The idea of opening a restaurant seems glamorous -- especially if you’re a celebrity chef. There’s a new menu to show-off, hoards of crowds just biting at the chance to try your food, a red carpet filled with journalists and cameras, and Oscar-worthy high fashion outfits.
At least that’s the narrative Netflix’s latest hit rom-com Always Be My Maybe provides. Celebrity chef and protagonist, Sasha Tran (played hilariously by Ali Wong, who co-wrote the script with her co-star Randall Park), does it all. She works the line at her fictitious Los Angeles restaurant, Knives + Mercy, donning a siren red floor-length gown under her chef’s whites ahead of a charity gala she has to attend. Shortly after, the acclaimed chef travels to San Francisco to open up another restaurant, called Saintly Fare. And the next day after opening Saintly Fare, Sasha then hops on a plane to New York City to work on opening yet another restaurant.
But how accurately does the movie depict the life of a celebrity chef, opening new restaurants in multiple states?
“Obviously, restaurants are never that glamorous ever. There’s very few; the Jean-Georges of the world, the Michael Whites of the world who are still doing it and hustle in their own way. But that’s not how it is,” says Dale Talde, a former competitor on Top Chef who has opened restaurants in New York City, New Jersey, and Miami. “Real working chefs, you put the apron on and you put the jacket on and of course you have to go say hey to some people, but it’s never [like the movie]. The five hours [before opening], you’re knee deep in the shit trying to figure it all out.”
Though Sasha Tran weaves through the back of the house effortlessly, managing the chaos of working a kitchen without breaking a sweat, Talde confirms that openings are rarely perfect. In fact, opening a restaurant is one of the most difficult things someone can do. “Day one is always the hardest. The rhythm of the kitchen isn’t there yet -- your mechanics aren’t there yet.”
Maneet Chauhan, a Chopped judge and the chef and the owner of Nashville restaurants like Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Tansuo, and The Mockingbird, compares opening a restaurant to having a baby. “The first service is like changing the first diaper: chaotic! You have no idea what to expect, what needs to be done. You just have to figure it out.”
Janine Booth, another Top Chef alum who co-owns three restaurants in New York City and Miami and is opening another in Indianapolis, can relate. “Opening my first restaurant, Root & Bone in 2014 in New York City with my husband Jeff McInnis was probably the most challenging event in my life to date -- and I have been through childbirth,” she said.