[Interview] Real Talk – The Chef Series, part 7

…continuing Real Talk – The Chef Series with part 7.


THD: Let’s go around the table and say what’s your number one pet peeve at the restaurant. Back of the house? Is there something that’s customer interaction related, whether it’s substituting an item, whether it’s–whatever?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: That’s easy. I’ll start, you know, and honestly, my pet peeve has very little to do with the customer. My pet peeve is probably from my staff when you fail to see the vision. You know, I love my staff. I mean, I’ll kill for my staff. I live my life with my staff. But when–usually when the front of the house loses sight of the vision for a moment or they’re tired or they’re, you know, like, just want to make their money and bounce. I think–because to me, we’re in the business of service. My pet peeve with customers is not having any; a fucking slow night, that’s my pet peeve. So, any customer that walks in the door deserves my attention. I don’t care if you want a glass of water and a fucking well-done steak, no salt. I don’t care. My pet peeve is when I have staff that don’t see what I see and what every customer deserves. From the time they walk in the door, they made a conscious decision to be there, and if I don’t treat them with respect and if my front of the house doesn’t engage them or my cooks don’t cook like our lives depend on it, then that to me is the pitfall of this industry, and that’s where the cancer lies. That’s where mediocrity comes from.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I can go next, it came right to my mind–two–and they have to do with the customer only because it starts, again, in the kitchen or with the staff; (1) punctuality is–that, for staff, if you can’t show up on time, it means that your don’t give a shit.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I fucking agree.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: And if you don’t give a shit, it’s going to reflect directly on the customer. I mean, it’s going to pile up. It’s like the first thing you have to do is just show up on time and if you can’t show up on time–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: What are you doing here?

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah. You don’t give a shit, like, it’s one thing if your car breaks down or, you know, and it’s legitimate.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: But like, I mean, every day, ten minutes–


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Five minutes. The hung over, that’s another one, too, especially on the busiest day of the week.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah. There’s a punishment for that.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: But my biggest pet peeve is directly related to this, and I’m answering this related on this place, food in the window and–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: No one to run it.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –no one running it.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: That takes priority.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: And that’s the thing, because I have chips and guacamole and I have salsa and whatnot, and so servers will come in for their chips and guacamole when there’s hot food in the window and it’s rare that they say it to me because I’ll fucking destroy them. But it’s like, “Forget about that, just run this food and someone else will run your chips and salsa.” Or “I’ll run your chips and salsa.” But food in the window, there is no quicker way to spoil someone’s night. Okay. Especially when I used to cook steaks, and you cook them perfect, fucking, medium rare. If somebody orders rare plus and it’s perfect and you put it under the window and that one minute goes by and now you can see the blood starting to leech out–fucking kill me. And then it comes back and then the re-fire happens and you’re like, “Come on,” like, “That was perfect.”

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: “Do you want me to serve this plate?” “Not now.” Fucking A, What did you do, stab it?

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: And if you ask any of my cooks, what would be their one pet peeve about–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Food in the window.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –it would be food in the window, and you can hear it because we have those doors that stay shut, we don’t have a bell, it’s constantly, “Order up.” And when I hear it I yell it twice as loud.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: “Get your ass in here and get the food.” “I was busy rolling silverware.” It doesn’t matter, it’s silverware. If they don’t have food in front of them, they don’t fucking need silverware, so get the food first.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And they’re tacos, you don’t even need silverware you asshole.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah, it’s like, “And that’s a taco, they don’t need silverware.” “I swear that they’re going to need”–“but they got chips to scoop with”–you know, “they got their bare hands”

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I can’t argue with that.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Why do they want the silverware so much?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s true. What you about, Jeremy?

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: One of my biggest pet peeves, I guess, because we’re all talking about back of the house and where it starts now is somebody giving you the excuse of being too busy to taste things before they go to the customer. 99% of the time, like, I will try things before they hit the window anyways, but there’s that one percent where you’re walking an order or you’re working, you know, somewhere else that you don’t get to taste it and it goes out incorrect. When your cooks – people that work directly for you – are 100% percent trained in that area, they’re palates have been developed over the years, especially if it’s to your standard, you know. Everybody knows what you expect, but it still hits the window unseasoned.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Aaagh. It’s devastating!

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: And it still hits the window imperfect. That’s my biggest pet peeve, yeah.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: That’s fair. That’s a great pet peeve. It’s great.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: And it’s so common that, like, people that start to work for me, they’re just like used to just “turn and burn” just get it out, get it out. Well, that’s not how we fucking do it.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. Slow down, bud.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah. Slow down.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Taste it. Yeah.



CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Everybody’s happy. Then it goes, you know–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. That’s a great pet peeve, that’s perfect.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And that pretty much echo’s mine. You know, the three specialties of our house and my restaurant are cheese, charcuterie, and smoked fish, and they change on a daily–

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Fuck, I’ve got to come to your place.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: We should do a road trip.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I swear to god, they don’t change as much as you’d think they’d change. We change a lot of things daily but, like, literally the terrine–we make enough for the week or we make enough for two weeks or whatever it might be, and every single day I struggle with when [the servers] order the charcuterie plate, when they order the specialties of the house, or we do them on a big ass platter, you know, and when they come in there, it’s like, now I see my pantry I go and order every cheese, every fish, and it’s like, “You know, when you ask for it, we write it off on a big board.” They can come in when they work and write it down.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You can’t tell what’s a fucking country terrine by now…

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: They still don’t know. No, seriously, I swear to god they don’t know. They’re–I’m like, “You’ve never seen a bread and butter pickle before?” So this weekend, for instance, they took a test, “When do we find out the cheese, charcuterie, and the slow fish offerings for that night?” “When we get in there.” “Okay.” Now they know. So that way, every day I can go to work and be like, “This is your test. You got it right. What are they?”

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right. You held up your end of the bargain.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: “Goodbye. Seriously. I’ve had enough.” But that is my pet peeve, like, “you don’t care to know.”

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s a good one.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Staff knowledge.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And you make us all look stupid.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I’m taking the time to hang shit, cure shit, smoke shit–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I call that kindergarten shit.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: –and you’re out there just fricking–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Just like tasting things.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: –picking your nose.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It’s kindergarten shit.


CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Goodbye. That’s it in a nutshell.


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 for our final installment on Thursday.  Also, make sure to come back for the final installment of Real Talk – The Bartender Series.  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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