I post pictures and descriptions of the food I cook on Twitter and Facebook, and I certainly have earned a reputation as someone who knows his way around a kitchen. I am honored to have received a lot of compliments, but the one I hear most often is “You should open a restaurant!”
I don't want to open a restaurant. Cooking is a hobby for me, and one that I flatter myself I'm pretty good at. I know plenty of people who own and work in restaurants, and I have an enormous amount of respect for them for being able to do it as a job. Following are six of the principal reasons you're not likely ever to eat at chez Dave unless you're invited into my home kitchen.
1. There's no such thing as a “mental-health day” in a restaurant.
There is nothing–nothing at all–that makes me happier than going out to the farmers' market and the shops, buying screamingly fresh and high-quality produce and meat, and planning meals for the week. In the summer, I have a hard time restraining myself, and I tend to come home with bags and bags of fresh vegetables and fruit.
Sometimes, though, I have a meeting in Burbank and I get home at 7 p.m., or I've got a headache and feel bad, and the last thing–the very last thing–I want to do is stand in front of a stove for half an hour or more and cook. If I ran a restaurant, simply not cooking is not an option. As a home cook, I can say, “Screw it. We're going out” and have few repercussions; as a restaurateur, that causes angry customers who expect consistent hours.
2. Restaurants have strict rules.
Restaurateurs dread the moment the health inspector shows up. Even if they're 100 percent aboveboard and following the rules, it's a delay while the staff hangs around during the inspection and a hassle while the chef/owner has to listen to the results instead of expediting food. The list of rules for food safety is so long that there are whole classes dedicated to them.
In my home kitchen, if I feel like making crème fraîche, keeping butter on the shelf or tortilla española served the Spanish way (at room temperature), I can do that. That's not to say that my kitchen is unsafe; I am not stupid enough to cut raw chicken on a wooden board, and then go toss a salad with my hands. Restaurant chefs don't have this flexibility; even if the food police weren't out and about, the fact is that the chances of a problem go up proportionally with the number of meals served. Seven (okay, five) dinners per week pale next to the 200 to 300 dinners per week a busy small restaurant serves.
3. Restaurants are more business than food.
It'd be nice if all a chef had to worry about was making sure his or her food tasted great, but unfortunately, chefs are businesspeople by necessity, and this means wearing the accounting hat (food cost), the marketing hat (menu writing), the HR hat (staff), the security hat (loss prevention), etc.
While some of these happen at home–we all have budgets, some more generous than others–cooking dinner, even for frequent dinner parties, is not at all on the same stress level as earning one's livelihood from cooking. I don't have a staff to maintain, I don't have people leaving with pounds of foie gras, and people come when they're invited rather than my having to seek them out.
[4. Restaurants have some percentage of rude people.
Ego aside, I think most of the positive comments I get come from the fact that I'm cooking as a gift to people. My food certainly wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny by a restaurant critic, and frankly, it doesn't have to; people dining at others' houses are likely to heap effusive praise out of politeness.
As soon as the exchange of money happens for the cooking of food, people feel a sense of entitlement: They expect good value for their money. If things aren't right, the kitchen has to set them right, and unfortunately, there is a growing segment of our population who feel as though they get to demand perfection, as defined by the customers themselves, for the money they pay. The horror stories I hear from friends who work in the industry are enough by themselves to keep me out of the business–I don't deal well with rude people.
5. Restaurants require consistency.
I can cook whatever I want, whenever I want it. If I feel like making calabacitas and cotija cheese one day, I can, and I never have to make it again. I think if I had to cook a set menu, even livened up by daily specials, every day, I'd grow bored very fast, I'd start to hate the dishes I had to cook over and over and over again, and I'd get sick of my livelihood.
There are restaurants whose menus are driven completely by the market and whose food changes every day, but they are few and far between, and their cooking technique has to be absolutely perfect in order to gain the trust of diners who expect to see familiar dishes on the menu.
6. Restaurants often preclude a social life.
I like the fact that if I want to set up a dinner date with my friends, I can do so: “Hey, let's meet at 7 for drinks and dinner.” If I feel like taking a weekend off to go down to Baja and go ride horses on the beach and drink tamarind margaritas until I lose vertical integrity, I can do that.
If I owned a restaurant and it served dinner, I couldn't do that. I'd be working until midnight or later, then wanting to relax and calm down after a hectic day–and unfortunately, the only people who are still up at 2:30 a.m. on a Thursday are other restaurant workers.