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It’s About the Restaurant, Stupid!

The Sacramento dining scene, in my opinion, is in a dysfunctional funk induced by the endless distraction of restaurant closings and the seemingly relentless media deification of the hottest new “chef” to sizzle in Midtown. Thanks to the continuous network stream of televised reality programs pitting pimply-faced, tattooed, spiky-headed men and women against each other in pointless cooking competitions, the essence of restaurant greatness is being shamefully eclipsed by chef celebrity.

This is no doubt a national phenomenon, but the Sacramento region has been bludgeoned with a parade of chefs who open or join a joint (always with moneyed backers), only to fail, move to the next place or retreat to San Francisco to “stage” at a Michelin-starred restaurant (translation: they work for free while they plot their comebacks).

The searing truth is that a career as a chef is infrequently the path to stardom or riches. It is one of the most physically demanding and risky jobs imaginable: incredibly long hours standing; working in Hades-like heat; suffering painful scarring from grease spatters and self-inflicted knife wounds; enduring the night-after-night, crushing stress of the height of dinner service; dealing with often-on-edge service staff and distraught co-workers whose stations are in the weeds. And, oh yeah, you get to work nights and every weekend.

Perhaps the most unfortunate and inequitable part is only those chefs at the top of their games are compensated in line with what they deliver. The sad fact is that back-of-the-house staffers are typically anonymous and modestly compensated. There is only one chef, so those hoping to someday fill the top spot have few opportunities to achieve their career aspirations.

No matter, the result of chefs being placed on a pedestal is becoming the principal driver for many consumers in how they decide where they will dine tonight. In fact, this is sadly flawed reasoning.

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