“I’ve never experienced more inconsistency with food than at large Cantonese restaurants, including some highly regarded places in LA and NYC. Whenever I peer into an opening to the kitchen, it looks like there’s an army of cooks back there,” says E Eto. “And I’ve always thought of my chances for a great meal depending on if I get the A-team, as opposed to the B-team, or C-team cooking my food.”

“I’ve been told (by a Chinese-American knowledgeable about restaurants) that an order ticket that comes in with mostly Chinese-American dishes on it gets passed off to the B or even C team,” says Ruth Lafler. “This makes perfect sense to me: your highest skilled chefs are going to concentrate on the most expensive dishes on the menu that are being ordered by (what they rightly or wrongly perceive to be) their more discerning customers, while the less skilled chefs get the broccoli beef and chicken chow mein. Why would they do it any other way?”

“My family has been in the Chinese restaurant business since prior to my birth,” says ipsedixit. “I think it was only the happenstance of a slow lunch hour that saved me from being born in the kitchen. It was always common knowledge amongst the restaurant people that you prepared dishes based on the type of customer,” says ipsedixit. “There were no A B C chefs, only A B C customers. In other words if a table was full of Americans who ordered based on the numbers next to the dishes on the menu, you knew you could slack off, sub in cheaper ingredients, etc. But if that table was full of older Chinese folks who were ordering based on ingredients (e.g. fish or fowl) and type of prep (e.g. steamed or baked with XO) then you knew you had to be on your game. The first table is a C (to use your nomenclature) and the second table an obvious A. This isn’t all that odd when you think about it because it’s just an application of maximizing a set amount of scarce resources.”

Discuss: Question about the inner workings of a large Chinese restaurant kitchen

See more articles