Things tend to happen faster if someone addresses a problem with, “I know a guy.” You can use guy-knowing for things like acquiring exotic foods for restaurants in illicit ways. It even has its own special name, the Debrouillard. One such person provides some insight into the chef’s under-world.
A Debrouillard Gets ANYTHING a Chef Needs
Roman Popovic is a Debrouillard that spends most of his time tracking down rare foods. Debrouillardry is mysterious work – a lot of back-alley deals with sometimes literally faceless men. Sometimes he doesn’t meet the supplier. He makes a call, there’s a knock at the door, and there’s the ingredient, but no messenger. Something like most of your home deliveries during the current plague.
“The chef needed white asparagus for soup. I called around. The nearest was two hours away. I called my produce guy. He said no problem. Half an hour later, there was the knock and the asparagus.”
They Ruin Other Restaurants
Remember, “don’t ask, don’t tell?” Debrouillards live by this creed. If the chef asks Roman where he got white asparagus when everyone in a two-hour radius is out, the chef could be legally liable.
Bribery is an often-used tool. Roman says, “You can get some of them by offering more than the market price for them. Usually, what you buy is supposed to go to another restaurant.”
In other words, Roman was buying food that another restaurant had already bought. The suppliers then tell the jilted restaurant there were supply problems, such as, ‘Someone miscounted somewhere,’ or, ‘we forgot someone had ordered this earlier.’
Why would you risk angering and losing a customer in this way? Suppliers apparently make enough money that they can afford the risk. Roman would have some pretty formidable enemies if anyone ever found out.
How close has Roman come to sleeping with more metaphorical fishes? He tells this tale of battling Red Lobster for an adequate supply of fresh salmon. “A bunch of us out-bid them. They all had people in my position, so they could go out before Red Lobster even had a chance. So they ran low on fresh salmon.”
You see, Roman can pay whatever he needs to pay, while Red Lobster is bound by corporate rule on how much they can spend. This gave him a way to beat the Red Lobster guy. “He was right behind me. When I finished my order, he asked where his salmon was, and the fisherman said they were out. His son gave me a nondescript box with the salmon right in front of the Red Lobster buyer. He said, ‘We didn’t have that big a catch. I’m sorry.’ The buyer pulled out his cell phone and said, ‘They ran out. AGAIN.'”
Now we know – it’s not millennials who are killing terrible seafood chain restaurants, it’s Roman.
You Might Have to Visit a Pet Store
Believe it or not, it’s not possible to know every guy. Roman has had to do things he’s not entirely proud of, such as rounding up guinea pigs to serve as an entree.
“We had a sous chef from Peru. The restaurant was a general South American restaurant,” Roman says. ” I set him up with a guy he could contact to get those kinds of supplies. The supplier had fresh guinea pig. He convinced the head chef and owner to let him try it. Soon, there was a Peruvian family in town having a wedding. They chose our restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, and they saw guinea pig was available. They asked for that to be the meal. They chose our restaurant almost last minute, and we didn’t have a lot of time or guinea pigs. The sous chef asked me to get six guinea pigs. I tried my normal ways, but no dice. So I went to pet stores.”
The pet store employees ensured that it was not an easy transaction. “One employee thought was buying pets. She said, ‘Aww, he loves you!’ I wanted to say, ‘Don’t make this harder than it has to be.’ A few said something along the lines of ‘I’m going to a good home!’ I eventually had six in cardboard pet store carriers. It’s the most guilty I’ve felt about anything I’ve ever done in my life.”
What You Order is Not Necessarily What You Get
Sometimes, Roman must trick his customers into sucking down Walmart slop.
“A French restaurant needed a certain wine,” he says. “The steward gave me an empty bottle for reference. I saw that it wasn’t sealed with anything special, only wax and cork, and it gave me an idea. I grabbed a few of the empties of the same kind, washed them out, and went to the local liquor store. I saw the color when he poured some out, and I think I matched it to a cheap box of red wine. I opened the spouts, filled them up, and recorked them by putting cheap wine corks from the store in. It looked as good as new. It had been wax-sealed, so I dripped red wax from a cheap candle from the dollar store next door.”
The steward was not fooled. “He swirled it, frowned, and said, ‘You got the color right, at least,'” Roman reports.