Food Network magazine this week released the no doubt intentionally provocative results of an anonymous chef survey, in which chefs copped to stealing ideas, showing up for work sick, recycling bread and sabotaging orders that were sent back for recooking.
As a former restaurant server, I've seen chefs do all of those things. But even I was surprised that a full 15 percent of survey respondents admitted to putting animal products in vegetarian dishes.
I have no idea whether the meat-sneaking chefs hate vegetarians or are just too lazy to look for flavor in something other than chicken stock. The survey suggests the former, since one respondent recalled seeing another cook -- which might be the kitchen equivalent of the old "friend of mine" dodge -- pour lamb's blood in a vegan's entrée.
Perhaps the Food Network quizzed the nastiest, coldest-hearted chefs it could find, since the survey also showed a mere 54 percent of them were pleased when couples became engaged in their restaurants. I have no idea what the other 46 percent are thinking. Perhaps something along the lines of "Damn those lovebirds! Now they're going to want to eat in my restaurant every year to commemorate the occasion. What did I do to deserve this?"
So let's say the number's slightly inflated. It's still disturbing that there are chefs out there who are willing to exploit their customers' trust and take it upon themselves to rejigger their diets. Chefs are not gods, and it's not up to them to override decisions with ethical and religious underpinnings. Heck, it's not up to them to override irrational decisions, either: If a customer wants a steak well-done, he should be able to get it without the chef running it through the dishwasher, as one of the survey respondents reported doing.
I'm not a vegetarian. I admit I've never given much thought to the purity of vegetarian food at restaurants, although I bet it's a hot topic on various meat-free discussion boards. In the past, I suspect I would have attributed those message threads to vegetarian paranoia. Now, I'm sorry to say, I know better.