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.

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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.

Being a Chef is Less Cooking than Most Would Think

When I was younger I was mesmerized with watching chefs cook at events and on TV. I thought it would be cool to cook amazing dishes all day long. The truth is being a chef is far more than just cooking. You’re the boss so you must have leadership qualities, you have to order the food, do inventory, write a schedule, manage your staff, deal with customer complaints and write a prep list before you do any cooking.

Being a chef has become glamorized since cooking and TV melded together. People like myself have been pulled in to the cooking industry wanting to end up being well accredited chefs. It takes years of experience cooking and in management to get to the level of being a chef. A lot of places require a culinary degree to consider a cantidet for the position of chef.

The chef is part of the branding of a restaurant. If you have a big name chef working at your restaurant it attracts customers. People recognize the name and tend to favor those establishments. Chefs who have been on TV programs attract far more business, because people feel comfortable with them and want to try food good enough to be on TV. It lends serious credibility to the chef.

Chefs generally work long hours about 12-14 hours usually 6 days a week. The chef is in charge of ordering product, inventory, specials, menu changes, usually the bar orders and being the manager of the staff. When I first started working In restaurants I was surprised how much desk work being a chef entails. On an average day where I’ve worked the chefs will be doing desk work about 70% of the time. It makes sense though, because the chef Is the manager and usually the face of the restaurant.

The chef needs to be a credible one to establish respect from customers and the staff. The chef must understand the restaurant inside and out to answer any question asked. If the chef doesn’t know what’s going on the staff will have a bad attitude and the customer will suffer.

Balancing Flavors

The most important aspect of food is the flavor. It’s important that the dish being served has a balance of appropriate flavors. There are five flavors; salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. Umami is the fat coating taste you get after eating something fatty like duck or a steak. A well balanced dish has a lot more depth than one that utilizes two flavors.

A good example of how to balance flavors to add depth is an orange and fennel salad. The vinegarette is sweet and sour and the orange and the fennel are mildly sweet. Take the orange segments and replace them with grapefruit. Now you’re utilizing bitter as well. It will have a similar flavor, but have a more well rounded one. The grapefruit has the same citrus aspect, but the bitter it gives the dish really makes a difference.

Use the flavors the dish is supposed to have. I wouldn’t put something bitter in a sweet and sour soup. It’s not meant to be bitter, so it would disrupt customer expectation. The more flavors utilized the more difficult it is to balance well. It takes time of practice to grasp fully what makes sense together.

Smell in large part has to do with taste. This is why adding aromatics are critical to a good dish. Usually parsley is the go to aromatic. For me I will not add parsley to something that doesn’t have parsley in it to begin with. Mint can be an aromatic to a dessert. It’s refreshing and light, so it goes well together. Spices can be an aromatic too. Take a curry for example. If you like curry when you smell it you crave it.

It takes years to get good at balancing flavors well. Practice is the only good way to get better at it.