The most common mistake made by those who aspire to own their own restaurants, it seems, is to think that being a chef will be easy if you are a good cook. So many restaurants in New York, - and anywhere, for that matter - fail because the chef believes that to run a successful place all you have to do is cook food people love. The rest will follow, right? Nope.
I have witnessed many times how easily chefs and owners forget that, like any other customer-service-based establishment, a restaurant is first and foremost a moneymaking business. Serving well-prepared and tasty food is, of course, one key element, but satisfying diners requires attention to thousands of other details, which any chef/owner needs to manage meticulously to provide guests with a positive and memorable experience. Training and directing staff, managing overhead and accounting including food costs and payroll, overseeing menus, ordering ingredients, maintaining equipment, accommodating reservations, considering decor, lighting and music ... the list goes on and on. Any experienced chef will tell you that playing a pivotal role in all the minutiae is essential if you care about your final product.
Now, I understand that the infamous Top Chef "Restaurant Wars" challenge is hardly a realistic portrayal of an actual restaurant opening - which usually takes months, if not years, of planning, rehearsal and investment - but it is still extremely telling in terms of how each individual contestant's personality manifests under the stress of opening night. As you can imagine, this plethora of additional demands on our chefs makes for a significantly more difficult challenge, and gives our contestants a small taste of just how hard the balancing act can be.