5@5 - What chefs stress out about
June 9th, 2014
05:00 AM ET
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5@5 is a food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Chefs have a lot on their plates, from food costs and health inspections to sourcing ethically produced ingredients and making sure to see their family every once in a while. They're an anxious bunch, but chances are that diners will never see anything beyond a perfectly arranged plate and a sweat-free forehead. Restaurants are as much in the business of theater as they are in dining.

Todd Wiss knows what it takes to keep the seams from showing to the customers. As the executive chef of Firefly in Washington, D.C., he has made a mission of serving seasonal, sustainable, local food (often harvested from just a few feet above the restaurant), often with diners' dietary restrictions in mind. But there's an awful lot of work that goes into making things at this neighborhood favorite - or any restaurant - seem cool as a cucumber, even when the heat is on.

5 things that make chefs anxious (that diners never see): Todd Wiss

1. Seasonal produce coming in late
"I like to change my menus seasonally, so it can throw a wrench in my plans when long winters cause produce like ramps or strawberries to come in weeks later than normal. I have to remind myself that seasonality means working with what nature has to offer at any given moment and that the unpredictability is just part of the challenge."

2. The weather decimating my garden
"I have a rooftop chef’s garden where I plant all sorts of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. It’s a great supplement to my menu, but you never know how the plants will do ten stories up in the air (which leads to another anxiety: falling off the roof). Between stray spring snowstorms and hot D.C. summers, I’m like a worried parent when it comes to protecting my plants."

3. Failing equipment
"Every chef has a few stories of an epic equipment failure; one of mine happened when our toaster broke during a massively crowded Mother’s Day brunch. I’m a big advocate of preventive maintenance on everything from the fryer to our A/C units. You have to think of everything."

4. Misidentifying foraged plants
"I love foraging, but once you get past the basics of figs and chanterelles and start learning the nuances of vines and shrubs, it’s very easy to make a mistake. You don’t want to be confusing hemlock with wild carrots! That’s why I like to hire a professional at the beginning of the spring to refresh my memory on the varieties of sorrel and show me the best places to look for wild edibles."

5. Effectively communicating our gluten-free menu items.
"We take a lot of pride in how we handle dietary restrictions at Firefly - about three quarters of my menu can be prepared gluten-free. That said, I’m always drilling my front of house team about our offerings because the worst thing someone with celiac disease can hear is 'I think it’s gluten-free.'”

Bonus: Making a stupid mistake on social media
"Nobody wants to start an accidental flame war with a critic, a la the movie "Chef". And you never want to be the fool who is misspelling something obvious or using the wrong hashtag. It can sometimes take me a while to post because I always have to verify my information." (Editor's note: you can follow Todd Wiss on Twitter @cheftoddwiss.)

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Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Chefs • Dietary Restrictions • Gluten-free • Social Media • Think

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Dick Longwood

    Meh...first world problems...either way, not hitting anything here.

    June 9, 2014 at 2:53 pm |
    • VladT

      Its actually "trying to run a successful business" problems.

      Its also in the eatocracy section, so not sure what your problem is

      June 10, 2014 at 4:07 am |
      • JellyBean

        Just a troll, dude.

        June 10, 2014 at 4:51 am |
  2. JellyBean

    This guy must really love what he does. That's a lot of work and a good read. Thanks.

    June 9, 2014 at 2:15 pm |
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