The definition of the term culinary is “of, pertaining to, or for, cooking”. The wife and I spent over half our Lifetimes in the processed Food Industry. Now, don’t go turning your nose up at me because of the word “processed”. You’d be shocked at how little of the food you pay for and eat is prepared by “chefs” (HAH!! that title is hilarious in the restaurant industry) in a “kitchen” (HAH!! That word is hilarious in the restaurant industry). And I’m not talking the famous fast foods either. I can’t name names for legal reasons of course. But if you see more than one place with the same name on it (ie – a chain), I guarantee you the food is not prepped in any of them. They buy it from a Food Service. Have you ever seen trucks with the name Sysco, Compass, or GFS on them (just to name a very few) outside restaurants ? They do nothing more than distribute Food Manufacturer’s products. From there, the restaurant employees (chefs ?) either rehydrate or thaw it. You want to find out if that’s true ? Ask your waiter/waitress if the spaghetti sauce contains something not popular (not like gluten – which is all the rage this season). Tell ‘em you’re seriously intolerant to oregano (as the wife is – really), and see if the “Chef” can tell you if his/her “recipe” contains it. They’ll have no idea. They’ll tell you it probably has oregano just to avoid a lawsuit. The truly sad part is that they’re not even smart enough to realize they could read it off the ingredient line on the box or bag their sauce came in.
I once sat in a boardroom listening to the president of a well-known Italian restaurant chain. He explained that kitchen floor space is wasted because there aren’t any paying customers’ tables sitting on it. He challenged us to present him with a plan where he could eliminate the kitchen, and fill the space with tables. Ideas as far-fetched as : instead of having refrigerated transports running about, we could have heated trucks dispensing hot foods from hoses, were tossed around. Kinda like when the heating oil truck backs into your driveway ya know ? You could pull into your favourite restaurant/fueling station, open your gas cap and your mouth, shout “Fill ‘er up Mac” and you’re off to the races.
I was once offered the opportunity to match the product a customer was buying from a competitor of mine. The customer, (another well-known restaurant across the US and Canada), sent me samples of my competitor’s product and a mysterious unmarked jug about 1.5 Litres in volume. When I asked what the jug was for, they told me that I had to develop the product match to be rehydrated in that jug (filled to the brim with water). The reason ? Their employees (the “chefs” you think are back there in the kitchen), were so stupid, they couldn’t be trusted to read a measuring cup scale. The employer wouldn’t even bother to train them to do it. Just have plenty of these jugs on hand and tell Enrico … fill jug to brim … pour into pot … cut bag and pour into pot … turn heat knob. And in twenty minutes they were ready to serve hungry customers. Mmmm! Now that’s fine dining !
We could even provide some visual trickery. One of my employers had a huge machine which had heated rollers with checkerboards on them to scorch a grill pattern onto raw steaks. No, these were not going to your grocery store freezer. They were headed to restaurants all over the continent. The customer could heat the steak on a hotplate, a microwave, or just boil it in the bag we packed it in, and it would look like it was cooked on a grill. That’s all that huge machine was for.
Beef steaks, meatballs, hamburgers, salmon, tuna, swordfish steaks and fillets, duck, turkey, chicken breasts, lamb chops, chillies, stews, exotic sauces, chowders, and soups. You name it, we processed it. We also sold the same product to dozens of different restaurants, many of whom called them their signature offering. Of course, we had to make slight adjustments which made no difference to the product, to sell them for different prices to different customers. We had a puny little customer who (for no apparent reason) had their own noticeably different sauce from our other, much higher volume, customers. Johnny and I were constantly fussing over this seemingly insignificant customer at Marketing’s demand … until we found out what the damned fools were paying for a case of that crap !
That’s another thing I always found amusing. When a big name restaurant chain demanded a “unique” sauce or whatever, that would be exclusive to them alone, we’d increase the color of an “off the shelf” product and present it to the customer. They’d scrutinize it, and demand something better. We’d increase the lactic acid and reduce the cheese powder and they’d get all puffy chested and sneery as though they’d shown us a thing or two. We’d nod submissively and walk away with their approval for a formula which cost less for us to manufacture than the first one we’d shown them.
A favourite story of mine is when Johnny was coming back from a business meeting in the States with our newest recruit. They went to a particularly difficult customers’ restaurant for lunch before crossing the border. We’d had a lot of complaints from that customer about variations in the color of their signature gravy. Johnny looked around at the clientele and asked the recruit “Just look at these heifers and tell me they could give a rat’s ass about the color of their f*#%ing gravy”.
‘Course, I’m as slack jawed and glassy eyed as most when watching The Food Network. I refuse to watch Gordon Ramsey though. I don’t care how good you’re supposed to be at your job, an A-hole is an A-hole, in any profession. I particularly find his Christmas specials unsettling. He’s tenderly instructing the children in the preparation of ageless yuletide delights, with a reassuring smile and a gentle hand. I find myself waiting for some hapless child-victim to drop a spoon or something and suddenly release the culinary serial killer. I prefer the Jamie Oliver style of relaxed, outdoor, cottage-ey kind of cooking. It’s all so calm and pleasantly playful. But then, inevitably, I wind up looking at all of it like this : you fry up a pound of dog crap in 2 pounds of butter, a kilo of salt, and finish it up with a cup of heavy cream … of course you’re gonna love it … until the chest clutchin’ coronary.