There is something very authentic about Jon Favreau's film, Chef, which was recently on limited release.
If you are one of those people who dream of ditching the day job, and setting up your own hugely well-received food pop-up or truck, then you will love it, but perhaps the more likely plotline is the constant power struggle between the chef and the owner/proprietor.
The film starts off with a blistering kitchen stand off between the chef (played by Favreau), and a steely Dustin Hoffman, the sort of fight where you can hear a pin drop as everyone freezes to listen. A highly influential food blogger is coming to review the place - apparently they announce themselves in advance in the US - and the chef wants to put on the menu the dishes he is most proud of, and passionate about, at that moment. Hoffman, on the other hand, demands that he put on his crowd-pleasing popular signature dishes.
I won't spoil the ending, it's a film worth seeing, but this is a tension that plays out in kitchens up and down the land daily. It works both ways. Chefs feel constrained by stuck-in-a-rut expectations of management and unachievable gross margins that deny them room to manoeuvre. Owners, on the other hand, feel deeply frustrated with chefs who just want to churn out the same old dishes, and who are resistant to refreshing them with new ideas. As for chefs working for chains, well, no-one relishes being governed by far-distant company accountants.
The most successful start-ups are those, such as Ox and Finch in Glasgow, or Aizle in Edinburgh, that have a clear mission and a blank sheet, no baggage. There you feel chefs cook dishes they believe in, not lukewarm compromises. Both these restaurants feel fresh, confident, and project a very clear persona to the public. They send out signals that attract people who like that sort of food, rather than the more usual blurry menus where old-time favourites, such as burger or fish and chips, rub shoulders with a few more radical offerings to keep more adventurous diners happy.
The recently opened Grumpy Goat, in Glasgow, has started off promisingly, but has perhaps yet to find itself fully. A former pub, the menu treads the line between the familiar (goat cheese salad, salmon fillet, burger, fish, chips and mushy peas, trio of Scottish savoury puddings), and alternatives that if not exactly outré, are a little more challenging for conservative diners (bone marrow, goat leg, grilled sardines on toast).
There were some very successful dishes, a soft-centred, crisp fried beef hash, topped with a dainty fried egg, sapid cauliflower fritters to dip in a luminous curry mayonnaise, and a leg of St Brides free-range chicken, served imaginatively with a soupy casserole of white bean and tomato, husk roasted corn on the cob, and a special treat: smoked chicken scratchings.
But we had to try the goat leg, pretentiously described as "chestnut farm spiced Tarporley goat leg, grilled fennel, sweetcorn pancakes, nurtured in Norfolk fennel and sweetcorn shoots." I couldn't quite figure out whether the fennel had been nurtured in Norfolk, or the goat, but either way, the dish didn't work. The quick-cooked goat was too tough to cut, let alone eat, and the stewed leg was overdosed with pungent spices. Without any argument it was removed and a free replacement of fondant, slow-cooked ox cheek from Cairnhill Farm, flanked by a square of macaroni cheese in a crisp grilled jacket, made up for it.
Ice cream from the reliable Cream O' Galloway organic dairy near Castle Douglas underpins several desserts, and you're in safe hands there. So it was all too easy to spoon a slow jelly thick with expensive fresh summer berries, capped with a generous scoop of its vanilla ice, and actually get to the bottom of a tall knickerbocker sundae glass packed with toffee ripple ice cream, hot toffee sauce, and billowing whipped cream.
The urge to serve up something less pedestrian here works sometimes, not others. Some testing of dishes on informal focus groups might iron this out. But it's commendable that the Grumpy Goat at least tries to do something different.