chorizo or making that chorizo.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You’re basically going to say, “Okay, he doesn’t like it. Do you want chicken instead?” like, you know.




Chef James Rigato is Executive Chef at The Root Restaurant & Bar in White Lake, MI, and a contestant on Bravo TV’s Top Chef, Season 12 in Boston, MA. In 2012, Chef Rigato was nominated for the Food & Wine “The People’s Best New Chef: Great Lakes” and took home the Restaurant of the Year Award, for the Root, by The Detroit Free Press. He was voted as Best Chef by Hour Detroit in 2013 and again in 2014. Chef Rigato is also known for his “Young Guns” collaborative dinner series, which has been brought together six times.

Chef Jeremy Kalmus is the owner/chef of the new event and catering company Rock ‘N Roll + Caviar, formerly Executive Chef at Local Kitchen and Bar in Ferndale, MI, and NOVI Chop House in NOVI, MI.

Chef Douglas Hewitt, formerly Executive Chef at Terry B’s Restaurant and Bar in Dexter, MI is now taking over the kitchen at the upcoming Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Detroit, MI.

Chef Brennan Calnin is the Executive Chef at Imperial Mexican Restaurant & Bar and at the Public House, both in Ferndale, MI.

The interviews in this series were conducted by VATO.

Keep up with The Hungry Dudes for Real Talk – The Chef Series on the coming Mondays and Thursdays for parts 3 through 8.  Also, keep up with Real Talk – The Bartender Series, on the coming Tuesdays and Fridays for parts 2 through 7.  We hope you enjoy these Series, and appreciate your feedback. As always, please don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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