Cooking Method-Braise

Cooking methods are significantly different with how the react to the food. Specifically designed to have certain affects on them. One of my favorite, especially with protein cookery, is the braise method.
The braise is usually classified as a low heat and small amount of liquid method. With protein braising it’s usually started by searing the meat. The braise is a slow cooking method, but can result with a great end product.
With proteins this style of cooking is used to break down connective tissue until the protein is tender. This is why tough cuts of meat are recommended. With chicken for example you would want to use the dark meat which is used more by the animal, thus has more connective tissue. Using a light meat cut would draw out the moisture and you’d typically end up with a dry piece of chicken.
With vegetables this method allows for very tender and flavorful product. You’ve slow cooked your vegetable in a flavorful liquid and a reduction of the liquid can make a great sauce in many occasions.
One dish I’ve made with this method that’s great for bacon lovers is braised pork belly. Make a flavorful liquid, usually a stock of some kind, and slow braise it for a 24 hour period at about 200F.

Always cook with a plan

Recently at school we have taken a mock version of a certified sous chef certification of the American Culinary Federation. On occasion I would go to class without much of a plan on what I would be making the next day. With a certification like this they want everything planned and a lot of technique shown. A menu, timeline, prep list, equipment list and a scrap utilization list are almost all required to pass. It can work, but if something goes wrong there’s little time to come up with a plan B.
I’ve been spending a lot of time working on organization and planning and it’s helped tremendously. You run into less problems and when problems do arise you’ve saved so much time by managing your time you can come up with a viable back up plan. The time spent making a prep list and time line beat the stress of having to come up with things and execute them accurately on the spot.
Time really is money in the restaurant industry, so writing tasks that need to get done can also help you find areas you’re spending too much time. Or it can help the order of prep make more sense so you’re not constantly walking around the kitchen looking for something. Gathering all the equipment and product you need and keeping them at the station minimizes walking time and saves labor cost. The time it takes a well organized cook to do 10 items is much quicker than an equally skilled less organized one.
Going to cook is a lot less stressful when you have a prep list and a time line. Most of the usual worries and stresses of cooking are eliminated. The more organized you cook the better cook you can become, in part because attention to detail becomes of the upmost importance. You start to do things more quickly and efficiently.



Always Taste Your Food

Hey there I am back from my Thanksgiving break, I hope you all had a great thanksgiving weekend. Over break I had eaten at a restaurant I used to work at and I noticed a trend. Seasoning as you go is important. Don’t try to add all the salt at the end. Seasoning as you go creates a better flavor that’s easier to control. Contrary to popular belief pepper is not a flavor enhancer. Pepper is a flavor and is usually at table side strictly for tradition. Salt isn’t a flavor, it brings forth the flavors in the dish.

Cooks, especially newer ones, tend to try and season all at the end. This makes it harder to season well, and it usually ends up as salty or not seasoned enough. The thought is you can add salt, but cannot take it out. It’s true, but living with that constant fear is a handicap in the kitchen.

Seasoning as you cook is a lot better. Season every step of the way and it has a more well rounded flavor. Tasting along the way, also helps you understand the food even more. It helps the pallet understand flavor development. It makes for a huge advantage to when food is properly seasoned. More often than not the food I get is under seasoned. It’s okay to aggressively season things. If you understand how the dish is supposed to taste, aggressively seasoning will lift the dish.

The salt you use also makes a huge difference in how much you’ll end up adding. The coarser the salt the more you will need to season the dish. The finer the salt generally speaking the less you must use. All these things must be taken into consideration. Seasoning as you go is the most effective strategy when cooking.


Organization and it’s Affect on Food

With many things keeping an organized workstation increases productivity. Every chef ie worked under had a desk that was always a mess, but I’m talking about cooking in a clear workstation. When I first started cooking my station was cluttered and unorganized. As I moved up I started keeping my station more and more organized. My productivity and speed went up significantly and I felt better about my job.

It can be hard to keep a workstation organized when you’re prepping five things simultaneously. When the workstation is organized and in compartments it makes the job(s) significantly easier. In restaurant kitchens the usual first thought is go as fast as you can. It’s true you must work with speed, but speed doesn’t mean much without efficiency.

In the restaurant industry it’s common to get thrown into a position with no formal training. On one occasion my first day at a busy restaurant the chef handed me a prep list and said go for it. A lot of it is common sense, but every restaurant wants things done their way. The procedure matters to a lot of places, especially corperate kitchens.

As time goes on you learn things that make the job a lot easier. Don’t leave dirty dishes about, always take them to the dish pit. Getting out of the way gives more area to work and eases stress. Something I see a lot is people storing things in bowls. It’s horribly inefficient. Bowls are not meant to hold food, only mix it. In restaurants always use hotel pans, it’s better on space control and food can be stored in them.

Organization is critical for two reasons. Cross contamination and stress. When food is all over the place and next to each other the possibility of cross contamination goes up. Sanitation is huge. A clean work station is a huge advantage.

Stress is normal in a kitchen. It’s busy and you have to keep up to please the customer. The second a cook gets flustered it’s too late. Concentration is broken, rhythm is gone and panic sets in. Keeping your cool is critical and a clean, organized work station assists a lot.

I can tell a lot of times when a kitchen is organized or not. The length of time for the food is higher in an unorganized kitchen and the food tends to appear sloppy. A clean cook with a clean workstation should produce a clean plate.


How Kitchens Actually Work

When I first started my culinary endeavors I was under the assumption that kitchens would be perfectly laid out. That turned out to not be the case. Most of the kitchens I’ve worked in are small and look clumsily put together. Things are in spaces that make the cooks job a lot harder. There’s practically never enough space.

The first kitchen I worked in had a massive prep area and three walk ins. It seemed like a superb set up until I started working on the line. The line was narrow and the equipment set up was poor. The cooks practically tripping over each other to use the equipment needed. The problem is you usually can’t move around the equipment. The ovens and stoves use gas and when the restaurant was built they ran the gas lines in seemingly the worst place possible. Things to that affect happen in just about every restaurant.

I’ve talked to multiple chefs who’ve designed the layout of a restaurant and they’ve all said the same thing. No matter how long and tediously you work on the layout, something will always turn out wrong. The oven might be in an awkward position, or the fryer is on the wrong side of the line.

The biggest issue we face as cooks is the lack of space in kitchens. Aside from the first kitchen I worked in and here at culinary school, the kitchen is too small. You’d be amazed with the small size of kitchens and how there made to work so well. Every cutting board is in use almost all the time. Every cook maneuvers around each other like a fine tuned ballet. The systems in place keep everything working like a well oiled machine and that’s the only way to make a kitchen so small work well.


Appeal to Your Target Clientelle, Not Yourself

Restaurants can be successful and flourish if their unique selling point is targeted to specific cilientelle . Out of all the restaurants opening every year only five percent will still be open three years later. It’s a difficult market to be successful in. When people open a new restaurant a fatal error that’s not uncommon is opening the restaurant you want, not the one the customers want.

Eventually I would like to open a restaurant of my own, but that will be down the road when I have more finance experience. I hadn’t thought of it until we started finance classes at culinary school. My dream restaurant is a classic, Northern Italian, Fine dinning restaurant. It’s a popular concept, but it wouldn’t work anywhere. The target Clientelle for a restaurant of that nature would be upper middle class, ages 25-45. The amount of research you must do to know what customer base is in a local area is extensive.

There are two things you can do to open the restaurant you want. You can re locate to somewhere with a Clientelle suited for your restaurant, or change the concept to fit local consumers. The most common conflict with opening new restaurants is keeping a concept that doesn’t fit the local economy. It won’t work just because it’s you. Demographics are a must when thinking about concept.

Almost every chef would like to open their dream restaurant eventually. Don’t do it unless you know the consumers are right. It’s expensive and time consuming to open a restaurant. Between licensing and building/remodeling you can easily be looking at three years.


A Good Dessert

Desserts can be a complicated item. Only about 33% of customers order a dessert. Sometimes the dessert menu can be brief and anti climactic to the meal. The thought usually is that with well over half of customers not ordering one there’s not that much importance of making them well. In a lot of restaurants the dessert menu will consist of about five items, a cheesecake and a creme brûlée is generally one of them.

Its hard for a lot of chefs to get good at the baking side of things. When the entire career we’re in only requires about five percent baking skills it’s often times forgotten. The usual line is I’ll hire a pastry chefs to make desserts. Hiring a pastry chef is often times not an option. Smaller restaurants can’t afford to hire pastry chefs, they’d rather hire a chef who’s comfortable enough to make desserts well.

Our pallets as culinarians are almost always pointed in the direction of savory foods. Desserts, however, makes for a great outlet to show off creativity. There’s a whole different world that can open up in pastry and baking. The combinations of things you can do is enormous. Things can be created that no one else generally would have thought of. A chef who can design desserts that impress are more well rounded, and generally more successful.

Its sad when the first two courses are suburb, but when the dessert gets to the table it’s lackluster. What a guest remembers of a restaurant can be defined with one bad experience. If the guest is impressed with the first two courses and let down by the third the customer will remember and is far less likely to recommend the restaurant. The statistic is if a customer has a good experience they’ll tell three people about it. If they have a bad experience they’ll tell ten.


Food Consistency

Making a great item is challenging, making it again and again is more challenging. In a restaurant setting especially you must make the dish taste the same every time. It doesn’t matter who’s cooking the item it must taste the same everytime. It must also look the same. Consistency is amoung the most important aspects of the restaurant industry.

Customer expectation must be fulfilled whenever possible. People order items off the menu multiple times, because they enjoy the dish. If they try it a few times and enjoy it, their expectation is to enjoy it everytime. If the dish comes out and it doesn’t taste the same customer expectation is disrupted. It’s harmful when customer expectation is disrupted. The customer will come back if the dish is the same everytime, but if it’s not once they may not order it again or return to the restaurant.

It shows a lack of professionalism when the dish isn’t consistent. The customer should never be able to tell who’s cooking that day. Every cook should be trained to cooking present it exactly the same. It shows when the training is poor. The food may taste and look different for every cook who prepares it.

For the cook it’s generally a matter of not changing the way the dish is prepared. When breaking down a chicken do it the same exact way everytime. When making a vinegarette add the products In the same order. It’s more liable to taste the same that way. If something goes wrong it’s also easier to tell where it went wrong.

This is a hard industry to succeed in. The competition is fierce. The economy isn’t great as well so any edge you can give yourself is critical. Consistency does really matter.


The Importance of a Foods Texture

A good dish will use all the customers senses to make the dish special. Texture is the sense of touch. In food it’s the second most difficult to pull off well. The hardest being auditory. Contrasting textures add much needed depth and can lift a dish. A monotone textured dish is more likely to be remembered as monotone all around.

Sometimes it’s there and we don’t even think about it. Take a creme brûlée for example. It’s a baked custard with a burnt sugar top. Now imagine the creme brûlée without the crunch from the burned sugar. It should still taste great, but lacks in depth. It’s completely different without the crunch.

It’s a small detail that makes a significant difference. Have contrasting textures on a plate. If the elements are all soft the customer can feel like they’re on a blender food plan. If the textures are too firm it can be chewy and discomforting on the customers jaw. It’s important to think so critically when writing a menu. One of the first things I do when trying something for the first time is ask myself how easy will it be for the customer to eat the dish.

Another consideration one must take into consideration is off putting textures. A lot of people think oysters for example have a terrible texture to them. I’m not saying don’t serve oysters by any means, but take the texture into consideration as to not alienate the customer. Texture is one of our five senses used when dining. It’s important that restaurants use all five of the customers senses to make the dining experience special.


Cutting Boards

It’s long been debated which cutting boards are better than others. This cutting board is more sanitary than that one. Cutting boards are like knives they have advantages, disadvantages or they’re just horrible to being with. Three main cutting boards are the most common wood like, plastic and glass. I’ve used all three so I’m going to weigh in on my thoughts.

The first cutting board type is the wood or bamboo. I’ve used a lot of wood cutting boards. They’ve worked for me just fine in my use. I’ve heard a lot of people say that wood cutting boards aren’t sanitary. The thought is that the bacteria will seep Into the cutting board and ruin it. There is a small truth to this. The wood is treated though, so a large chip would have to be cut into the board for the bacteria to tarnish the board. Wood is smooth to cut on and easy on the blade of knives. It’s seldomly used commercially, because it’s thought of to be unsanitary.

Plastic cutting boards are the most common commercially. They’re the cheapest and technically speaking the easiest to keep sanitized. The entire board all the way through is the same material you’re cutting on. They’re easy to cut on, but do tend to gash easier than other cutting boards. They’re quality isn’t super high end unless you but an expensive plastic cutting board. The thought generally is when they get too gashed to throw them away and buy a new one. The disadvantage of plastic is the fact that they seem to dull the knife more quickly than wood and aren’t meant to stay around long.

Glass cutting boards in my professional opinion are terrible, I don’t recommend ever using a glass cutting board. The glass is hard and will ruin any edge on a good knife. The fact that the glass is chipping on a small level is also bad. The potential of small shards of glass to be in your food is too high to warrent using one. Glass cutting boards are sanitary on a biological level, but the physical contaminates it makes can be threatening. I’ve never worked in a restaurant were we used glass cutting boards.

I prefer wood cutting boards. Nice on the knife, they last a while and stay sanitary if you clean them well.