Critic's Notebook

Latest Trend in Restaurant Menus: Listing the Staff

First it was the farm. Then it was the name of the fisherman. Now it’s the name of the dude who’s schlepping your plate.

By Kathryn Robinson November 21, 2011

Soon you’ll know their names, genealogies, and whether they were raised on corn or grass.

Photo courtesy Patric Gabre-Kidan.

Restaurant menus are curious and getting curiouser, increasingly exploding with information diners do not need—the provenance of the salt on the butter (yo Spring Hill!), the (health department mandated) warning that undercooked or raw foods may kill you—even as they stint more and more on the food description a diner critically needs to make an informed menu choice, like what the heck beef bò mỡ chai is. (I’m lookin’ at you, Ba Bar.)

But shame on me for calling out a couple of offenders by name. There are, after all, so many.

The latest trend in menu verbiage may be most interesting of all: Naming the staff. The opening menu at the new Marché in Pike Place Market lists both chef (the great Daisley Gordon, who piloted the kitchen of Marché’s predecessor, Campagne) and sous. Maria Hines has been spreading the love for years at Tilth with this practice, naming the chef de cuisine and the sous in addition to herself; when she opened Golden Beetle earlier this year she also threw the lead line cook in for good measure.

Artusi, the aperitif bar on Capitol Hill, gives us the whole kitchen crew, then lists the floor and bar staff as well. Meanwhile its sister restaurant next door might as well have rolling credits. In my fall visit to Cascina Spinasse the menu named the chef—Jason Stratton—and the sous chef, Carrie Mashaney…followed by the names of the nine kitchen staffers, the pastaiolo (pasta maker), the business manager, the wine director, and all 12 floor staffers.

What’s going on? Credit where credit is due, in part. The best chefs in town have long been spreading the kudos around when asked to comment or pose for photos; a nice egoless touch.

But it strikes this professional diner that a little of the opposite impulse might be at play here too. The last decade or so has seen a sea change in the way restaurants view themselves: No longer mere dining rooms, they are now status symbols, the highest status among them offering the cachet of Michelin stars, impenetrable tables, long lines, or rock-star chefs. More than anything else, a lavish list of menu credits would appear to hint at a restaurant’s sense of its own impressive culinary gravitas, no?

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