Kitchen realities: Peter Chapman of Martini Modern Italian

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

How has the popularity of cooking shows affected the restaurant industry?

When I first started at [Martini], the No. 1 seller was chicken parmesan every night. Everyone knows what it is; it's very simple. As time goes on and those shows are around, people are getting excited about much more interesting and exciting food. It's really a great time to be a chef right now because people are much more open to the more artistic side of it.

Is that influencing what chefs are putting on their menus?

It definitely affects what I put on the plate. But I doubt that the food at Applebee's is going to change much because of "Top Chef." (Laughs)

Does the public look at chefs differently now?

Without a doubt. Whenever I talk to a table, they are very, very happy to talk to me. We're viewed more as personalities than we are as worker bees these days.

Do you think TV has inspired anyone to work in kitchens?

There are twice as many culinary students at least in the city of Columbus now than there were when I went to culinary school. In the last six or seven years, it's become so popular and kids are so inspired by it that there's three times the demand for culinary schools.

What's the most challenging aspect of being a chef?

The most challenging aspect is balancing your life versus your work because the hours are so long. [Chapman says he works 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. on a typical day.] You're making sure everyone else is enjoying their night out, which means you're never having one.

Are the time constraints TV contestants face true to real life?

I have to butcher everything in three hours. We're going to serve probably, on a good Saturday, 450 dinners, sometimes 550. On New Year's Eve we did 600. Every single chicken, I have to cut it off the bone, prepare it and get it all roasted up. Every single fish I have to filet and portion. I've got three hours to make sure that 600 dinners are ready to go.

How do you deal with the stress of it?

If you didn't like the stress, you wouldn't do it. Most of us feed off the stress.

So the TV shows are a good thing? Do they cause any misperceptions?

They make us all look like we're workaholics and we're running around like crazy and it's just insane all the time, and that's pretty accurate.

I'm glad the reality shows are out there because they make my job much more interesting. The average person coming into our restaurant is much more interested in food than they ever were before, which allows me to be much more creative and work with much more interesting products.

Peter Chapman

Age: 34

Title: Executive chef, Martini Modern Italian

Hometown: Columbus

Neighborhood: Olde Towne East