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Gillian Clark: The chef people love to hate?
Fiery but private
There's no getting around the fact that Gillian Clark can also stir the pot outside the kitchen, when there's no dining room full of customers to cause her stress. In April 2003, she wrote a long note to The Post's Tom Sietsema defending her rule for no-dish substitutions or customizations at Colorado Kitchen. "Personally, I prefer the way Herbert von Karajan conducts Beethoven's Third Symphony," she wrote. "But I would never ask Zubin Mehta to finish the Adagio with the hesitant 3/8 that Herb finishes with."
The reaction was swift when Sietsema posted the note on his weekly chat. One person wrote in: "Geez, I had [no] idea chefs were so whiney. She took all that time just to say that she doesn't like substitutes? She even had the audacity to compare herself to Shakespeare and Beethoven."
Clark and Smith have continued their online offensive over the years, with Clark most recently mixing it up with commenters on a Prince of Petworth blog item. ("No people skills? I apologize if I did not personally thank you for purchasing my book. After all I am in the kitchen and cooking, too.")
The reenactment videos on YouTube (which, incidentally, are no longer available to the general public) would seem to fit into that pattern: a chef and her partner who are laconic in the kitchen but vocal via the computer.
After spending that day with Clark at General Store, I got the distinct impression that, for all her outspokenness, Clark is indeed private person prone to, as Cashion told me, showing her affection by poking fun of people.
Until I asked her for this story, Clark hadn't even acknowledged her long-term personal relationship with Smith in the media; Clark didn't address it in her memoir, either, because Smith had not come out to her family. But both women agreed to say publicly that they are a couple. Clark lists herself as "married" on her Facebook profile, though she says the union is not a legal one.
But Clark also revealed something telling, perhaps unintentionally vulnerable, when I asked her if there is a double standard in the restaurant business, if the public accepts temperamental male chefs but not female ones. She says angry male cooks are often given a pass and adds: "You have to be a little crazy to do this. Most every chef, man or woman, is a perfectionist. We're hard on our staff. We're hard on ourselves more than anybody. That's just how it is. We beat up ourselves up all the time."
If chefs can understand anything, it's a fiery and perfectionist-oriented personality prone to enjoying her own company. What some can't understand is why one would then design a restaurant that encourages customers to interact with the chef as part of the diner experience. "If you're not able to put yourself out there," says Jamie Leeds, chef and owner of Hank's Oyster Bar and CommonWealth Gastropub, "you shouldn't have an open kitchen."