Spotted: Verbally Abusive Chef at Le Petit Restaurant Epi

Dining out is not just about the food, but the whole experience – the taste and texture of the food, the service, ambience, etc. And human interactions should generally be governed by a general rule of decency. I recently dined at Le Petit Restaurant Epi in Daikanyama and had the single worst dining experience of my life – after a misunderstanding about the bill, the chef publicly humiliated and verbally assaulted me in front of a room full of diners. It was inexcusable behavior, from human to human – the encounter left me shaking and crying afterward. I didn’t know it until then, but being verbally attacked in such a violent, unexpected and irrational manner feels a lot like being physically assaulted. It was a horrible, traumatic experience. He could not have hurt me more if he had punched me in the face.

Some background: I am a freelance food critic/writer for the Tokyo Weekender magazine. I write about food because I love to eat and I love to write. And I do it for free – I am not compensated by the magazine for any of my meals or for the articles and have never asked to be. Many times, I critique and write up restaurants that I have dined at independently and enjoyed so much that I want to share the restaurant with others. In those cases, I don’t let the restaurant know that I am reviewing them since I want them to treat me exactly as they would treat any other customer, so that I can report accurately what an average dining experience is like. I pay for the meal myself, and am not reimbursed or compensated by the magazine.

However, other times, a restaurant will invite me to dine at the restaurant because they specifically want to be reviewed, or the Weekender arranges for a meal at a restaurant that has requested to be reviewed. In these cases, the restaurant always provides the meal at no charge, since I am not dining there “just for fun” or out of my own choice, but at the specific request of the restaurant that is requesting to be reviewed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to afford to review many of the higher-end restaurants in Tokyo, since as people know, dining out in Tokyo is a costly affair.

Earlier this week, I was told by the Weekender that Le Petit Restaurant Epi had invited me to dine and review the restaurant. I arrived at the tiny restaurant and the waitress was clearly expecting me and announced to the chef that Deborah-san had arrived.

I perused the menu carefully, taking notes of the various offerings and prices for reporting purposes. The menu includes a solid lineup of classic French bistro fare, including a variety of steamed mussel dishes, ratatouille and bouillabaisse. As I always try to do when on a restaurant review assignment, I ordered items that I thought would lend themselves to an interesting review, items that I thought a fellow diner might want to read about and try. That evening, my dinner consisted of a shrimp and avocado tartare, bouillabaisse and a small portion of steamed mussels in saffron cream sauce.

All said, the price for the meal came out to 7330 yen, not a large sum. I am always careful not to abuse the restaurant’s offer of dinner in exchange for a review and generally refrain from ordering too much or ordering alcohol.

Usually when a restaurant specifically invites me to dine at their restaurant for a review, they do not give me a bill at the end but graciously provide the meal, since they were requesting to be reviewed. In this case, when the waitress brought me the bill, I tried to explain quietly that I had been under the understanding that the restaurant had arranged with the magazine to have me dine at the restaurant for a review, and that usually in such case, the meal was provided by the restaurant. She asked me to sit down for a minute and went back to the kitchen to talk to the chef. Then she motioned for me to come to the kitchen door (the restaurant in only about 300 sq. feet, so the kitchen door is just two steps from the dining area). The chef, Tomonori Suzuki, stepped to the door and then started screaming: YOU PAY, YOU PAY NOW, I CALL POLICE NOW. He then grabbed the phone off the wall, threw it at my waitress and barked: YOU CALL POLICE NOW. He continued to scream at me, without ever pausing for a moment to try to listen to me. I asked if I could call my editor or the staff person the chef had talked to in order to arrange for the meal – I wanted to try to clear up any misunderstanding. He continued to scream at me while the tiny room full of diners watched.

I felt like I was being accused of being a thief. I was verbally assaulted and humiliated in front of a room full of strangers for a misunderstanding that was entirely not of my doing.

Not wanting to prolong the horrific verbal attack from the chef, I quickly asked to see the bill and paid. As I did so, my hands were shaking from the shock of being verbally abused. Even after I paid, he continued to scream at me: YOU PAY, YOU PAY, I CALL POLICE. I faced him and asked him to please stop yelling at me since I had paid. I quickly made my way out and contacted my editor, who profusely apologized and promised to get in touch with the chef to figure out what had happened.

From human to human, to launch an abusive verbal assault on someone the way the chef did to me is simply inexcusable. I sincerely hope that Chef Suzuki enlists the help of a therapist to help him control his irrational anger and violent behavior. I wholeheartedly discourage anyone from dining at Epi – service is an integral part of any meal, and Epi fails miserably.

  1. I’m sorry for the tragedy that occurred at the end of your meal that would have otherwise been a stellar dining experience. Objectively, however, I can see how Suzuki-san might have reacted if indeed he was met with a ‘dine and dasher,’ or whatever else his perspective might be on the matter. I would have reacted much worse as I am far less agreeable to thieves than even he. Calmly or violently, how one proceeds to deal with perceived injustice is a matter of personality and style, though, because he’s in the service sector, it might have behooved of him to behave more politely and less vehemently.

    My condolences for your feelings. At the end of the day, what matters is how one feels, and a perceived slight is just as real as an intended one. However, in regards to the establishment, I do not feel that this is a fair or objective review of Le Petit Restaurant Epi as a whole.

  2. This is a highly inappropriate. I have no affiliations with the restaurant, but I think it is unfair to publish such an inflammatory “article”. What happened to the writer was an isolated incident, unlikely to be repeated as I’m sure few patrons walk into a restaurant expecting their meal to be comped. She has to take some blame for what happened as she should have confirmed with her “employers” (can they be called that if she’s not even getting paid?) that the meal would, in fact, be comped. Why didn’t she just pay the bill and discuss the situation with her “employers” after?

  3. I disagree with RY. I don’t think this article is inflammatory at all, in fact it seems to be written quite fairly, stating the simple facts. I have never dined at this restaurant and have no affiliations with either it or the writer/website. It seems to me that this incident was in no way the writer’s fault, as her employers (I recognize that that may not be the right term since she is not paid by them, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue here) arranged the meal and the review with the restaurant, presumably at the request of the chef. I have worked in PR for over a decade, and I can vouch that if an establishment requests free PR from a publication/website/TV station, it is generally agreed to be common practice that neither the writer nor the company would then pay for the services provided, as they, too are providing a service in return. This is the same with restaurants, spas, bars, hotels, and any other service-oriented business. The fact of the matter is that the chef, despite any personal feelings or opinions he has, had no right to act in the way he did. Regardless of the arrangement made between the restaurant and the writer’s employers, in the end the writer was a customer, and should therefore have been treated with respect. In fact, she should have been treated with respect simply for being another human being. It is sad to see basic human decency disappearing from modern society.

  4. RY said: Why didn’t she just pay the bill and discuss the situation with her “employers” after?
    Answer: She did. You should have read to the bottom of the article before posting.

  5. @RY – you should read the whole article and read it carefully. As I understand it – she didn’t even get a chance to pay the bill, restate to the chef her understanding or get any word in otherwise before he started to go off on her. Secondly, how is this “inflammatory”? Isn’t she supposed to write about her experience regardless if hers was an isolated incident or not? This is what she experienced and that is what she wrote about. Finally, @HVH – I’m not sure at one point she was a threat to run out on the bill? She simply was under the impression that the meal was comped. She did not try to leave when the waitress asked her to sit and wait as she went to speak with the chef. I for one think the chef’s reaction was totally over the top, unwarranted and disrespectful. I feel the article was a fair account of her personal dining experience. And I also have no affiliation with the restaurant, chef, writer or website.

  6. Deborah-san is a reviewer, critic, writer who has a forum to express her experiences and opinions. She wrote about it. She wrote her side of the story. It’s her column/blog and she’s entitled to do so. So I don’t see why anyone would see this as an unfair review or inflammatory.

  7. no mater what is the issue, this is not life threatning situation, so there is no room for insult and agression

    as she said, she was ready to pay and wanted an explanation, humiliation and verbal violence was just not needed

    she has more than the right to write what she has been through as long as they also publish the chef response if he wants one, as his point of vue should be heard

    but that is this simple : just stay calm and polite, like adults do

    if pending missunderstanding justifies violence for you, you have a sick mind, please listen to others before you cut their heads off

  8. inflammatory: tending to excite anger, disorder, or tumult

    It’s inflammatory because what would result from writing about this experience, and from naming the restaurant if not for people to become angry at the chef? Why not relate what happened without giving names?

    @alphadog–I did read it thoroughly. When the bill was first presented to her, she did not pay it. Instead, she “tried to explain quietly that I had been under the understanding that the restaurant had arranged with the magazine to have me dine at the restaurant for a review, and that usually in such case, the meal was provided by the restaurant.” Then when the chef first came out, instead of paying right away, she “asked if [she] could call my editor or the staff person the chef had talked to in order to arrange for the meal”. He was already angry, why not just pay and leave then? Why insist on pressing the issue? It was only after the chef became even angrier that she decided to pay the bill. Maybe you should take your own advice and improve your own reading comprehension.

  9. RY – It is not inflammatory.  She is a food critic.  Food critics review restaurants, their food, and their staff’s service.  The whole point is to let people know that the food and/or service is bad, and why she felt it was bad.  Therefore she did what she is suppose to do.  If you don’t like it, stop reading her reviews.

  10. “If you don’t like it, stop reading her reviews.”

    Is that really the best you can do? How about some rational dialogue?
    Since you brought it up, a professional food critics will visit a restaurant more than once before writing a review. And a professional food critic will actually have a background which informs them about food and service. You can’t just write a blog or some submit unpaid pieces to a magazine or website and call yourself a food critic, at least not respectably.

    There is also a great deal of backlash right now about so-called critics who review restaurants which comped their meals. In the respectable food business, one might think the writer gave a bad review because she was forced to pay, not just because of the way she was treated.

  11. I had previously decided to leave well enough alone and refrain from responding to this thread. I realize that as a writer, if you post something to the public, it’s a reader’s prerogative to have an opinion about what I write, and I respect your (“you” being the reader) right to opine on what I write.

    But I’d like to clear a few things up.  To HVH: I agree that this post is not a “fair or objective review” of the restaurant as a whole. That’s because this post is NOT my review of the restaurant. That review will be published separately under the Tokyo Tables section of the magazine and I tried to be as objective as possible when I described the food. This post was not a review, but a recounting of my experience on the food blog, Tokyo Foodspotting, that I keep for the Tokyo Weekender. On the blog, I often post about unique food finds, delicious hole-in-the-walls or historic food establishments. I have free reign on what I write on the food blog, and after some thought, I felt it was the more appropriate medium to write about the negative experience at Epi.

    To RY: First, I’d like to make clear that from HUMAN TO HUMAN, I find verbal abuse simply unacceptable. It’s not from chef-to-writer that I find his actions egregious, but from human-to-human. No one deserves to be verbally attacked or publicly humiliated, and especially not when the situation could have been resolved calmly and maturely. Second, I never claimed to be a “professional food critic.” I think I made clear that I write about food for the magazine because I love food and I love to write. It appears that because I don’t get paid by the magazine, you don’t think I deserve to call myself a food critic (at least not respectably, in your words), and honestly, it’s your prerogative to think that. I’m not sure what expertise you would like a “real” food critic to have or what you think is a “respectable food business.”  The Tokyo Weekender, as you may know, is a FREE magazine. Yes, they make money from ads, but running a magazine costs a lot of money. Perhaps if the magazine was a huge profit-making machine, or a publication dedicated to the food industry, then it could afford to send its writers to restaurants all over Tokyo more than once to write what I assume in your opinion would be a more professional critique. 

    No offense, but if you want to read a “professional” food critique, please feel free to go buy the Michelin guide or subscribe to Gourmet magazine, since it appears that my free articles for the Tokyo Weekender seem to offend you because the meals are sometimes comped and because I write the articles for free. My reviews for Tokyo Weekender are what they are – my written opinions on restaurants I’ve dined at, whether on my own dime or provided by the restaurant at their specific request to be reviewed.

    Lastly, thank you to everyone who has been supportive – your comments have been truly uplifting and encouraging.  

  12. wow, so this is what people say when they are anonymous and can hide behind their computer screens.

    i AM affiliated with the writer and do know her personally. she is my friend and this is not an anonymous post. RY, i’m curious to know your background for food critiquing since you know so much about the industry. the author of this article is a professional writer and writes every day in her job- she is a lawyer, which is why i found it especially funny when you wrote on her personal food blog about legal action that could be taken against her. She many not be a professional food writer, but she does know the law.

    Despite years of law school, she was so passionate about food that she is also a former bakery owner in the states but most importantly, she is a serious food enthusiast and has traveled extensively throughout the world to simply eat. She did not find it necessary to state her
    background as the point was that the chef should have treated her with respect simply as a human being.

    RY, what gives you credentials in critiquing food reviews? Does someone pay you to or are you just expressing your opinion? Deb never claimed to be a professional food critic, but just someone who loves to eat and write about it. This actual blog entry doesn’t mention much about the food, but more about the chef and treatment. The actual review (with very GOOD comments about the food) is coming up.

    RY, for someone who has no affiliation with the magazine, chef or restaurant you really are passionate about this topic. Thanks so much for your interest in my friend’s blogs! Much appreciated.

  13. Can we get past the bickering and find out what happened?

    Did The Weekender contact the restaurant and provide or ask for an explanation? That would be the first question on my mind. Why did the chef react the way he did? How was the message relayed by the waitress?

    Not only that, but it would seem that if the Weekender sent the writer on assignment to review the restaurant at the restaurant’s request (whether the “assignment” is paid or not), the Weekender is obliged to clear the air.

    Without the relevant information no judgement can be passed and the whole discussion is moot.

  14. Wow. Sounds crazy! A lot of passionate people here.

    I don’t know what to think!

  15. On the basis of writing about the whole experience of dining in this restaurant, here are the facts: food was great, price was great, and the chef screaming in close vicinity of the customers and humiliating the patron, not great. I work in a kitchen and verbal abuse is constant towards me as a commis chef and to the waitresses, and at one instant loud noises were made in the kitchen because someone was extremely angry, and that noise could be heard in the dining area. If you don’t care about the staff, fine, but that is so not cool to the customers.

    Is it necessary for the writer to blog about her experience in this particular restaurant? Yes absolutely, and here is the reason why. Awareness just makes our world a better place to live in. The saying ‘what you don’t know won’t hurt you’ is just not true. If the blogger had not written about her experience, the chef will continuously abuse his staff (throwing the phone at the waitress says enough) or abuse any customer for that matter. Even if this was an isolated incidence, it does not come with consequences. One disgusting behaviour such as this is absolutely inexcusable, one incident like this is enough to lose respect.

    The chef could have settled the matter in a civilized manner, but he didn’t. A civilized customer would not consider dining in that restaurant based on this blog, and rightfully so, because what you don’t know behind closed doors DOES hurt people, especially the staff. This, of course, comes from a human perspective. RY obviously is going for the business aspect of things and has lost sight on what it really means to be a human. It’s an opinion, but for me, we are human first and foremost. Shows like Hell’s Kitchen normalize shitty behaviour in this industry, and I think we’ve all lost sight of simply treating others kindly and teaching staff in a constructive manner, that’s a big sacrifice we make in a world that revolves around money.

  16. I feel like nobody else is going to say this.. Deborah-san, who had to speak to the chef in English, is not Japanese. The Japanese are the most racist people in the world. Also, it was presumptuous of Deborah-san to ask for the meal to be free after she had been presented with a bill, but that doens’t excuse the chef’s behavior. There’s no reason he couldn’t simply say “you need to pay the bill” and literally nothing else.

    for realsies, Deborah-san, get out of Japan if you want to be treated like a human being.

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