This is the second part in a serious, earth-shattering discussion about where the heck salt and pepper have gone in restaurants. Why are they not on our tables anymore? You can read the first part in the series here.
Humans are driven by impulse. If it wasn’t for impulse, we’d have to think about every infantile thing we do. How to move our hand to reach for our phone. How to blink. We’d barely make it out of the house.
Luckily, we’re blessed with an internal program that automatically does these small things for us. That frees our brain to think about bigger things, like politics or celebrity evening wear. Unfortunately, we’re also hard-wired for bad impulses. Our hands light a cigarette before our mind says “whoa, we’re not French.” We buy that expensive thing on Amazon before our bank account can scream for mercy. And we absolutely cannot be trusted with salt and pepper.
That seems to be the biggest reason most restaurants and chefs in San Diego have taken them off our table. Because diners use those shakers like a babe uses a binky. Automatically. To soothe our evolutionary need for salt. To calm us before partaking in the ordeal of eating something new and novel and unknown.
“What upsets me is when people (a lot of them) put them on their food before they even taste it,” says Matteo Cattaneo, owner of Buona Forchetta.
“Everybody has different sensitivities to salt it seems,” agrees Willy Eick, exec chef at 608 in Oceanside. “We’ve had guests ask, then over-season their food and complain.”
So here’s the deal. Taste the food first. Don’t touch the salt or pepper. See how the chef has presented the dish. One bite is all they ask. If you find it lacking in salt, pepper, or anything else, most unpretentious chefs I’ve spoken to say they won’t be offended if you ask for a little more.
“I am against salt and pepper or even lemon juice on a table,” says cookbook author and former French restaurant chef, Francois de Melogue. “Many Americans grab the salt container and salt before tasting, then complain that the dish is salty. If I had a penny for every time that happened to me I would be a millionaire, or at least a guy with a ****ton of pennies.”
A good chef will, ideally, season your food to just the right amount. And that brings us to the next part, coming soon: Is there even such a thing? Aren’t palates different? If a chef thinks she or he has seasoned it perfectly, but the diner has a different palate, shouldn’t they be allowed to crank up the salt or pepper volume on a dish?