September 21, 2019

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  • Buttered Up: Restaurant service blues

    Orange Mustard Chicken. (Photo by Sarah Khanna)

    BY SARAH KHANNAI can forgive a chef for a mediocre day in the kitchen. I may not have enjoyed the meal but if I’m comfortable in my space, haven’t gotten ill and am greeted with pleasant efficient service, I will readily come back to give the place another try and order something different on the menu.

    Eating out at any of the new hip places littering Zamalek and Maadi doesn’t come cheap and so it would be assumed that service must be procedure and detail oriented. After several visits to those that call themselves gourmet and to those boastful of their interiors and branding but not their food, I was curious to know: are the wait staff receiving any training or are they told to dive, each with his own style, into the unknown? Why is a seamless dining experience elusive to many of our restaurateurs? Have they never had one themselves? These days in Cairo, I’d get better service at a fast food chain.

    It doesn’t matter if you have a kids’ corner, library or an ingredient made or grown especially for you, people will eventually tire of bad restaurant service, the face of dining out, and move on to the next new and trendy restaurant.

    As a customer, your waiter should be able to lay your table cutlery correctly without the need for you to shift your weight. Self-awareness of personal hygiene is crucial and so is an eye for detail. If the diner before me used the salt shaker on their sandwich eaten by hand, I don’t want to be the one to feel the grease on my fingertips later. If the flowers in the vase are dying, who knows what else is decomposing in the kitchen?

    A good waiter will have been trained to be appropriately attentive. Staff that hover around the table incessantly are just as inexperienced and nerve grating as those who wait fifteen minutes to slip a menu into your hands in an empty restaurant while they stand around picking at a groove in their gum with a toothpick.

    Instead of not tipping, complain first. Usually action is taken to improve service if only for that occasion. The more you reward bad service, the more likely you will be faced with it again. Remember that polite and courteous service is not a gift that waiters have to lavishly hand out as they please; these are your restaurant rights, use them.

    Of course, you too as a customer must play your part — say please and thank you, act civilized, be nice and honor your reservations. Remember that these people are working a job that is not highly regarded by many in their country and they know it. To them, it is a way to make ends meet and few consider it a serious career choice. If you’re treating them like slave children, everybody loses. We might have a lot to learn but it won’t happen with the swish of a wand. If all else fails, stay home and make chicken.

    Sticky Orange Mustard Chicken
    You’ll need:
    2 chickens, quartered
    3 tablespoons of olive oil
    2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
    2½ teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves
    1 long sprig of fresh rosemary
    2 tablespoon of honey
    Zest of 1 orange
    1 large orange, sliced
    3 cloves of garlic
    1/2 cup of unsweetened orange juice
    4 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
    1 tablespoon of hot sauce
    Sea salt and freshly ground pepperWith the back of your knife crush the garlic cloves and toss them with the rosemary into a baking dish large enough to fit the chicken. Place the chicken into the baking dish. They should not overlap. You can use two separate dishes, which is what I did to prepare this but make sure to spread the marinade equally on both.

    In a bowl, add the whole grain mustard, fresh thyme leaves, orange zest and honey then pour in the olive oil, orange juice, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Whisk together then pour half of it onto the chicken reserving the other half for later.

    Heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Use your hands to massage the marinade into the chicken making sure not to tear the skin. Arrange the slices of orange above and below the chicken then season with freshly ground pepper and coarse sea salt. Pop the loaded baking dish into the heated oven and roast, basting with the reserved marinade and the hot chicken fat at the bottom of your pan every 15 minutes. The chicken will be done when the juices run clear if pierced with a knife. This should take around 45 minutes for each chicken.

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