Chef Cesar Ramirez runs a tight ship at his lauded Chef's Table at the Brooklyn Fare grocery store in downtown Brooklyn. Customers pay $135 each for a no-substitutions 20 course menu served at a stainless steel counter facing the open kitchen. Photography is verboten, as is cell phone use and note-taking. Dem's the rulesrequests! But scofflaw writer Joshua David Stein recently flouted rule #3 during his wife's birthday dinner, and was shocked when the bull he messed with (Ramirez) gave him the horns (a tongue-lashing that made his wife cry on her birthday).

In an amusing account of the experience in the NY Press, Stein says Ramirez came up to him after the first course and "leaned in so close I could see every pore in [his] shaved head." The chef reportedly told Stein, "I don't know where you fucking cook, but you'll never replicate this. I've been watching you disrespect my kitchen all night. You'll never be able to do what I do...Why are you taking notes? That's some sneaky shit." Stein apologized profusely, and though Ramirez declined to force him out of his kitchen, the rest of the meal was irreparably ruined.

Stein says his notes were intended for his eyes only, to remember the details of his special meal. In his open letter to Chef Ramirez, he writes, "Notes—discretely taken—disturb no one. For the mnemonically challenged among us, they are a necessary record of what it was exactly that we spent $300 on. Surely you, young and informal, can understand this impulse... More gallingly, you seem to assume the only reason a patron might take notes is to gank your recipes. What a hubristic and absurd position! You’re not Golem, we are not hobbits, two stars is not The Ring."

We spoke with Chef Ramirez today, and he insists the whole thing is utter bullshit. He says he doesn't remember Stein coming in, has no recollection of yelling at any customer, and insists he doesn't have rules, merely "requests." Here's his side of the story, verbatim:

I think it's very absurd. I have never sworn at my customers ever. I am very respectful of my customers. This story is totally untrue. I never saw his wife cry. I don't even understand who this person is. [Ed.: Stein is Eater National's Senior Editor.] That's totally false. I can't even comprehend how he would write something like that. Listen, I have a track record. I'm not perfect. But 98-99 percent of my customers leave happy. So if he wants to write nasty things because I get good publicity, that's his business.

I used to let people take photographs and do whatever they wanted but the flashes bother people. So I said, you know what, I'm not going to do that anymore. But I have never talked to a customer like that. This is a democracy, so he can write this. A lot of people take notes and at the end of the day I have requests because people ask me over and over what that is and what this is and I cant concentrate. I have 20 courses to cook. Why can't people come in here and have a good time, enjoy their wine? I'm sorry if one person is ticked off about that but I swear to you I never swore at a customer ever.

And there are no rules. I call them requests, not rules. I'm cooking and people are asking me questions. It's difficult to concentrate. I've got 20 things I have to cook, and I can't give everyone my attention. I used to let people do everything. Photography, notes, whatever. But people walk in here sometimes and think they can do whatever they want. You are walking into my kitchen; I am opening my arms to you. It's not like a dining room. This is very intimate. You walk into my kitchen, so you cannot just come in here and do whatever you want. I remember working in other restaurants where customers get out of hand. Not here. It's just 18 seats; you're in front of me and I'm in front of you. But some people it's not good enough for them.

I've never seen a person cry here. It's totally false! I'm human, I make mistakes, but I do not talk to people like that. It doesn't bother me because I didn't do nothing. People are going to write whatever they want. I know one thing: I make my customer happy.

[Via Eater]