[Interview] Real Talk – The Chef Series, part 4

…continuing Real Talk  – The Chef Series with part 4.

THD: Okay. Let’s talk a new area. Why do you guys think people are so enamored with mediocre food? Like, some of these hyperfood restaurants.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I’ll say the price.

THD: It’s because of price??

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: The price. Yeah, absolutely.

THD: Really?


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Because there’s some places that are mediocre that are expensive. I think it’s because other people say it’s good, and they’re like…


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: it’s hype, dude, it’s advertising, it’s marketing.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Sure. Yeah. I agree with you. It’s Budweiser

THD: That’s like Absolut.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Do you know what the number one selling vodka is? it’s Grey Goose. A landslide. Grey Goose sucks.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: If you drink the Smirnoff, the triple distilled Smirnoff next to Grey Goose, You would be hard pressed to tell me if you have a Martini the difference.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I buy t; that’s what I buy.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Now, I don’t have a vendetta against Grey Goose…

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Well, what’s the difference between a Smirnoff and a Grey Goose?


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And prestige.



CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I used to have an owner restaurant I worked at, he always said, “If something’s not selling, you raise the price because people are like, ‘Oh, it’s expensive. It’s got to be good.’” And I think that some of–I’m not saying that a lot of restaurants, you know, have high price–I hope to god that their chef knows food costs and stuff like that and doesn’t just throw out a random number. But there are times where I’ve gone and eaten at a place and I’ve looked at the menu and read it and I’m like, “Okay, it seems kind of pricey,” and then I eat it expecting that the price to reflect the quality of the food I’m going to get.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And it doesn’t.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: And then it’s like this food is fucking garbage.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I could have got this for half the price or I could have been just as happy going to the greasy spoon down the street and getting their pork chop with peas, you know what I mean?


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s usually what I do.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Two words, it’s price or hype. Because, there’s plenty of places where you go in and eat because it’s price. Plenty of them. A number a restaurants out there, like, you can get a, you know, Texas Roadhouse gives its fucking sirloin for $9.99 and a salad and bread and like listen to Garth Brooks the whole time and duke a fucking Sam Adams and, like, you’re, you know, you got a shit eating grin. Dude, once every six months I eat at Texas Roadhouse. Like, all baked out of my mind and was laughing my ass off because I’m like, dude, this place is brilliant, you know what I’m saying. One day when I’m done proving my point, I’m going to sit and make money. I’m going to buy a Texas Roadhouse, I swear to god. So once in a blue moon I go in there and have a good laugh and enjoy myself.

THD: Are those places a necessary evil or are they something that we need to be educated out of?


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I think they’re like parasites.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: They serve a purpose at some point but, like, any fucking Asian carp or Zebra Mussel, when un-policed and in the right condition, they’ll grow to a point to where they threaten the natural environment.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: We all need to be chefs at restaurants, but if you don’t police those restaurants and keeping an eye on them, they’re going to become the majority and then push guys like us out, to where you look like an asshole for a $40 entrée. Or you look like an asshole for having white linen. I think having a Sonic is okay or having an A&W is okay. But when it gets to the point to where, like, you have a Mainstreet that has nothing but those you now have a problem. They’re the Zebra Mussel of the culinary world.



CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And I think a large problem of our industry is, people think that buying local or buying fresh is cheap. It’s not.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s the opposite.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It costs us more.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: To have a nice ingredient to offer real food is extremely expensive.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: We have to pass it on to our guests. There is really no way of going about it, and I think that what people don’t realize is when they buy a very affordable meal, it’s what you’re eating, it’s really not what we’re trying to get across; and it’s unfortunate, but if we get everybody involved, we get the whole state of Michigan involved and we start offering these farms more money, they can get a little larger, they could be more affordable.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: The culture will actually flipside.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: If we take Sysco trucks out of balance or we actually bring good old boys back in the balance.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN:   Yeah, I agree. Yeah. And this actually hits home for me because we have–we did have Taco Bell down the street, you know, and obviously we serve tacos here; $2.50 for a taco is obviously not expensive, but people are like, “Well, I can go down the street and get tacos for 99 cents” and blah, blah. Yeah, but there’s a reason our tacos are $2.50.



CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: We’ve got to do volume. And the thing is that it’s got to be $2.50 because of the labor that goes into it and the making of sauces fresh every single day and not using the canned stuff, you know, and…

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Plus you need a job.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I’m in a profitable business. We always say at our restaurant “We are in the job of being profitable.”   We are in the business of making money believe it or not, we’re not back here just having fun.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s why there’s up-charges when people want to bastardize what you put together.


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Destroy the integrity of all the thought that you put into it.

THD: Should I never order off the menu?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Like go off the menu?

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: At that point, ask the chef to cook for you. Tell him what you like and have him cook for you.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No, I agree. I have plenty of people come in say, “Oh, man, I’ve eaten here, I’ve had your menu, can you, like, make me something special?”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You know, I like to say two things, either tell me your budget or what you are you looking for? Do you just want, like, an entrée or do you want, like, an experience.” But I like–to me, I encourage people to walk in the door and say, “Hey, look, I want to spend 60 bucks for some food. I’ll dictate my own beverage, just cook. I’m allergic to shrimp. Everything else, have fun.”

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah. That’s what every–every friend that I have that’s a chef, whenever I go into their place, I don’t think there’s any better feeling I could ever have of someone just coming in and saying like, “Dude, just cook for me.”


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s the best.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Just make me something, you know. I mean, that’s like the–that’s like a high praise to put in their meal–their whole experience. They can pick something off the menu they know they’re going to like but they’re going to come in and say–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: “I trust you. I love you.”

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I have a guy who comes in around brunch–we have four brunch items and then we run the tacos, and there’s a guy that comes in every week that just lets me–he just comes in and says, “I’m going to drink my Bloody Mary’s and I’m going to go on to my PBR’s, but”–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And I think that dining should be that way. On my menu, for instance, I have part of the menu–it’s very small–it says, “Let chef cook.” Four courses, five courses, six.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: That’s awesome.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And it’s just a little price point, and if they want to pair wines, it’s another additional charge.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: James offers the menu – if you want a prix fixe here’s what it’s going to be. You chose out of prix fixe and I think a lot of people who are going to that, like, it’s that youthful dining, man.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: That grazing, that, like, I want–I’m coming here, I haven’t been here, I’ve been meaning to. I want to eat the whole goddamm thing, and I only have one night. Everybody’s alarmed by it. Is it suicide to actually put it on the menu, “Let chef cook?” It’s many, many, many, many, every night. And if I just offered it like I used to–I mean, James has been to my restaurant, I don’t know, 85 times, and he’s had the menu probably once.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: So, I thought about like, you actually should just put that on the menu and once I did–actually Rupersberg, or the other woman…


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Sylvia Rector did that course-out menu and she did it on James and I and other restaurants, and ever since she did that, it’s been blowing up ever since.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: As soon as she put that in there, the next night literally people were calling.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I think we talked about–she called The Root Restaurant of the Year. I told her I was talking about coursing out. She’s like, “What is coursing out?” She’s like, “What the hell is that?” and I explained it to her, and I was like, “Do you think I fucking go to, like, all these restaurants and, like, order off the menu?”


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I was like, “No, I say, course me out motherfucker,” and then she’s like, oh, so she wrote a story on that.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That was sweet.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: She called me and asked me who should I talk to and I gave her the laundry list of who to talk to.


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I did the same thing.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: It worked. I put it on the menu and boom, all of a sudden I’m making monies for everybody every night. Sometimes, though, I get a little fucking annoyed.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Sometimes it really pisses me off.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: But it’s–still at the end of the day you’re like, “Ah, I cooked for a great purpose tonight.”

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Get to do what we want.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Are you talking about ordering off the menu, though, as far as people, like, “I want the scallops set with”–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Sub this…. Sub that….

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –“the steak with”–that’s when I was saying there’s not a better feeling than having somebody say, like, “Cook for me,” that’s the antithesis when somebody says I want to take this and put this and put this because it’s like, dude or chick, I took time to put these things together. They make sense. They’re supposed to go together, not like, you know, steak with pineapple and cheese for a taco, seriously? They’ll ask to put something else together. Sure, we have those ingredients in the house but it’s not going to be good and it’s not going to do justice to the ingredients–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: And then they complain because it wasn’t good.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You don’t want that.


THD: But if you–let’s say I’m talking out loud and I say, “Man, I can’t decide between getting the duck and getting the scallops”–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Get them both you pussy.

THD: And then the server says, “I can add scallops to your duck,” then it’s okay to do that?


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I think it’s ok.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And, to me, adding is welcome.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That makes us money.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Like, oh, my god, you want to put ice cream on your fucking steak, go for it. Take it away is the problem. Dude, when you start taking away–because you don’t know at what point that food intersects in our world, so if you start stripping things away, you’re really like–you’re really fucking with our whole structure.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: And when things are already together to begin with.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: It’s like you get a taco and it’s like chorizo potato and no potato, and I’m like, “I put the potatoes into the chorizo so they pick up all the fat and everything,”

THD: Should the server bring that up then? The mechanics of the dish?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Your staff? Yes.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: They should be educated.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Your staff should be educated, like when you proposed that question–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s our job, is to educate them.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: If your server–if you have a server that doesn’t know what’s going on in the kitchen, that means you have a chef who can’t communicate to their staff. Or you have, like, a wild cancer that you can be like–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: You need to get rid of.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Try to flag a manager. If that’s not working I’ll just leave the restaurant.

THD: I know a lot of people that will say I want something without the onions but not know that onion is mixed into whatever they’re cooking and the server doesn’t tell you they are in there.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: If they’re allergic to onion, onion is probably the most important ingredient in the kitchen. I mean, it’s in fucking everything.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: If you’re allergic to onions, you’re two things, you’re rare or you’re a liar.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I’m allergic to onions so no onions on my taco, but salsa’s fine???” I mean, there’s a contradiction.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No chives. There’s no garlic.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Well, the servers need to be educated on that point. I will make them go back to the table and let the customer know that everything was stock

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That means you’re going to get sick.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Yeah. . So are they truly, truly, truly allergic to onions. Or do they not want them raw, do they want them cooked, invisible. Or can they really not even have the essence of the vegetable. And more times than not they’ll come back and they’re like, “They can’t have them at all,” and I’m like, “Just have them reorder”–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: That’s settled.


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 5 through 8.  Also, keep up with Real Talk – The Bartender Series, on the coming Tuesdays and Fridays for parts 4 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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