The Advantage of Multiple Courses

In many restaurants today its typical to only order one or two courses. The meals are usually rather large and filling. Its become typical to only see appetizers, entrees and desserts on a menu. There is a huge advantage to the tasting menu type meal. They do still exist, but are not as common. A tasting menu type meal generally consists of about five small courses, and can really be a treat.

Trying many things in a meal can be good or bad. If the chef executes it well the meal will be well rounded and not overwhelming. Generally speaking a good tasting menu will stay with a theme. The them could be a region, cooking style, or things to that affect. Usually a lot of work goes into tasting menu type meals, so they can be pricey. In my experiences I ask around and do research on what restaurants do it well.

The food can be truly remarkable. The skill and care that goes into it can be a culinary adventure. You get to try a variety of foods and while you probably won’t love all of it, you’re bound to like a lot of it. You have the opportunity to try many flavorful dishes in one sitting. You can learn some new things that you like. A tasting menu is the chef showing off his skill and creativity, with an array of small plates.

Tasting menu type meals should flow well. For example, I would not serve a consume right before a curry. The meal should flow naturally and stick to the theme the chef picked. This is why I recommend researching the restaurant, before trying their tasting menu. A tasting menu can be terrible and not flow well if the chef doesn’t have a well rounded skill set. The expense is usually pricey, so you want to make sure your’re going to be trying a good one.

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Creativity is One of the Most Important Skills for a Chef

Creativity cannot necessarily be learned, but developed over time. For a chef thinking of solutions and things to do with food must be rapid fire. Troubleshooting is an everyday occurrence chefs must be quick to resolve. A lot of the time solutions are unconventional, but work.

Mystery box challenges that you see on chopped aren’t realistic. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to make a special with olives and marshmallows. The chef has a busy job, so creating new menu items and specials on the fly is common. The chef has to work with what they have and create something different and special. It takes years to develop the rapid fire creativity that successful chefs have.

I’m currently in culinary school and its pretty frequent that were given a list of product and have to make a three course meal out of it. It’s exciting and helps develop skills necessary to make quick decisions. It seems amazing how some of the more successful chefs can think of things so quickly and generally have more options that come to mind. This skill comes by practice, but also developing a wider skill set. The more things you know how to do with food the wider array of things you can think of.

An example from my experience would be a Christmas party I worked. Poor communication caused a prep issue where the prawns were butterflied rather than being peeled and devained. In a situation like that you have to make it work. The dish we were planning on making would’t work with the prawns butterflied so we had to make an entirely different dish to make it successful. The guests loved the new dish and didn’t know it was different than we had first intended to do.

Food Should Speak for Itself

Confidence in the food you’re producing is of the upmost important to a chef. An insecure chef often times gets gimmicky with food and presentation. The flavor and look of the food itself should require no further explanation, than the description on the menu.

Things shouldn’t be put on the plate for show. Every component of the dish should serve a purpose. Putting parsley as a garnish on everything is a bad practice. It adds aromatic affects, but shouldn’t be overused. It should not be used to add color alone. Non edible items shouldn’t never be added to a plate.

A dish served multiple ways shows a lack of confidence. For example chicken 3 ways. It comes off as trying too hard thinking the customer is bound to like at least one of them. It seems often times that less care is put into something served multiple ways. Serving a chicken one way on a dish you tend to put more effort into it. This can also be bad, because it eliminates flow. Having an Asian, American and Hispanic cuisine all on the same plate is off putting. It messes with the pallet.

Gimmicky presentation is another key sign of a chef lacking confidence. Things coming out flaming that isn’t necessary or with a dome of smoke. It may look cool, but it almost never affects the overall flavors of the dish. I’ve seen things come out hanging from metal skewers in an awkward tower of over cooked meat and vegetables. I’ll take my meal on a plate please. I seldomly see it anymore, but some places serve dishes the customer doesn’t know how to eat.

One of my biggest guidelines is to keep it simple. It’s just better that way. Having to do crazy things to the presentation of food isn’t impressive as much as it is strange.

Fusion Cuisines

Fusion cuisine generally speaking means two cuisines coming together on purpose to create something new. Many people, I included, would argue that almost every establishment in America serves fusion cuisine. Now that we can get our hands on almost any product in the world and most American cooks use French cooking teqniques, different cuisines have several influences on them.

Take Chinese restaurants for example. Almost 90% of Chinese restaurants serve Cantonese food. China is a very large country and most of the food we would consider Chinese in origin comes from a small sliver of China. In America in large part French cooking teqniques are used in the making of Chinese food. French cooking teqniques are the standard here. The ingredients used are different as well. It’s easier to use what we can have here, than to import it from Asia.

Mexican food is the easiest example. Mexican food in America is influenced by Mexican food, it in of itself is not Mexican food. In most real Mexican food diary isn’t used almost at all. You would never find sour cream on anything. Real Mexican food is a fusion as well, of meso American food and Spanish food. The Spanish brought spices and domesticated animals that set the tone for real Mexican food.

Fusion food should be on purpose. I’ve tried several fusion restaurants here in Portland and have been impressed. The key to fusion food is to first understand the two cuisines you’ll be fusing. To make a successful Korean Japanese restaurant you need to understand bot Japanese and Korean cuisines to successfully fuse them.

Restaurants Must be Able to Adjust for Dietary Needs.

In Portland especially people tend to have more dietary needs. Gluten intolerance is more common here than any place I’ve lived before. Establishments that can provide a wider array of food for people with additional dietary restrictions generally grab additional business.

Retirement communities are the easiest example to pick on. The young and elderly usually have more dietary restrictions. I have volunteered at a retirement community kitchen for several months a few years back and its interesting. You have to remember what each residents dietary restrictions are. It was a great experience for me. I was able to help people and learn how to cook for multiple dietary needs. Its a great skill that isn’t really taught in school or working in regular restaurant settings.

My thought now, and has always been, the customers overall experience is the most important thing in the restaurant. If a customer comes in and has a gluten intolerance you have to make it work for that guest. Make the guest happy and they’ll tell their friends. People spend their hard earned money going to a nice place to eat not very often, you must make them happy.

The best thing you can do is understand the product. Know what has soy in it and what has nuts in it and so on. Understanding the product helps with menu item choices for dietary restrictions. You can more quickly tell a customer what fits their dietary needs, rather than going and looking at everything as they order it.

Dietary restrictions are progressively more common, so us as the restaurant industry need to handle it. We need to be able to cook for almost everyone who comes in our doors. Its about the customer experience, not restaurant experiance. diet

Fish

I’m from a small town in South East Alaska. The towns been nick named the salmon capitol of the world, due to the immense salmon runs our rivers carry. Standing on the memorial bridge, looking down when the salmon  are running, you can see hundreds of salmon swimming at a time. Beautiful sockeye salmon swimming in a pack with massive king salmon.

There are four classifications of fish. Round and Flat is like salmon and halibut. Than fatty and lean. Fatty fish would be like cod and lean would be like sea bass. salmon

Fishing is fun and in an hour you could easily pull in four decent sized salmon. I remember the days of catching a few very nice salmon, prepping them in a nice marinade, wrapping them in tin foil and throwing them on the grill to cook. The flavor is rich and flakes apart. Salmon can be cooked in so many ways, but I like to keep it simple a lot of the time. The natural flavor of the wild caught salmon is rich and all it takes is a little salt to bring the flavors out.

There are many kinds of fish we use here in America. Salmon and halibut are the two most popular in restaurants. Halibut has a great flavor. Its white and fleshy. The texture is more firm than a lot of fish. The flavor itself is subtle, but good. It tastes of a quality fish.

Tuna is also very popular. Seared ahi tuna is one of my favorites. Its a firm and lean fish. The center should be red in the middle. Trout is popular in America. It can be caught almost anywhere and has a delicate flavor. Sea bass is seriously a fantastic fish to try. The flavor is difficult to describe, but wow its good.

I always recommend wild caught fish to farmed. You can taste the difference and the texture is significantly different. For salmon king is generally sought after the most, but sockeye has a richer flavor and a lower mercury content. I recommend trying a variety of fish.

Sugar Mamas Cafe-Portland, Oregon

Sugar Mamas Cafe is a small breakfast and lunch cafe here in Portland, Oregon. Upon moving to Portland one of my first missions was to find a good breakfast restaurant. Upon a recommendation from a chef instructor, I gave Sugar Mamas Cafe a try.

Every time I’ve eaten there the service has been personable and friendly. I’ve never had a grumpy waiter experience there. The servers do a good job of making the customer feel special.

The menu consists of a lot of breakfast items you’d find at diners, such as loaded hashbrowns and biscuits and gravy. The lunch menu is similar in feel consisting of sandwiches and other diner like food.image

The food time is longer than I would like when I’ve eaten there. It’s generally the only concern I have with this cafe. The food itself comes out slow, I’ve eaten there many times and it’s been empty and busy with the same result.

My first experience I ordered my favorite, biscuits and gravy. I was impressed with how flakey the biscuits were and how flavorful the gravy was. It was truly impressive. The loaded hashbrowns were also very good. The Rubentater they call it is a cross between a Ruben sandwich and hashbrowns is also a good breakfast item.

The plates come warm and so does the food. Technically speaking it’s good. I’ve been pleased everytime I’ve gone back.

I recommend the classic biscuits and gravy and I would gladly go back for more.  I would give Sugar Mamas Cafe a 4.5 out of 5.

Cooking is Conceptual

Cooking is about knowing the concepts and methods. When you cook something, you utilize cooking methods that are the same from recipe to recipe. When you cook pastsa you’re poaching it. When you’re making rice you’re steaming it.

Cooking methods don’t change much from recipe to recipe. Cooking methods are categorized as either wet, or dry. A dry cooking method means it doesn’t involve water. This means that frying is a dry cooking method. You’re utilizing fat to cook rather than water. Everything you cook falls into a cooking method category. Bake, braise, sauté, deep fry, poach, steam and grilling are the seven base cooking methods.

imageOnce you fully understand the cooking methods everything gets a lot easier. When the concepts make sense, everything else starts to as well. Cooking shouldn’t be super difficult. I’ve been told this many times and I’m a true believer in if something seems too hard you’re probably doing something wrong. It’s happened to me a few times in my career where I’m doing something, it seems complicated and someone comes along and shows me a much easier way to do it.

For example I was julienning a 50lb. sack of onions and the last bit was difficult to get precise, because the angle was pretty awkward. The chef comes along when I’m halfway through and onion and flips it in a way that makes It much easier to cut the final part. It then was easier and took far less time to finish the onions.

Concepts are the most crucial part of culinary knowledge. It’s much harder to nail down small details of food if you don’t first understand the concept that encompasses it.

What a Higher Quailty Food Means

Food in restaurants is often times just medeocer. Modern American cuisine is an old tired concept that needs to be revitalized. It takes a lot of extra work and planning, but it can be done. Making more product from scratch is a big point a lot of restaurants need to get. It takes more labor, but the revenue should increase with a product your restaurant can put its name on.

High quality product is the main lacking quality of many restaurants. Using a higher quality product is more expensive, but better and you can charge more for it. Most often the product isn’t good, because its out of season or has to come from a  long way to get there. A rotating menu allows you to use only product thats in season and in turn create higher quality food.Product that comes from a long way is generally picked far before its ready to eat and ripened after the fact on the way to its destination.

High quality food comes from high quality product and a chef or establishment who finds new ways to use it. Almost every restaurant I go to has a very similar menu to the next. A lot of the time its pretty good food, but its medeocre. For it to be a truley high quality product it needs to stand out from the rest.

Fresh Fruit

Living in Oregon fresh fruit is a common place that I love. Cooking with some of the best apples I’ve ever had. We have a fantastic variety of orchards. The fruit loop is a group of orchards by Mt. Hood. Pears, apples and more in many different varieties. It maimagekes me really culinarily excited. Its worth the trip to try such amazing fruits.

Apples from apricot size to ones over a pound and hundreds of kinds of flavors it’s that time of year for amazing fruits.