A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. And after several thousand words, it was a series of pictures that conveyed the central message of master chef Ferdinand Metz’s keynote address, “Hospitality: The Lost Art of Foodservice,” Wednesday to restaurateurs at the Lodging, Hospitality and Foodservice Expo at Blaisdell Center.
One snapshot showed a simple clear consomme with julienned vegetables, with a spoon perched on the edge. The spoon was the problem, neither deep enough nor large enough to capture the vegetable strands. “How do you feel when you get that? I feel like a dummy, I don’t know to eat,” said the chef. “But it’s not my fault, it’s because the kitchen isn’t thinking.” Another picture was of a delicious-looking multi-layered sandwich on rustic bread. Delicious-looking, yes. But impossible to eat without wearing it. Yet another showed a salad in a brown pottery bowl (a presentation that he noted is thankfully disappearing). “How do you mix in the dressing without making a mess,” he asked rhetorically.
Too often, these real-life examples are what diners encounter, even in high-end white tablecloth restaurants: a lack of thought. And thought translates into caring and empathy. These in turn add up to the word that Metz suggested ought to be used instead of “foodservice” as a name for the industry: Hospitality. “Food is just a small part of it . . . We are not just serving food, we are creating memories,” he said, especially when people take so many of their meals away from home and so many women — the traditional home cooks — are working full-time.
Metz sketched the history of the last 50 years of restaurant food in America from Continental Cuisine to Global Cuisine. And he shared an intriguing factoid: The root of the word restaurant is the French word meaning “restore.” The first restaurants, established by displaced chefs from noble households after the French Revolution, served what was then considered health food, a sustaining broth.
Reduced to one word, Metz’s talk urged restaurateurs and their staffs to “notice.” Instead of asking, “How is everything here?” and then walking away, restaurant managers, notice the half-empty water glasses, the missing silverware, the plates that need removal. Notice, hostess, when people walk in, don’t stand there talking with another employee or keep your eyes trained on the seating chart; greet the guests with eye contact and genuine warmth. Eat in your own restaurants, restaurant owners, so you know if the room is too dark or too noisy or the chairs are uncomfortable. Notice how much trouble it is, chefs, to eat a tower of food, eye-catching as it might be, or how many hands go into a dish when it’s too “engineered.” “There’s not enough basic, true, honest food,” Metz said.
And not enough real hospitality — Hawaiian or otherwise.