The inaugural question for our new Ask Tim feature comes from Sarah Anne Austin—-cue the fireworks and Sousa music!—-who wants an answer to the following:

Restaurant chefs seem to be untouchable, at least to a peon like myself. How do I get the head chef of a restaurant to “swing by” my table, short of having dinner with a head of state?

There’s no easy answer to this question because it assumes a number of things: that the chef tied to the restaurant actually spends most of his or her time there; that the chef is not working a station that night, which would rule out any sort of visit; and that the chef is not dealing with some other higher priority at the time of the request. These, and other issues, could prevent a chef from making an appearance tableside.

I put Sarah’s question to a pair of chefs—-Frank Ruta, the James Beard Award-winning toque at Palena who’s famous for practically living in the kitchen, and Jeff Black, a man who oversees four different restaurants, including Black’s Bar and Kitchen and BlackSalt.

Ruta: “The way the question would probably be coming down is, ‘Look, Table 22 is somebody that really wants to meet you, a fan….Can you come up and say hi?’ Chances are I would say, ‘I can’t make it right now.’ But maybe on the way out, I can just stop at the top of the stairs and get them on their way to the front door and make it just a brief hello and that’s it. If they had something that they wanted to discuss particularly about their meal, I think that’s a different situation, and I would probably be more inclined to go to the table and discuss whatever their concerns are or, you know, whatever their compliments might be.”

Black: “The best way, again, is if [the request] is after the busiest part of the night….I’ve had people send me a glass of wine and say, ‘We’ve had this nice bottle of wine, and we want you to have a sip, and wanted to know if you’d stop by and say hello.’ Of course. These are people that are really into food, and they’re really into the experience, and they’re really into the restaurant. They’re fun to talk to.”

So what you’re saying, Chef, is that a glass of wine helps?

Black: “It certainly wouldn’t hurt. At least with me anyway.”

To submit a question to Ask Tim, just e-mail me at asktim@washingtoncitypaper.com. The tougher the question, the better.

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