"The chef hates vegetarians."
This was actually written on a recent comment card that we received from a group member. Although pondering what would cause one of our guests to leave such a remark, we had to be honest with ourselves and also ponder its truthfulness. Do we hate vegetarians? No, we don't... but let me give the great majority of you a little advice. Without going off Richard Blais style, I want to offer a little suggestion to most of you that would make yours and our world a much easier place to live in.
There is a Chinese dish (Fukien in origin) called 'Buddha jumping the wall.' The story behind it is that a group of students in the Qing Dynasty embarked on a journey. All of their foods (an assortment of eclectic ingredients) were placed into a clay jar. Upon setting up camp for the evening, one of the scholars began heating up the items together along with some soup broth that was poured over. The story goes on to say that the aromas from the selection of exotic meats was so enticing, that the scent wafted over the walls of a local Buddhist monastery. Shortly afterwards, one of the monks (who had dedicated his life to vegetarianism) could no longer contain his hunger for the food and jumped over the monastery wall to beg for a bite of the dish.
Although this is only a story to lend a cute name to a Chinese menu item, there is a bit of truth here about the fickleness of a lot of vegetarians. It also points out an amusing truth about the omnivorous nature of man and our desire to occasionally take things to the extreme. In concept, the Chinese accidental creation is no different from, say... the DB burger. It incorporates a list of exotic expensive ingredients and presents a manifestation of them in the form of a humble hamburger... the American everyman's meal. It is the modern western version of 'buddha jumping his wall.' What makes the monk catapult himself from his veggie happy world? Is it the primal instinct within him responding to the smell of meat? I believe yes. We, as humans, are omnivores and there is no biological proof to contradict that. To not eat meat, or at least salivate over it, is not natural. But... I promised I wouldn't go off on a tangent, so let's revert to the intended gripe.
It would make things a world easier on your chef (and much more pleasant for yourself) if every vegetarian would take the time to accurately survey just exactly what 'diet' they are on. If you don't follow what I am saying here, I am referring to the many walls that the vegetarian community creates and jumps over and over everyday. Are you vegetarian? Are you sure? There have been countless times that a customer has walked into a restaurant and stated, "I am a vegetarian." Seems reasonable enough, doesn't it? The chef then jumps behind the line and puts together a nice plate for the 'special' guest and sends it out. Then comes the weird part... the plate comes back, and the waiter says, "they want to know if you have any fish..." or shrimp... or lobster... or maybe even chicken breast. Huh?!? This is what I am talking about. If you are vegetarian, then that's great... as long as you eat only vegetables with an occasional bit of egg or dairy product. If you do not eat the last 2 categories, then you are vegan... and if you are vegan, then do you eat honey? It is an animal product, you know... some vegans won't touch it. Stop jumping over the fish wall, or the lobster wall. Just let us know. That's all we ask. If you eat fish or other animals, then you are not a vegetarian no matter how much you like to say the words.
This rant by no means has anything to do with food allergies, which we take very seriously. Sure, I do agree with Jeffrey Steingarten that most people who claim to be allergic to certain foods are not. I agree with his point that Americans have a growing tendency to fear the foods they eat... when you look at what the FDA considers as safe farming practice, it's probably not an ill-founded sentiment. Aside from that, if you say you have a food allergy, we will fully respect that and cater to your avoidances. I, personally, take this subject very seriously... nobody dies on my watch!
The overall point here is to know what you are, say what you are, and everybody's happy. The chef understands the definition of the word you use, and will follow the guidelines dictated by the meaning. If at all possible (especially at a banquet), let the staff know your restrictions ahead of time. This will decrease your chances of getting a boring last-minute bowl of veggie toss pasta (the vegetarian's disdain). The chef does have his food and labor cost to consider, and although he wants to be prepared for the eventuality of an unannounced vegetarian being seated among the guests, he doesn't like to waste time making plates of food that no one will eat. I'm sure that most of you don't like to see this happen while there are starving children in the world.
We do not hate vegetarians. A couple of weeks ago, we received a call from a gentleman who requested a 3 course vegan meal for 20 people. No problem. Even when he requested to come in the night before for a tasting of the dishes, I consented. Even when he didn't show up for the tasting, and I had wasted labor and food product preparing for it, I didn't mind... heck, I got one great improvised recipe for smoked fingerling potato salad out of the deal... I'm sure that will go great one day on a nice beef or pork dish, and some true omnivore will greatly appreciate it.