Salt and Smoke
Except for "cigar rooms," smoking in restaurants is pretty much a thing of the past -- and that includes kitchens. Chefs aren't forbidden to smoke; after all, "this is America," says Michael Kalanty, director of educational operations at the California Culinary Academy. "Anyone who wants to smoke can smoke. But being a chef is a physical and demanding profession. The average chef is on his feet 14 hours a day. You need stamina."
But it isn't just the chef's physical endurance that might be affected by tobacco smoke. It's also his sense of taste.
"It's the opinion of the school that smoking does interfere with one's ability to taste," Kalanty says. "Seasoning perceptions are impeded by the presence of tars and resins in smoke residue. In particular, smoking does affect perceptions of saltiness. A chef who smokes would consistently oversalt food, unless he'd learned to compensate. A person with a developed palate would be able to tell if the chef smoked just from the way he seasoned the food."
Given the preponderance of undersalted food in local restaurants these days, it would follow that not many of the academy's alumni are smokers -- and, says Kalanty, "not many students do smoke. The matter comes up in orientation to professionalism. Smoking impedes a chef's ability to perform -- not just by affecting taste perceptions, but by requiring you to be absent from the kitchen for 10 minutes at a time to smoke. It makes you less effective."
Kalanty should know: He was a four-pack-a-day man for the first four of his 12 years as a chef in Philadelphia.
"Smoking severely impaired my ability to perform," he says, "and the quality of my food seasoning improved drastically within a few months after I quit. Chefs are a small, tight community, and people noticed."
Including, presumably, diners, who have the last word.
Several of the city's heavy culinary guns will be rolled out on the evening of Sept. 17 as part of "The Great Match," in which Spanish wines will be paired with a world of cuisines. The big chefs will include Bizou's Loretta Keller, Bolero's Carlos de Huidobro Lopez, Arnold Wong of Eos, Julian Serrano of Masa's, Lynn Sheehan of Mecca, and Maria Helm of PlumpJack Cafe. They'll be whipping up tapas (traditional and otherwise) to be served with a wide selection of Spanish wines. The general public is invited, for a charge of $30. Make a reservation at (800) 317-9463.