The Wall Street Journal “Don

WallStreetJournal_DontSendCompliments_picsize

Don’t Try to Send
Any Compliments
To These Chefs

SAN FRANCISCO – “Culinary espionage” is one of the least tasteful practices in the restaurant business. And Helene An, owner of the Crustacean restaurant here, may have found a solution to it.
Ms. An has constructed a second kitchen within her restaurant to keep the staff – or anyone else, for that matter – from stealing her prized recipes.
A box of sheet metal within the larger cooking area, the second kitchen is sealed off to everyone but Ms. An’s immediate family. Inside this small, windowless space, Ms. An, her three daughters and other family members prepare Crustacean’s signature dishes: roasted crab, garlic noodles and tiger prawns. The bigger kitchen prepares appetizers and standard fare.
“No one sees how we do it. Employees can’t take the recipes elsewhere,” explains 55-year-old Ms. An, whose recipes are rooted in the French and Vietnamese cooking she learned as a child growing up in an aristocratic family in Vietnam.
“It’s a little strange,” says waiter Brian Homer, who has worked at the restaurant for two years. “I have been in there before the shift, and after the shift, but not while it’s in action…You don’t have the option. It’s closed and locked.” (Waiters pick up food from a slot in the small kitchen’s wall.)
Soon, Ms. An and her family plan to open their second Crustacean restaurant, in Beverly Hills. This time, Ms. An says she may make the second kitchen a bit more open, to allow staff and patrons a peek at the cooking process. But tinted windows or other devices will be used to keep her most prized recipes confidential.
Most chefs aren’t that protective, says Geoffrey Drummond, executive producer of Julia Child’s television series; they are used to having their recipes imitated – or outright pilfered. In fact, some take it as a form of flattery. “Many chefs claim other chefs have eaten at their restaurants and then six moths later they see their dishes on their counterparts’ menus,” says Mr. Drummond.

–Kathryn Kranhold